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Tech pitches in to fight COVID-19 pandemic

As IT pros around the world go all-out to support a workforce that’s suddenly fully remote, many technology workers and companies are also joining efforts to alleviate the COVID-19 crisis in various ways, including developing products to combat the virus, tracking and predicting its spread, and protecting hospitals from cyberattacks.

New York’s technology SWAT teams

New York officials are pulling together “Technology SWAT teams” as the state struggles to deal with COVID-19 outbreak.

“New York State is launching technology driven products with leading global tech companies to accelerate and amplify our response to COVID-19,” the state said on its official website. “We are looking for impactful solutions and skilled tech employees to help. Individuals from leading global technology companies are being deployed across high-impact and urgent coronavirus response activities.”

In particular, New York is seeking “experience in product management, software development/engineering, hardware deployment and end-user support, data science, operations management, design, or other similar areas. Technology companies, universities, nonprofits, research labs, and other organizations with technology expertise are invited to submit an expression of interest.”

IT pros interested in helping must complete an “Interest Form.” The state envisions 90-day deployments and is focusing on workers already working remotely, especially in the Eastern and Central U.S. time zones.

“Given that many employers are having many workers work from home, volunteers would collaborate virtually with New York State teams,” the state said. “So, preference will be given to those in the Eastern and Central US time zones, but we are open to the west coast as well.”

New York — especially New York City — has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and leads the nation in diagnosed cases.

The Devpost hackathon

Hoping to generate “software solutions that drive social impact,” Devpost has organized a COVID-19 Global Hackathon to try to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re encouraging YOU — innovators around the world — to #BuildforCOVID19 using technologies of your choice across a range of suggested themes and challenge areas — some of which have been sourced through health partners including the World Health Organization and scientists at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub,” Devpost said.

“The hackathon welcomes locally and globally focused solutions, and is open to all developers — with support from technology companies and platforms including AWS, Facebook, Giphy, Microsoft, Pinterest, Slack, TikTok, Twitter and WeChat, who will be sharing resources to support participants throughout the submission period.”

Devpost said it’s working with a number of partners including the WHO to find “key challenge areas” that tech innovation could help solve. Those areas include: accurate disease-prevention information “in languages/formats that resonate locally, as well as regional needs for expertise, resources/supplies and financial support from donors.”

The organization is focused on seven major areas, but suggested that developers use the technologies of their choice in any way they think they can make an impact. The seven highlighted areas include:

Health: Address and scale a range of health initiatives, including preventative/hygiene behaviors (especially for at-risk countries and populations), supporting frontline health workers, scaling telemedicine, contact tracing/containment strategies, treatment and diagnosis development.

Vulnerable populations: Problems faced by the groups of people who are disproportionately affected by the various health, economic, and social issues related to the COVID outbreak around the world, such as those with underlying health conditions or a thin social safety net.

Businesses: The set of problems that businesses are facing to stay afloat, collaborate effectively, and move parts of their business online.

Community: Promoting connection to friends, family, and neighbors to combat social isolation and the digitizing of public services for local governments.

Education: Alternative learning environments and tools for students, teachers, and entire school systems.

Entertainment: Alternatives to traditional forms of entertainment that can keep the talent and audiences safe and healthy.

Other: The above themes are just suggestions. Feel empowered to get creative!

The organization is working with a variety of companies, including Oculus, Uber, Evernote, Twitter, Twilio, Venmo, IBM, Microsoft and Qualcomm. The deadline to register for the hackathon is 12 p.m. ET Monday, March 30. Highlighted projects will be announced April 3.

N.Y. Times releases coronavirus dataset

The New York Times is making public its comprehensive datasets on coronavirus cases in the U.S. after requests from researchers, scientists, government officials and businesses looking to better understand the virus and model how the pandemic might evolve. The datasets are available on GitHub.

The Times has been tracking cases since late January “after it became clear that no federal government agency was providing the public with an accurate, up-to-date record of cases, tracked to the county level, of people in the U.S. who had tested positive for the virus,” the company said in a statement.

“We hope the dataset can help inform the ongoing public health response to the pandemic and ultimately, save lives,” said New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. “We believe the data may help reveal how Covid-19 has spread through communities and clusters; which geographic areas may be hit the hardest; and how its spread in hard-hit areas may offer clues for regions that could face wider outbreaks in the future.”

The CTI cybersecurity effort

A growing number cybersecurity professionals calling itself the “CTI League” has banded together to help hospitals fend off hackers and other bad cyberactors. The group now has about 500 members worldwide and was launched earlier this month by Ohad Zaidenberg, lead cyber threat intelligence researcher at Israeli firm ClearSky Security; Nate Warfield and Chris Mills, security researchers at Microsoft; and Marc Rogers, executive director of security at Okta and an organizer of the DefCon hacking conference.

“If some hospital gets attacked by some ransomware and wouldn’t be able to pay, people will die because they wouldn’t be able to get the medical services needed,” Zaidenberg told NBC.

The CTI League, which collaborates on its efforts using Slack, looks for vulnerabilities hackers are targeting, then searches for hospitals or other medical facilities that may be vulnerable. “The first thing we want to do is neutralize attacks before they happen. The second is to help any medical organization after they are attacked,” Zaidenberg said.

Rogers told DARKreading.com that the CTI League has members in 40 countries. “It’s important to us that this is a global effort, because this is a global threat. That’s why we made the call worldwide, and were delighted when the world responded.”

Intel allocates $6M for coronavirus relief

The Intel Foundation plans to provide $4 million to back coronavirus relief efforts in areas where the company has a significant presence and is offering up to $2 million in matching funds for every regular full-time and part-time employee and U.S. retiree who wants to contribute to the COVID-19 fight. Intel will match contributions made until April 10.

The $4 million donation is aimed at community foundations and organizations focused on food security, shelter, medical equipment and small-business support. The matching donations will go to food banks, school districts and children’s hospitals helping local communities manage the pandemic’s impact.

In the U.S., donations are targeted at several states, including Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas. Internationally, donation areas include Costa Rica, India, Ireland, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico and Vietnam.

Facebook offers up Messenger

Social networking giant Facebook on March 23 unveiled two initiatives to help governments fight the pandemic using its Messenger chat service.

“We’re partnering with our developer community to provide free services to government health organizations and UN health agencies to help them use Messenger to scale their response to the COVID-19 crisis,” Facebook said. It highlighted efforts by Argentina’s Ministry of Health to provide updated, accurate information about the coronavirus.

UNICEF and Pakistan are also using Messenger to share information and advice about coronavirus.

Facebook is also working with the Devpost hackathon project aimed at fighting COVID-19.

Also see: Coronavirus prompts collaboration tool makers to offer wares for free and Free security resources for work-from-home employees during the COVID-19 crisis

With reports from InfoWorld’s Serdar Yegulalp and CIO’s Amy Bennett.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Come on, NSA, it’s time to join the fight against Windows hacking

It’s no secret that hackers the world over target Windows vulnerabilities in order to wreak havoc, hold up data and networks for ransom, pull off money-making scams, and disrupt elections and the workings of democracy. They target Windows for a simple reason: volume. The operating system is on the vast majority of desktop and laptop computers worldwide.

Over the years, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has unwittingly helped hackers in some of the world’s most dangerous and notoriously successful attacks by developing tools to exploit Windows security holes, rather than alert Microsoft to those vulnerabilities. Some of the tools have been leaked to hackers and used in massive attacks, including the EternalBlue cyber-exploit, which was used in the WannaCry global ransomware attack that affected computers in more than 150 countries and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage.

The NSA may be changing its ways, but perhaps not completely. In mid-January, the agency alerted Microsoft to a severe Windows security breach rather than develop tools to exploit it. Microsoft patched the hole, and the world — and your computer and data — is now safer.

That’s all to the good. But the NSA hasn’t gone nearly far enough in helping keep Windows safe from hackers. To understand why — and what the NSA ***should be doing — let’s start by looking back at EternalBlue and Microsoft’s very public spat with the NSA about its role in the attack.

In 2017, malicious Windows software developed by the NSA called EternalBlue was leaked by a group called the Shadow Brokers and used to launch WannaCry, the largest ransomware attack the world has ever seen. The software exploited the 30-year-old Windows networking protocol SMB1 that even Microsoft acknowledged at the time should no longer be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

The exploit lives on and has been used to launch successful ransomware attacks against the city of Baltimore and other municipalities. The New York Times noted in 2019: “Security experts say EternalBlue attacks have reached a high, and cybercriminals are zeroing in on vulnerable American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.”

When the WannaCry attack was first launched in 2017, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote a blistering blog post about the NSA’s role in it. He noted that when the NSA finds security holes in Windows and other software, rather than alerting the appropriate vendors so they can quickly patch them, it instead stockpiles them and writes software to exploit them. He wrote: “This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. … Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.”

He added, “The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits.”

Finally, he concluded that a Digital Geneva Convention should be convened, “including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them.”

Since then, there’s only been radio silence from the NSA. Presumably, the agency has been continuing to uncover Windows security holes and write malware to exploit it.

However, in mid-January the NSA changed its approach — at least for a moment. It uncovered an exceedingly dangerous security hole in Microsoft’s CryptoAPI service, which Windows uses to determine whether software being installed is legitimate, and to establish secure internet connections with web sites.

Kenn White, security principal at MongoDB and director of the Open Crypto Audit Project, explained to Wired magazine just how dangerous the hole is: “This is a core, low-level piece of the Windows operating system and one that establishes trust between administrators, regular users, and other computers on both the local network and the internet. If the technology that ensures that trust is vulnerable, there could be catastrophic consequences.”

For once, the NSA did the right thing. Instead of hoarding the Windows vulnerability and writing malware to take advantage of it, the agency warned Microsoft about it. Microsoft quickly issued a patch. There’s no evidence that any hackers have been able to take advantage of the hole.

All that is to the good. But the NSA hasn’t said it will follow Smith’s recommendation to report all Windows and other vulnerabilities, rather than stockpile them and write malware to exploit them. The Times reports, “It was not clear how much of a strategic shift the agency’s announcement amounted to. The agency presumably is still hunting for vulnerabilities and flaws that could allow them to infiltrate Iranian computer systems, as well as those used by Russia, China and other adversarial countries.”

As we’ve seen, though, the NSA’s actions in doing that make the United States and the world a less safe place, not a safer one. Microsoft’s Smith is right. In the same way governments of the world recognized in the Geneva Convention that some weapons and ways of waging war should be outlawed, they need to ban countries from stockpiling cyber-vulnerabilities and writing Windows malware and other software to take advantage of them. What the NSA did in January was a good first step. But it should follow through and never again stockpile Windows and other vulnerabilities, and instead report them to software makers so they can plug them and keep us safe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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3 reasons you can’t fight facial recognition

Back in the day — by which I mean a period starting with the emergence of homo sapiens around 500,000 years ago until the day before yesterday — it was possible for humans to walk around in society completely unrecognized and without any record of them having been there.

At some point in the future, it will be impossible to drive, shop, walk, go to work or function without being recognized by machines that will permanently record the fact of your presence in that place at that time.

Right now, we’re in transition between the world of anonymous living and the always-recognized future.

Is the future a biometric convenience and security utopia? Or Orwellian nightmare. The answer is: Yes.

The biometric backlash

A movement opposing face recognition technology deployed by cities, universities and others is spreading, as the public begins to grapple with emerging biometric technology for identifying people.

Biometric technologies have been emerging for decades, with fingerprints, iris scanning and other technologies becoming more reliable.

Face-recognition is seen by the anti-biometric public because the “biometric data” — i.e., a picture of your face — can be “collected” at a great distance by an ordinary camera. And it can be “captured” with a camera — or even from pictures posted online.

Another trend driving the infrastructure for municipal and police face recognition is the so-called “smart city” movement. The cornerstone of the trend is the installation in each city of “smart street lights,” which contain connected cameras and other sensors ideal for total biometric surveillance. Regardless of face recognition bans, these fixtures are capable of putting a face-recognizing, licence-plate-reading, always listening devices every 100 yards on every street in a city.

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Back in the day — by which I mean a period starting with the emergence of homo sapiens around 500,000 years ago until the day before yesterday — it was possible for humans to walk around in society completely unrecognized and without any record of them having been there.

At some point in the future, it will be impossible to drive, shop, walk, go to work or function without being recognized by machines that will permanently record the fact of your presence in that place at that time.

Right now, we’re in transition between the world of anonymous living and the always-recognized future.

Is the future a biometric convenience and security utopia? Or Orwellian nightmare. The answer is: Yes.

The biometric backlash

A movement opposing face recognition technology deployed by cities, universities and others is spreading, as the public begins to grapple with emerging biometric technology for identifying people.

Biometric technologies have been emerging for decades, with fingerprints, iris scanning and other technologies becoming more reliable.

Face-recognition is seen by the anti-biometric public because the “biometric data” — i.e., a picture of your face — can be “collected” at a great distance by an ordinary camera. And it can be “captured” with a camera — or even from pictures posted online.

Another trend driving the infrastructure for municipal and police face recognition is the so-called “smart city” movement. The cornerstone of the trend is the installation in each city of “smart street lights,” which contain connected cameras and other sensors ideal for total biometric surveillance. Regardless of face recognition bans, these fixtures are capable of putting a face-recognizing, licence-plate-reading, always listening devices every 100 yards on every street in a city.

Resisting biometrics is rational. It’s also futile, and for three reasons.

1. The imperfection of face recognition is temporary

Campaigners are forcing state and local police departments to ban face recognition technology. Laws against the technology are spreading. And the number-one reason for these bans is that current technology tends to be less accurate when recognizing women and minorities.

But within a few years, face recognition technology will be essentially perfected, and everybody will be recognized faithfully by the technology. Will these same campaigners then welcome police use of face recognition? I doubt it.

2. The primacy of face recognition is temporary

As face recognition gets perfected, it will also be augmented by even more effective technologies. The weakness of face recognition is that…. it requires a face. How can you recognize someone from the back, or someone wearing Groucho glasses?

The solution to this problem is a wide range of alternative biometrics that, thanks to the rise of AI, are enabling people to be recognized by all kinds of body parts.

One is gait recognition. The way a person lumbers along while walking is as individual as fingerprints, and AI can recognize how someone walks.

Gait can be detected now not only by cameras, but also using thermal imaging. Best of all, thermal imaging technology can recognize individuals by both gait and face recognition — whatever body parts are available. Intel technology recently demonstrated 99.5 accuracy in thermal imaging technology. One way to use thermal imaging is to recognize the pattern of blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin, which are so unique that even identical twins have completely different patterns.

The Pentagon is throwing a lot of money at thermal-recognition technologies. Their requirements say that recognition needs to happen in conditions where visible-light cameras struggle — through windshields, through fog and in the face of strong backlight. And the technology needs to work as far away as 500 meters.

We all know how this works. The Pentagon invests heavily in advanced technology, yada, yada, yada, consumers are buying that technology at BestBuy ten years later.

In the future, you’ll be able to be positively ID’d while wearing Groucho glasses in a dark alley on a foggy night from 500 meters away.

Most emerging biometric technologies are pretty gross. Other emerging biometric technologies include ear-canal recognition that will ID you when you insert earbuds. The shape of the external ear is also unique and identifying. Researchers are also improving methods for identifying people using vein patters in the palm or back of the hand or on fingertips, skin patterns generally, body odor — you name it. And, of course, there’s DNA matching, in which skin flakes, hair, blood or just about any tiny chunk of a person and process it for a perfect match. (The ramifications of DNA matching were brilliantly explored in the 1997 movie, Gattaca.)

While activists worry about police departments and large organizations using biometric identification, the reality is that billions of biometric-enabled consumer electronics gadgets are now being sold. Most smartphones now have fingerprint readers, face recognition or both. Home security cameras are increasingly outfitted with face recognition. And this includes doorbell cameras pointed at the street. Cars, laptops, smart glasses, smart watches and TV sets will all get biometric identification sensors, too.

The full range of AI-enabled biometric technologies, techniques and products means you’ll be identifiable up close, far away, in the dark, while you’re driving and while you’re not driving. Your face, voice, ears, walk, vascular system and DNA will all give you away.

3. The public resistance to biometrics is also temporary

Opposition to biometric identification depends on how you ask the question.

If you ask: “Do you want to live in a world where you are recognized all the time, everywhere?,” people will say they hate it.

If you ask: “Do you want to never wait in line or type your credit card information again, for more criminals to be caught, for enterprise networks to be secure,” they will say they love it.

The biggest benefit is convenience. Good biometrics means shopping without lines, according to Amazon’s Go concept. Amazon, which owns Whole Foods Market, is aggressively pursuing stores where you walk it, grab whatever you want and walk out. Biometrics recognizes you, other sensors recognize what you take, and your credit card is automatically charged.

The biometric future means no more swiping your badge to get into the office or even unlock the door, no more carrying a wallet, no more entering passwords, no more airport security or boarding lines.

Beyond incredible convenience, biometric ID promises more public safety, safer cars, better healthcare, and enhanced national security.

It also could go a long way to helping the good guys in two conundrums facing enterprise security managers. The first is the arms race between cybercriminals and cybersecurity. And the other is the contest between security and productivity or usability.

Stated another way, as cyber-intruders grow more sophisticated in their methods, enterprise security specialists have to resort to more extreme measures, which creates problems and obstacles for workers.

The combination of AI threat detection, plus AI-driven biometrics, could help secure enterprise resources without overburdening employees. We’re entering the age of identity-defined and identity-centric security in large organizations.

The benefits of biometrics are winning the argument. An IBM survey found acceptance growing, with 67 percent of survey respondents “comfortable” with using biometrics — a whopping 75 percent of millennials also “comfortable.”

You can see this growing acceptance in the consumer acceptance of biometrics to secure payments. Juniper Research predicts that biometrics will provide the security for $2.5 trillion in mobile payments over the next four years.

People want both convenience and security, and so biometrics will win the argument.

How to think about the future of biometric security

Biometrics will solve a huge number of problems and make the world a better place.

Biometrics will make the world more like an Orwellian nightmare of total surveillance, where we’re all tracked and identified everywhere we go.

Both are true. Biometrics are both good and bad.

But here’s what matters: Ubiquitous biometrics are inevitable. And this is true not because technology advances on its own regardless of what the public thinks. It’s true because the public will overwhelmingly want biometrics.

So biometrics are taking over. And, as with so many previous technologies that are both good and bad, we’ll muddle along with legal battles, hack attacks on biometric databases and personal struggles as we weigh the costs against the benefits.

But don’t be deluded. We’re entering the era of universal biometrics. Resistance is futile. You WILL be identified.



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Food fight: Slack and Microsoft trade barbs, sling stats in collaboration app battle

Competition between Slack and Microsoft over their respective chat apps has intensified recently, as the two companies clash over new usage stats – with Slack’s share price tumbling last week in the wake of new adoption figures for Teams.

Even so, analysts say Slack’s stickiness and strong user engagement offer it an advantage as businesses begin to adopt workstream collaboration software more widely.

Microsoft last week announced that Teams now has 20 million daily active users, up more than 50% from 13 million in June. The publication of those user figures appeared to have an immediate impact on Slack’s share price, which saw an 11% drop the following day. In fact, Slack’s share price has fallen by more than half since its public listing in June – an apparent sign of investor concern over its ability to compete with Microsoft long-term. 

Launched by Microsoft in 2017, Teams is available at no extra cost with certain subscriptions of Office 365; the suite has more than 200 million monthly active users. It competes with Slack and others in a team collaboration software market worth $3.5 billion this year, according to IDC analysts.

However Slack – which announced it has 12 million daily active users in October (up from 10 million in January) – has frequently called Microsoft’s user metrics into question, claiming it does not measure daily use the same way.

Daily active use and the battle of stats

The upstart contends that its customers spend more time using its application productively each day, with individuals logged in for more than nine hours, on average. This includes 90 minutes of active interaction, the company said, such as sending direct messages or reading posts in public channels. 

“As we’ve said before, you can’t transform a workplace if people aren’t actually using your product,” a Slack spokesperson said in response to Microsoft’s user figures, which it claims are overinflated. 

Microsoft said it defines daily active use as “the maximum daily users performing an intentional action in the last 28-day period across the desktop client, mobile client and web client.” 

Examples of such actions include “starting a chat, placing a call, sharing a file, editing a document within Teams, participating in a meeting, etc.”  Microsoft said it removes “passive actions” like auto-boot, minimizing a screen, or closing the app from its calculations, and de-dupes all actions across a single user ID. 

The spokesperson added there were 27 million voice or video meetings held in Teams in October, and 220 million “open, edit, or download actions” on files held in Teams. That equates to 11 such actions per user each month, on average.

Slack meanwhile said there are more than 5 billion user actions each week, such as reading and writing messages, uploading and commenting on files and interacting with apps.

Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight, said that the focus on granular levels of app use amounts to more than just posturing by Slack, serving to highlight how central the app can be to team workflows.

As Slack contends, its app is often central to a range of team interactions and workflows.

Ashenden said that, while Microsoft’s adoption figures are certainly impressive, much of Teams’ traction appears to center on meetings, thanks to Microsoft’s decision to essentially move Skype for Business Online and its users into Teams, rather than supporting employee workflow, as Slack claims to do.

“At the moment, Slack definitely has the edge in true workstream collaboration, both in terms of capabilities and customer usage,” said Ashenden. 

“Slack’s discussion about active interaction on the platform might sound pedantic, but it does highlight how central its platform is to its users’ daily activities – it’s part of their workflow, and this makes it very sticky.”

She added that, while Microsoft has made moves to improve Teams as a workstream collaboration tool, with renewed focus on integrations and automation tools such as PowerApps and Power Automate, it still lags behind Slack. 

“Until Microsoft gets a better story here, in terms of its communication to customers as well as its third party integration and developer/partner support, Slack’s position remains strong,” she said.

The gloves come off

Rivalry between the two companies has existed since Microsoft first announced the creation of Teams in 2016. Slack’s response was to take out a full page ad in the New York Times, to “welcome” Microsoft as a competitor.

CEO Stewart Butterfield has been more publicly critical of the Microsoft in recent weeks. During an on-stage interview with WSJ Tech Live last month, Butterfield accused Microsoft of “surprisingly unsportsmanlike conduct,” claiming the company has offered to pay businesses to use Teams, and took Microsoft to task for releasing Teams adoption stats soon after Slack’s post-public listing, a federally mandated quiet period for the company.

“The bigger point is that’s kind of crazy for Microsoft to do, especially during the quiet period,” he said. He added that “I think they feel like we’re an existential threat.”

Butterfield also questioned the popularity of Teams among users, noting that most the popular Google searches for Microsoft Teams relate to ways to uninstall the application.

“All of the top searches are how to uninstall, how to stop it from popping up, how to get rid of it,” he said. “So there is a very aggressive push to get people in there.”

On Thursday, Slack’s PR team also hit back at Microsoft on social media, tweeting a video that compared promotional videos for their respective products to show clear similarities. The tweet text read “OK, boomer,” referencing a meme in order to mock the perception of Microsoft as old and out of touch.

Microsoft has also fired broadsides recently. In an interview with The Verge, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, said that Slack lacks the “breadth and depth” of Teams.

During a pre-recorded press briefing for Microsoft’s Ignite conference last month, Frank Shaw, corporate vice president of communications, also made a thinly-veiled reference to Slack when discussing Teams usage with Spataro.

“Everybody has a different way of measuring things; what success looks like for us might be different to somebody else. But I have wonder if, hypothetically, spending nine hours a day in a chat app is a good productive use of time,” said Shaw.

“We are not trying to replace email with chat,” responded Spataro. “If someone is spending nine hours in a communications tool, we wonder is that really where you should be? We look at Teams as this hub where its strength undoubtedly is the underlying Microsoft 365 workloads. That is what is all about.”

How will Teams’ growth affect Slack?

While such talk is par for the course between two competing companies, it shows how seriously the two firms are throwing rhetorical elbows. Last year, Microsoft, with a market cap of more than $1 trillion, listed Slack as an official competitor to its Office suite in its annual 10K report, placing it alongside Apple, Cisco, Google and IBM. 

And it reportedly put Slack on a list of internally banned apps, ostensibly for security concerns. (Slack’s CEO claims there are still pockets of use within the company.)

Perhaps the most significant sign of competition between the two  is the scale of Microsoft’s investments in building out Teams. In addition to deepening integrations with Office 365 tools, it has introduced a wide range of features, including capabilities to support “frontline” workers. At its Ignite event, there was a notable increase in the volume of Teams announcements, including the launch of private channels, an important feature Slack has had for some time.

And Teams has plenty of room to grow, too, with only a small proportion of Office 365 customers currently using the app.

Despite Slack’s swift uptake – it has claimed to be  the fastest growing business app of all time – and growing revenues, the company has yet to make a profit. It reported an annual loss of $138.9 million for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31 on revenues of $400.6 million. In its most recent quarterly results, Slack posted higher-than-expected revenues of $145 million. 

Slack has struggled at times since its public listing in June. Despite its swift uptake – it’s regarded as the fastest growing business app of all time – and growing revenues, it has yet to make a profit. It reported an annual loss of $138.9 million for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2019 on revenues of $400.6 million. In its most recent quarterly results, it posted higher-than-expected revenues of $145 million. 

Nevertheless, it has continued to attract more users in the past year as it has added automation capabilities, improved links with email (including Microsoft’s Outlook), while boosting security and management capabilities in Enterprise Grid, which is aimed at large businesses. Slack sees big potential in the long term, and estimated in its S-1 filing that the market has a potential value of $28 billion

While Slack and Teams play in the same market, the impact of Teams on Slack’s growth can easily be overstated, said Larry Cannell, a research director at Gartner. 

“Certainly, users in Office 365 enterprises are getting exposed to Teams, but that alone does not guarantee success,” he said. “Also, Slack has a fair amount of momentum all its own with some extremely passionate users.”

For many companies, this is not necessarily an “either/or” scenario; in many cases, businesses are using both apps.  (Computerworld employees have access to both apps.) According to Slack’s CEO, the majority of its customers also pay for Office 365 too.

Cannell added that, while it is natural for any company to be concerned when Microsoft offers up a successful competing product it is too early to see who will come out on top.  

“Successfully using either product requires changes in how groups operate on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Each vendor is taking different approaches to encouraging or enabling this behavioral change and is too early to tell who will be successful.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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5 Climate Change Tools to Understand and Fight Global Warming

Climate change is a growing concern across the world. The need of the hour is to act now to reverse its effects. These apps and websites will tell you how you can make a difference, and even point out some truths about global warming.

At this point, the scientific community has largely agreed that man-made factors have resulted in climate change. In fact, you can even see climate change on Google Earth. It seems like you can’t reverse those effects through your efforts alone. But you’d be surprised by how much impact your actions alone can have. In fact, even if you don’t want to do anything, you can pay to offset your carbon footprint.

1. Skeptical Science (Web): Debunk Myths About Climate Change Denial

Skeptical Science is an informative blog that debunks myths about climate change denial

There are a lot of myths and pseudo-scientific claims used to deny the realities of climate change and global warming. Skeptical Science takes the problem head on by busting these denials and skepticism with cold, hard facts.

If you’ve ever read something that made you think climate change is a myth or want to argue with a global warming skeptic, these are the facts and figures you need to realize the reality of the situation. There are almost 200 commonly used myths and arguments against climate change listed in the Arguments section of the portal.

Each of these has a corresponding blog post that goes into the details of what science says about that myth. Plus the website is updated regularly with new findings on climate change and related topics.

Skeptical Science is run by several volunteers but headed by John Cook, a renowned climate change researcher, professor, and author. Cook also designed the free online course Making Sense of Climate Change Denial.

2. ClimateChoice (Web): What You Can Do to Help

ClimateChoice is a one-stop destination to find out how you can change your lifestyle in small ways to fight climate change and global warming

Blog posts scattered across the internet will try to tell you the ways in which you can help fight climate change. But there isn’t one easy central resource. So Steven Hylands decided to make Climate Choice.

The website has easy-to-understand guides on how you can make a positive impact if you can tweak your lifestyle. If you don’t want to read the full guide, there are helpful TL;DRs for each section too.

In each section, you will understand how that choice contributes to climate change. Then the guide advises what you can do right now as well as how much that simple change would help. From paying to offset your carbon footprint to changing how often you employ single-use items, these small steps can have big results.

Take some time and go through the full website, which also links to tools for carbon footprint calculation, local agencies and political representatives that fight climate change, as well as other useful information.

3. Wren (Web): Calculate and Offset Your Carbon Footprint

Project Wren lets you calculate your carbon footprint and fund projects to offset it

There are organizations and projects trying their best to reverse the effects of climate change. If you can’t reduce your carbon footprint easily with lifestyle changes, you can still offset it by financially supporting such projects. That’s where Wren comes in.

When you sign up for Wren, you will first have to add where you live and answer a few more questions to figure out your current carbon footprint. Wren uses data from reliable universities and the World Bank to come up with average points for common lifestyle choices based on your input. You can dive into each section (transportation, natural gas, electricity, diet, goods, services, and home) to further tweak your values precisely.

Once you have your carbon footprint, Wren will suggest a few projects to offset your carbon emissions.

Pick one that you’d like to support, and then add your credit card. It’s like a subscription service for your carbon footprint, and would probably cost less than a Netflix subscription.

There’s another similar service you should check out called Chooose. There isn’t a simple calculator, but there are other CO2-reducing projects you can subscribe to this way.

4. JouleBug (Android, iOS): Tracker for Your Green, Climate-Saving Actions

If you’ve decided to take action towards climate change, try this app. JouleBug will teach you small steps by which you can live a greener lifestyle, along with tracking every good move and letting you compete with friends.

Every time you do something positive towards the Earth, “buzz” the action in JouleBug. Some of the common actions include recycling, turning the lights out when you leave a room, reusing a bottle of water, and volunteering in your community. The actions are spread across categories like seasonal, habits, energy, transportation, office, waste, shopping, etc.

Add up your buzz points to compete with friends who are also living the eco-friendly life. You can also participate in regular JouleBug challenges with other users, gaining bonus points for photos and comments in the community.

Download: JouleBug for Android | iOS (Free)

5. Climate 365 (Web): Easiest Digital Activism for Climate Change

Climate 365 is the easiest digital activism platform for climate change

You don’t have to make dramatic changes or protest in the streets to mark your opposition to climate change to make your voice heard. Climate 365 offers perhaps the simplest method of digital activism.

All you have to do is grant Climate 365 access to your Gmail account. Using that, the app will send emails from you to representatives of the 365 most polluted cities on Earth, organizations with negative environmental impact, and change-makers from different governments. Plus, the developers of the app will also plant a tree in your name.

Each email is unique and personalized for the recipient. The app is a new take on the classic “sign a petition” form of digital activism. If a representative gets hundreds or thousands of emails to affect change, then they just might listen, right?

Other Ways to Go Green

Climate change and global warming is just a smaller part of the larger adverse effects we have on nature. And if you know how to live a greener lifestyle, you could have a positive impact on the environment.

A good place to start is with these free green apps for an eco-friendly lifestyle


Go Green: 8 Free Apps for a More Eco-Friendly Lifestyle




Go Green: 8 Free Apps for a More Eco-Friendly Lifestyle

Want to go green? It’s easier than ever to make better choices for the environment with the help of these Android and iPhone apps.
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which suggest best practices for shopping, recycling, and other daily habits.



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