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pandemic

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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Pandemic will push Microsoft to repeat 2019’s major-minor Win10 upgrade cadence

Although Microsoft has not yet said how it will deal out the year’s Windows 10 feature upgrades, it’s becoming clear there’s next to no reason for the company to diverge from 2019’s major-minor cadence.

As the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to climb worldwide, and the disruption of modern life and business continues to sow chaos, 2020 will be a tough year no matter how one cuts it. In a time of unprecedented changes triggered by the novel coronavirus, there’s no rationale to change what worked for Windows 10 last year.

Microsoft, of course, will do what it wants – and commercial customers will have to deal with the results. But there are good reasons why the Redmond, Wash. company should seriously rethink any plan to mess with 2019’s release scheme.

First, a short recap of last year

For the two years 2017 and 2018, Microsoft’s Windows 10 feature upgrade practice consisted of two more-or-less-equally-robust refreshes containing new features and functionality. Those upgrades arrived in the spring and fall, typically in April and October, and were tagged as yy03 and yy09, respectively.

But last year Microsoft altered that schedule. The spring upgrade, 1903 was a feature-and-functionality refresh. But the fall’s 1909 was little more than a rerun of its predecessor, albeit with a small number of additional minor features. (It was so like the long-unused “service pack” concept Microsoft relied on through Windows 7 that older customers immediately labeled it as such.) The two, 1903 and 1909, shared the same code by October, allowing Microsoft to deliver the latter as a standard monthly update, which users who migrated from spring to fall could install much faster than a typical feature upgrade.

Pundits and news outlets, including Computerworld, labeled the 2019 cadence as “major-minor” to describe the volume of change in each and their relative value. Enterprises that deployed 1909 – under Microsoft’s policy, that version provided 30 months of support to Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education, a year’s worth more than 1903 – were generally upbeat about the fall upgrade, simply because there was less to it.

Still, Microsoft has so far declined to say how it would deliver Windows 10 upgrades in 2020. Two feature-rich releases? Or one real upgrade and a follow-up that is one in name only?

The company hasn’t yet shown its cards.

Delay Windows 10 2004

Microsoft may have finished 2004, the year’s first Windows 10 feature upgrade, but it’s not announced when it will release it.

But really, what’s the rush?

While the moniker may foretell April as its release (or even May, acknowledging the company’s habit of delivering upgrades a month after the designation), there’s no reason why Microsoft couldn’t delay its delivery to the summer or even later.

Developers have already made moves like this: Google suspended Chrome upgrades last week; Microsoft quickly followed suit, saying it would do the same for its Edge browser. Microsoft also extended support for Windows 10 1709 to Enterprise and Education SKU (stock-keeping units) customers by six months, until Oct. 13.

All these calls were made because of the pandemic’s impact on business, motivated by developers’ own decisions to send workforces home and by the realization that upgrades are superfluous when a crisis is at hand. IT personnel have enough to do to keep the technological lights on and users don’t need the kind of stress a botched upgrade would provoke when there is already a stress surplus generated by the virus.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” never made so much sense.

If Microsoft issues Windows 10 2004 later than its numeric name implies – mid-to-late summer, say, for argument’s sake – the need for another feature-filled upgrade during the remainder of the year falls to zero when next year’s 2103 should land in April.

A service-pack-esque release in the vein of 1909 would do just fine.

Why not just bag 2009 altogether?

If times are so tough that Microsoft shouldn’t go back to its 2017-2018 pattern, why can’t the company just forget about the fall upgrade and be done with it?

Microsoft can, of course. (It’s the one making the rules, and there’s no referee saying different.)

But the fall upgrade serves a crucial purpose under Redmond’s current policies: It’s the version that awards 30 months of support to Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education customers. Sans Windows 10 2009, IT admins whose charges are running 1903 or earlier would be between the rock of no upgrade and the hard place of no security patches.

Enterprise/Education customers will not want to adopt a yy03 version because it offers only 18 months of support, far too little (as Microsoft acknowledged when it bent to customer pressure and debuted the 30 months nearly two years ago). But with 2009 out of the picture, the next fall refresh, a putative 2109, won’t be available until around October 2021, probably not reliable enough for businesses until early 2022.

Only Windows 10 1909 has an end-of-support date after that: Its retirement is currently to be May 10, 2022.

Expecting organizations to be able to migrate to a new version in just a few months? That’s a fool’s errand.

Dumping 2009 would put enterprises in a bind, not this year but at the end of the next and the beginning of the year after that (hopefully long after COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror). They would be forced to migrate to one of the spring upgrades and settle for just 18 months of support, knowing that they would have to shortly do it all over again.

By “shortly,” Computerworld means sooner than wanted. Let’s say Microsoft does scratch 2009. An enterprise with PCs running Windows 10 1809 would normally target 2009 as the replacement, aiming to upgrade every two years. But with Windows 10 2009 missing, the firm would have only poor choices, as the following figure shows.

No Windows 2009 IDG/Gregg Keizer

If Microsoft decides to simply not do a fall Windows 10 refresh, enterprises would have to depart from an every-two-year upgrade schedule.

More options for Microsoft

One option would be to accelerate migration to annually and upgrade to Windows 10 1909 starting in the last months of 2020 or the first of 2021. (Windows 10 1809 falls off support in May 2021.) Later, the company could return to the every-two-year tempo by moving from 1909 to 2109 during the opening months of 2022.

Another would be to deploy the delayed 2004 later this year, even though that version comes with only 18 months of support, then get back to a release with 30 months of support, such as 2109. Making that might be tough, though, as 2004’s support would expire just six months into 2109’s lifespan. (If Microsoft doesn’t shove 2004’s release back several months, this move would be impossible.)

A missing fall upgrade, even one in the mold of a feature-free service pack, would clearly ruin the rhythm businesses have set for managing Windows 10. That’s why Microsoft would almost certainly issue something other than 2004 this year.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Navigating the coronavirus pandemic | CIO

In an industry obsessed with disruption, suddenly, everything has been turned on its head.

Reimagining processes and software and infrastructure to satisfy some McKinsey-driven mandate has screeched to a halt. Instead, nearly every tech company — and almost every business — is desperately determining how to use its arsenal of technology to combat the stunningly severe disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Stuck in our home offices, IDG tech journalists are doing the same thing most of the rest of the developed world is doing: teleconferencing, leaning into our collaboration tools, furiously tapping our smartphones, and firing up videoconferencing software like never before. Everyone seems to have realized simultaneously that these communication tools are now our lifelines. The new normal is arriving quicker than anyone could have imagined.

On a personal level, social networking has become indispensable, as we keep track of friends and loved ones, share useful recommendations, trade anecdotes, and identify people in need. At the same time, we’re seeing the inevitable rise of disinformation, scams, and phishing attacks. Already, the world has witnessed the destructive power of bad information wreak havoc.

IDG’s five enterprise brands — CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, and Network World — are committed to providing technology and business professionals with actionable, accurate content in this time of need. This IDG Special Report is the first in a series dedicated to delivering guidance and support. You can also find our latest coronavirus stories on our COVID-19 page. We hope they assist you and your colleagues, partners, and customers as we face extraordinary challenges together.

Battling business disruption with technology

CIO Senior Writer Clint Boulton has it right: If there was ever a time to tighten your business continuity plan, this is it. His “Business continuity: Coronavirus crisis puts CIOs’ plans to the test” explores the extensive prep of two forward-looking companies, AvidXchange and Snow Software, both of which have wedded mature work-from-home policies and procedures to business continuity. That planning is paying off in real time as these companies confront COVID-19. If your time is limited, jump to the conclusion for some quick advice on communications and risk management.

Wondering how the massive shift to work-from-home affects remote-access networks? Network World’s Michael Cooney dives deep into that topic in “Coronavirus challenges remote networking.” He zeroes in on a crucial bottleneck: the enterprise VPN. One issue is simply capacity; VPN gateways may simply not be able to accommodate so many users connecting at once. A different problem is the security and reliability of residential internet-access services and home networking environments. The good news is that, so far, ISPs have not seen a rise in performance problems, although chokepoints at cloud service providers may emerge soon.

In our new work-from-home reality, security quickly becomes top of mind. “A security guide for pandemic planning: 7 key steps” by CSO Contributing Writer Bob Violino addresses the vital points to consider. Ponder the sober advice offered by Nitin Natarajan, principal at a domestic preparedness advisory firm: “Assess risks and vulnerabilities to physical and cyber systems from a reduction in staff, both internally and among key organizational interdependences.” And above all, ensure your response to the pandemic is coordinated among all groups involved: cybersecurity pros, emergency management staff, and risk communications teams.

Several useful articles serve those working at home. Barbara Krasnoff’s “10 tips to set up your home office for videoconferencing” provides great pointers for those of us less accustomed to being in front of the camera (I still haven’t gotten the lighting right). Computerworld contributor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, who has managed to avoid working in an office for the past 30 years, brings us “How to survive and thrive while working from home.” And finally, in “WTH? OSS knows how to WFH IRL,” InfoWorld contributor Matt Asay reminds us that open source developers, led by legions of contributors to the Linux kernel, successfully pioneered remote collaboration long before anyone else. We can learn from their exeperience.

The way we work and interact with each other is about to change forever. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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