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How Microsoft Azure is Leading the Way for Mainstreaming Supercomputers on the Cloud

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The days of supercomputers being a niche product are in the past. Companies are building hardware that is streamlining the concept of super computing and Microsoft is leading the way with its Azure platform. By leveraging its servers and using cloud to handle the high performance computing (HPC) workloads, the company is increasingly bringing supercomputers to the cloud.

In a report, ZDNet points out how Microsoft is using Azure to become a leader in mainstreaming supercomputer technology. In fact, the newest Top500 list released in June shows Microsoft Azure with four supercomputers within the top 30. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Azure’s biggest competitor, has just a single entry in the top 500 (41st).

You may be wondering why the race is on to make supercomputers are part of everyday computational output. Well, as datasets become increasingly large and complex, only a supercomputer can efficiently sort the information. For example, simulations of millions of data points run through multiple times to see different scenarios would take years to organize using even the best cloud virtual machines.

Instead, the data needs to be distributed so systems work on specific areas. The only machines with the computational power necessary are supercomputers. While the hardware for supercomputers has traditionally been off the cloud, there is an increasing push towards these computers living in cloud data centers.

Azure HPC

For Microsoft, that means Azure HPC (high performing computer), a service that allows complex computational loads. Microsoft describes the platform as a new way to have all computational needs in one product:

“Azure high-performance computing (HPC) is a complete set of computing, networking and storage resources integrated with workload orchestration services for HPC applications. With purpose-built HPC infrastructure, solutions and optimized application services, Azure offers competitive price/performance compared to on-premises options with additional high-performance computing benefits. In addition, Azure includes next-generation machine learning tools to drive smarter simulations and empower intelligent decision making.”

Microsoft’s push to make supercomputers usable in everyday scenarios for major organizations is already visible. Back in April, the company combined its Azure HPC offering with the UK Met Office to develop a weather-predicting supercomputer. In fact, one of the top 25 most powerful supercomputers in the world.

The Met Office will base the supercomputer in the south of the UK, and it will be operational from summer 2022. Microsoft says the machine will have a 10-year lifespan. While the UK is not home to the most devastating of weather, climate change is causing concerns about increasingly powerful storms, snow, and floods.

Microsoft’s supercomputer technology on Azure will provide deeper prediction by analyzing bigger sets of data more efficiently. By leveraging AI and simulations, the solution will provide richer weather models for more accurate forecasting.

Tip of the day: Did you know that as a Windows 10 admin you can restrict user accounts by disabling settings or the control panel? Our tutorial shows how to disable and enable them via Group Policy and the registry.

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Azure App ServiceAzure BOT

Using the Service Communications API to Report Service Update Messages

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Informing Tenants About Feature Updates

I recently wrote about the transition of the Office 365 Service Communications API to become a Microsoft Graph API and how to use the API to fetch details of service incidents. As I pointed out then, the API includes the ability to retrieve information about the service update messages Microsoft posts to inform tenants about the delivery or retirement of features. These messages show up in the message center in the Microsoft 365 admin center (Figure 1) and are a great source of information about future change.

Service update messages in the Microsoft 365 admin center
Figure 1: Service update messages in the Microsoft 365 admin center

Microsoft has done a lot of work over the last few years to improve communication with tenants. They’ve:

  • Built an integration between the Message Center and Planner to synchronize updates to Planner. Tenants can then use the tasks created in Planner to assign responsibility for managing the introduction of new features or phasing out of old features. We recommend that all tenants consider using this integration to help manage change.
  • Added extra information to the messages to highlight the affected services (like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Teams).
  • Introduced better filtering capability in the Message Center.

Even so, challenges still exist in dealing with the volume of updates Microsoft introduces annually. It’s not just reading about the changes as they appear to understand how a new feature will affect users and the business, or how to manage something like the retirement Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021. Not everyone has the time or opportunity to keep tabs on new posts in the message center, and when they do, it can be challenging to understand some of the text created by Microsoft development groups to describe what they’re doing (intelligent people aren’t necessarily great writers). Another problem is tracking the frequent slippage in dates when Microsoft predicts features will be available. While Teams is notable for the high percentage of missed dates, no workload hits all its commitments.

Custom Message Processing

Good as the Message Center is, it’s always good when you can do things your own way, and that’s why the Office 365 Service Communications API is valuable. My last article covers the basics of connecting to the API and fetching data. Here we focus on the Messages API and how to extract and manipulate service update messages with PowerShell.

I like to think of practical examples to illustrate how something works. In this case, my example is a report of the service update messages flagged for tenants to act by a certain date. For instance, Teams ceased support for IE11 after November 30, 2020. That date is long gone now but a message to remind administrators of the fact remains. You could argue that this is an example of something Microsoft should clean up; equally, you could say that it’s a prompt for tenants to move off IE11 to Edge, which is why Microsoft might have left the message in place. In any case, it’s a message with an act-by date. Looking at the message center as I write, of the 256 messages, 31 have act-by dates.

I discovered this fact by running a simple Graph query using a registered app with consent to use the ServiceMessage.Read.All permission:

This code sets a date range to check service update messages against (I chose 180 days in the future) and sets up a query to find messages with an action required date less than the date. The code then runs the query and extracts the message data from the information the API returns. An individual message looks like:

So far, so good. We have some data, and the nice thing about having some data to play with is that we can decide how to slice and dice the information to make it more digestible for the target audience.

Let’s assume that we need to convince managers of the need to do some up-front preparatory work before Microsoft delivers new software to the tenant. Asking managers to go to the Microsoft 365 admin center isn’t feasible. In my experience, busy managers are more likely to review information if given a spreadsheet or report.

The next task is therefore to create code to loop through the message data retrieved from the Graph and generate suitable outputs. Apart from removing all the HTML formatting instructions from the descriptive text for a message, there’s no great challenge in this code. To make things interesting, I computed the time remaining between the current time and the action by date and flagged overdue items. You can download the complete script from GitHub. Figure 2 shows the HTML version of the report. The script also generates a CSV file.

Service update message data reported in HTML file
Figure 2: Service update message data reported in HTML file

Generating a Word Document

Given the flexibility of PowerShell, you could even create Word documents using message data in an approved form. Here’s some code to generate a Word document containing details of a message center notification.

Figure 3 shows an example of a Word document generated using the code.

A Word document generated by PowerShell using service message data
Figure 3: A Word document generated by PowerShell using service message data

Access Drives Innovation

The nice thing about having access to data is that innovative people will do interesting things with the data. Being able to process Microsoft 365 service update messages to extract whatever value you see in the information is goodness. The only question is how best to make use of the opportunity…

Source Practical365

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Azure App ServiceAzure Network

Using the Service Communications API to Report Service Update Messages

182-07_1-300×162

Informing Tenants About Feature Updates

I recently wrote about the transition of the Office 365 Service Communications API to become a Microsoft Graph API and how to use the API to fetch details of service incidents. As I pointed out then, the API includes the ability to retrieve information about the service update messages Microsoft posts to inform tenants about the delivery or retirement of features. These messages show up in the message center in the Microsoft 365 admin center (Figure 1) and are a great source of information about future change.

Service update messages in the Microsoft 365 admin center
Figure 1: Service update messages in the Microsoft 365 admin center

Microsoft has done a lot of work over the last few years to improve communication with tenants. They’ve:

  • Built an integration between the Message Center and Planner to synchronize updates to Planner. Tenants can then use the tasks created in Planner to assign responsibility for managing the introduction of new features or phasing out of old features. We recommend that all tenants consider using this integration to help manage change.
  • Added extra information to the messages to highlight the affected services (like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Teams).
  • Introduced better filtering capability in the Message Center.

Even so, challenges still exist in dealing with the volume of updates Microsoft introduces annually. It’s not just reading about the changes as they appear to understand how a new feature will affect users and the business, or how to manage something like the retirement Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021. Not everyone has the time or opportunity to keep tabs on new posts in the message center, and when they do, it can be challenging to understand some of the text created by Microsoft development groups to describe what they’re doing (intelligent people aren’t necessarily great writers). Another problem is tracking the frequent slippage in dates when Microsoft predicts features will be available. While Teams is notable for the high percentage of missed dates, no workload hits all its commitments.

Custom Message Processing

Good as the Message Center is, it’s always good when you can do things your own way, and that’s why the Office 365 Service Communications API is valuable. My last article covers the basics of connecting to the API and fetching data. Here we focus on the Messages API and how to extract and manipulate service update messages with PowerShell.

I like to think of practical examples to illustrate how something works. In this case, my example is a report of the service update messages flagged for tenants to act by a certain date. For instance, Teams ceased support for IE11 after November 30, 2020. That date is long gone now but a message to remind administrators of the fact remains. You could argue that this is an example of something Microsoft should clean up; equally, you could say that it’s a prompt for tenants to move off IE11 to Edge, which is why Microsoft might have left the message in place. In any case, it’s a message with an act-by date. Looking at the message center as I write, of the 256 messages, 31 have act-by dates.

I discovered this fact by running a simple Graph query using a registered app with consent to use the ServiceMessage.Read.All permission:

This code sets a date range to check service update messages against (I chose 180 days in the future) and sets up a query to find messages with an action required date less than the date. The code then runs the query and extracts the message data from the information the API returns. An individual message looks like:

So far, so good. We have some data, and the nice thing about having some data to play with is that we can decide how to slice and dice the information to make it more digestible for the target audience.

Let’s assume that we need to convince managers of the need to do some up-front preparatory work before Microsoft delivers new software to the tenant. Asking managers to go to the Microsoft 365 admin center isn’t feasible. In my experience, busy managers are more likely to review information if given a spreadsheet or report.

The next task is therefore to create code to loop through the message data retrieved from the Graph and generate suitable outputs. Apart from removing all the HTML formatting instructions from the descriptive text for a message, there’s no great challenge in this code. To make things interesting, I computed the time remaining between the current time and the action by date and flagged overdue items. You can download the complete script from GitHub. Figure 2 shows the HTML version of the report. The script also generates a CSV file.

Service update message data reported in HTML file
Figure 2: Service update message data reported in HTML file

Generating a Word Document

Given the flexibility of PowerShell, you could even create Word documents using message data in an approved form. Here’s some code to generate a Word document containing details of a message center notification.

Figure 3 shows an example of a Word document generated using the code.

A Word document generated by PowerShell using service message data
Figure 3: A Word document generated by PowerShell using service message data

Access Drives Innovation

The nice thing about having access to data is that innovative people will do interesting things with the data. Being able to process Microsoft 365 service update messages to extract whatever value you see in the information is goodness. The only question is how best to make use of the opportunity…

Source Practical 365

read more
Azure App Service

Microsoft and OpenAI Launch GitHub Copilot Programming System

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GitHub-Copilot-Open-AI-Microsoft

Over recent years, we have seen several examples of Microsoft leveraging its partnership with OpenAI, including exclusively licensing the artificial intelligence company’s GPT-3 (Generative Pretrained Transformer 3). In the latest collaboration, the companies are debuting an AI pair-programming platform called GitHub Copilot.

As the name suggests, Copilot includes work from Microsoft-owned GitHub and gives programmers tools to write code more efficiently and quickly. Microsoft is already rolling out GitHub Copilot as a preview on Visual Studio Code (VS Code).

The system runs on a new AI platform developed by OpenAI known as Codex.

“If the technical preview is successful, our plan is to build a commercial version of GitHub Copilot in the future. We want to use the preview to learn how people use GitHub Copilot and what it takes to operate it at scale,” GitHub officials point out in a FAQ document published with the platform.

Cross-Language Programming

Copilot is designed to help programmers across a wide range of languages. That includes popular scripts like JavaScript, Ruby, Go, Python, and TypeScript, but also many more languages.

As for OpenAI Codex, it is a new AI model built on machine learning training across billions of open source code lines. It also trained across natural language lines, meaning it understands both human language and programming code.

“GitHub Copilot understands significantly more context than most code assistants. So, whether it’s in a docstring, comment, function name, or the code itself, GitHub Copilot uses the context you’ve provided and synthesizes code to match. Together with OpenAI, we’re designing GitHub Copilot to get smarter at producing safe and effective code as developers use it.”

Back in May, Microsoft and OpenAI launched a new assistive AI for PowerApps will help convert natural language into workable code. It works exclusively with the Power Fx app in PowerApps and gives users the ability to implement AI tools without have a knowledge of high-level code.

Tip of the day: Thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) you can run complete Linux distributions within Windows 10. In our tutorial, we show you how to install Ubuntu or other Linux packages and how to activate the bash shell.

Source Winbuzzer

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Azure App Service

Microsoft Azure Cloud Services Model Reaches General Availability

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Cloud Services (extended support) is a new Microsoft solution that has been in public preview since January. After tweaking the solution over the interim months, Microsoft is now rolling out Cloud Services to everyone. The company says the offering is now generally available.

Based on the company’s Azure Resources Manager (ARM), the service replaces the previous Cloud Services that was based on Azure Service Manager (ASM). Alongside the wide release, Microsoft is also deploying a tool that helps users migrate from the old version to the new model. For the time being, this tool is working in preview.

More than just switching the base of the solution, Microsoft has also brought some changes to Cloud Services (extended support). For example, Azure Key Vault is now baked in, allowing deeper certification management.

Microsoft says the underlying function of Cloud Services, such as upgrades and rollbacks, will remain the same. Equally, the Azure GuestOS will now be aligned with Cloud Services.

Highlights

Here are the key highlights of the new service:

  • Cloud Services (extended support) also supports two types of roles, web and worker. There are no changes to the design, architecture, or components of web and worker roles.
  • No changes are required to runtime code as the data plane is the same as cloud services.
  • Azure GuestOS releases and associated updates are aligned with Cloud Services (classic).
  • Underlying update process with respect to update domains, how upgrade proceeds, rollback, and allowed service changes during an update will not change.
  • Customers must use Azure Key Vault to manage certificates in Cloud Services (extended support). Azure Key Vault lets you securely store and manage application credentials such as secrets, keys, and certificates in a central and secure cloud repository.
  • All resources deployed through the Azure Resource Manager must be inside a virtual network.
  • Each Cloud Service (extended support) is a single independent deployment. VIP Swap capability may be used to swap between two Cloud Services (extended support).

Tip of the day:

Tired of Windows 10’s default notification and other system sounds? In our tutorial we show you how to change windows sounds or turn off system sounds entirely.

Source Winbuzzer

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Azure App Service

Microsoft Using Special Liquid to Cool Azure Data Servers

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One of the problems companies face when handling massive computational loads is cooling. A company like Microsoft, with massive server banks within datacenters are constantly fighting against overheating. The company sees the end of the road for traditional air-cooling methods, such as fans. Instead, Microsoft is experimenting with liquid cooling by submerging servers in special tanks.

In a blog post, Microsoft explains how it uses a “two-hone immersion cooling” method by dipping servers into a liquid that does not damage electronics. The liquid carries heat away from components and then boils. By using a cooled condenser lid on top of the tank, the boiling water turns to vapor before changing back to liquid and being redistributed.

This is a closed look cooling system, according to Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft datacenter advanced development. Speaking to The Verge, he explained how the system works:

“It’s essentially a bath tub. The rack will lie down inside that bath tub, and what you’ll see is boiling just like you’d see boiling in your pot. The boiling in your pot is at 100 degrees Celsius, and in this case it’s at 50 degrees Celsius.”

In its official blog, the company points out it is not the first company to explore this technology. For example, cryptocurrency minders have been using immersion cooling. Still, for a major leader with a massive cloud infrastructure, this is a first.

On a simpler level, the company has already explored the idea of cooling its servers by submersion. Microsoft is already dropping datacenters into the ocean to keep them cool.

Deep Sea Experiment

Microsoft’s efforts to develop underwater datacenters was launched in 2014. In 2017, Project Natick was selected among the 190 finalists of the first World Changing Ideas Awards. By 2018, the project was ready and deployed underwater off the coast of Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

Last year, Microsoft raised the datacenter capsule from the ocean and the results were positive. Microsoft says its prediction about the benefits of underwater datacenters have been upheld.

“The consistently cool subsurface seas also allow for energy-efficient data centre designs. For example, they can leverage heat-exchange plumbing such as that found on submarines,” the blog post said at the time.

Tip of the day:

Do you sometimes face issues with Windows 10 search where it doesn’t find files or return results? Check our tutorial to see how to fix Windows 10 search via various methods.

Source Winbuzzer

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Azure App Service

Microsoft Solves Global Azure Active Directory Outage

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Microsoft says there was an Azure Active Directory problem that is making authentication issues for some customers. According to the company, the issue is sporadic but does affect users globally. It also manifests across services, such as Dynamics 365, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Office, Xbox Live, and Azure.

First reports of the problem started on Monday and stretched into this morning (March 16). Microsoft has now updated its Azure Status Twitter to confirm the issue has been mitigated.

“Engineers have confirmed the issue impacting Azure Active Directory has been mitigated.”

When complaints first came in, Microsoft issued the following statement regarding Azure Active Directory:

“CURRENT STATUS: Engineering teams have identified a potential underlying cause and are exploring mitigation options. The next update will be provided in 60 minutes or as events warrant.”

 

Cause

Microsoft says its analysis of the issue points to an error in the rotation of keys Azure AD uses with OpenID:

“As part of standard security hygiene, an automated system, on a time-based schedule, removes keys that are no longer in use. Over the last few weeks, a particular key was marked as “retain” for longer than normal to support a complex cross-cloud migration. This exposed a bug where the automation incorrectly ignored that “retain” state, leading it to remove that particular key.

“Metadata about the signing keys is published by Azure AD to a global location in line with Internet Identity standard protocols. Once the public metadata was changed at 19:00 UTC, applications using these protocols with Azure AD began to pick up the new metadata and stopped trusting tokens/assertions signed with the key that was removed. At that point, end users were no longer able to access those applications.”

If Azure AD has an uptime of less than 99.9% per month, users receive 25% service credit. If that number falls below 99%, they are entitled to 50%, and 100% if it’s below 95%. You can work out your downtime with the formula: “(User Minutes – Downtime)/User Minutes * 100)”.

Tip of the day:

Do you often experience PC freezes or crash with Blue Screens of Death (BSOD)? Then you should use Windows Memory Diagnostic to test your computers RAM for any problems that might be caused from damaged memory modules. This is a tool built into Windows 10 which can be launched at startup to run various memory checks.

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Azure App Service

Microsoft AccountGuard Security Features Coming to 31 Democracies

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Microsoft AccountGuard is evolving this week as the company brings the cybersecurity identity and access management features to 31 new democracies around the world. According to the company, “enterprise-grade” tools are now coming to other nations:

“The addition of new features to AccountGuard provides new ways to protect online accounts for political parties, candidates and their staff, health care workers, human rights defenders, journalists and certain other customers who are at greatest risk from nation-state hackers.”

AccountGuard was launched in August 2017. Available in Office 365, the service helps Microsoft Account holders running elections campaigns, in political committees, or politician staff. The tool provides more threat monitoring capabilities by regularly monitoring accounts for security breaches. Journalists, human rights workers, and more have been using Account Guard successfully.

Those industries can use the tool following Microsoft’s expansion of the service in April 2020.

During its checks, AccountGuard scans attachments for malware, phishing, and failed login attempts. If something is found, a notification is sent to the account holder. If a genuine cyber threat is uncovered, Microsoft provides remediation and ongoing support to stop the threat.

Rolling Out Now

New features coming to 31 democracies were first used during the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Microsoft says customers enjoyed an 18% improvement in its Identity Protection Security Score thanks to AccountGuard. This is score is an automatic review of an organization’s ability to hold off security attacks.

“These identity protection offerings help ensure only authorized people can log on to an organization’s systems and make it more difficult for hackers to impersonate legitimate staff.”

Among the countries receiving the features are the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Germany, Denmark, and Canada. You can check out the full list of supported nations here.

Tip of the day:

Did you know that as a Windows 10 admin you can restrict user accounts by disabling settings or the control panel? Our tutorial shows how to disable and enable them via Group Policy and the registry.

Source Winbuzzer

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Azure App Service

Microsoft Azure Space Partners with HPE for Spaceborne Computer-2 Launch

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Microsoft is teaming with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to link the Azure cloud platform with HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2. Under the partnership, the two companies will create compute and machine learning solutions for the supercomputer.

If you’re unfamiliar with HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2, it is a collaboration between HP and NASA. It is a commercial supercomputer that functions in space. Specifically, it is an edge computing device that brings computation during space flights through data-intensive applications.

NASA will launch the Spaceborne Computer-2 into space on February 20 as part of the 15th Northrop Grumman Resupply Mission to Space Station (NG-15).

One of the benefits for customers is the ability to gain new data insights and research developments. For example, the information could advance fields such as weather modelling, medial imaging, plant analytics, and more.

Expanding Azure Space

With Microsoft on board, the Spaceborne Computer-2 will sync into the Azure Space initiative. Announced in October 2020, Azure Space is a bundle of cloud products combining with partnerships to make Microsoft Cloud a major player in the growing space tech area.

“HPE and Microsoft are collaborating to further accelerate space exploration by delivering state-of-the art technologies to tackle a range of data processing needs while in orbit. By bringing together HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2, which is based on the HPE Edgeline Converged Edge system for advanced edge computing and AI capabilities, with Microsoft Azure to connect to the cloud, we are enabling space explorers to seamlessly transmit large data sets to and from Earth and benefit from an edge-to-cloud experience.

“We look forward to collaborating with Microsoft on their Azure Space efforts, which share our vision to accelerate discovery and help make breakthroughs to support life and sustainability in future, extended human missions to space.” —Dr. Mark Fernandez, Solutions Architect of Converged Edge Systems at HPE and Principal Investigator for Spaceborne Computer-2

Tip of the day:

When using your Windows 10 laptop or convertible with a mobile hotspot
you might want to limit the Internet bandwidth your PC uses. In our tutorial we are showing you how to set up a metered connection in Windows 10 and how to turn it off again, if needed.

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Azure App Service

Malwarebytes Confirms SolarWinds-Related Attack Through Microsoft 365 and Azure

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Major security and antivirus firm Malwarebytes says it was a victim of the recent SolarWinds breach through the Solarigate malware. Since last year, the state-backed breach has targeted users of the SolarWinds app Orion, including Nvidia, Microsoft, and government organizations.

In an official blog post, Malwarebytes points out it is not a user of SolarWinds apps. However, the company was breached through another vector that has already been compromised. The attack came from already breached apps that had access to Microsoft 365 and Azure services. Malwarebytes does use those two Microsoft services.

Attackers were able to access “a limited subset of internal company emails” but not any production systems.

Malwarebytes worked directly with the Microsoft Detection and Response Team (DART) to find the attack, says CEO Marcin Klecynski:

“Together, we performed an extensive investigation of both our cloud and on-premises environments for any activity related to the API calls that triggered the initial alert. The investigation indicates the attackers leveraged a dormant email protection product within our Office 365 tenant that allowed access to a limited subset of internal company emails.”

Moving forward, Malwarebytes says it is working with other security firms to share information. It is hoped it will become easier to mitigate Solarigate attacks and find responses that work to stop breaches.

Attacks

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed a Microsoft 365 breach related to the SolarWinds attack. According to the government agency, the breach left 3% of its mailbox vulnerable. However, no classified information was stolen during the attack.

While the Solarigate malware can be delivered through Microsoft services, it is not caused by them. Russia-backed threat actors used the avsvmcloud.com website to host a server for the Solorigate malware. The infection was sent to 18,000 SolarWinds Orion customers. Many of those users are major organizations and government departments.

Last month, Microsoft President Brad Smith said the attack creates “serious technological vulnerability for the United States and the world”.

Also in December, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) debuted a PowerShell tool to help Microsoft 365 customers mitigate Solarigate. Microsoft had recently confirmed stolen Azure/Microsoft 365 credentials and access tokens were a part of the breach.

Tip of the day:

Did you know that a virtual drive on Windows 10 can help you with disk management for various reasons? A virtual drive is just simulated by the platform as a separate drive while the holding file might be stored anywhere on your system .

The data in the drive is available in files or folders, which are represented by software in the operating system as a drive. In our tutorial we show you different ways how to setup and use such virtual drives.

Source Winbuzzer

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