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Future of education: How cloud computing is supporting a new hybrid model of learning

The coronavirus pandemic and a rapid digital transformation process means universities around the globe are embracing online learning like never before. So what happens now? Laura Dawson, CIO at the London School of Economics, explains all.

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Universities and their students around the globe have embraced the potential of online learning.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Academics and executives at the world’s biggest universities have talked for years about the potential of electronic learning to create new and better forms of education – but before 2020, the evidence to support that optimism was pretty thin.

One study at the start of 2019 concluded that online education had failed to reduce costs or improve outcomes for students. Additional surveys showed that the number of students using online learning internationally was modest and, worse still, often in decline.

Such was the lack of progress that Richard Garrett, the director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, wrote a paper asking, ‘Whatever happened to the promise of online learning?’. His research suggested electronic education was no match for the immersion and networking available in traditional classrooms.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Yet less then 18 months later, the outlook for online learning has changed radically. The coronavirus pandemic and a rapid digital transformation process has led universities around the globe – albeit initially reluctantly – to embrace the potential of online learning like never before, and now they are grappling with what to do next.

That’s certainly the case at the London School of Economics (LSE), says CIO Laura Dawson. Like her peers at higher education institutions in the UK and abroad, Dawson established the technical foundations to shift all learning online when the lockdown came in spring 2020.

The story of LSE’s rapid digital transformation at that time will be one that’s familiar to tech leaders at other organisations around the world: in a matter of days, Dawson and her IT colleagues secured remote links, sent out Windows 10 laptops, and established cloud-based services such as Zoom for the provision of online education.

The move online was a big break from the norm at LSE, where academics had spent many years teaching people face-to-face in classrooms. Dawson accepts that some of these lecturers were sceptical about the potential success of digitisation. However, the successful shift online has helped to remove some of these doubts.

“I think that’s the biggest thing in terms of change for education – it’s giving educators the confidence that online is not a big, scary beastie that they can’t do or isn’t going to be as good, because they’ve done it. And they proved they can do it. I think that’s a big shift and that will make things a lot easier going forward,” she says.

Such has been the level of success at LSE and other universities that experts around the world recognise that there is now no going back to how things were before.

Cloud-based services have proven their value and are helping institutions like LSE to connect with students around the globe who might previously have been unreachable. “It hasn’t gone unnoticed that those opportunities exist,” agrees Dawson.

This new-found positivity is in sharp contrast to some experts last year, who feared that academic institutions and their IT infrastructures would be badly prepared for the rapid shift to online learning.

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Dawson: “It’s giving educators the confidence that online is not a big, scary beastie.”

Image: LSE

While there’s still work to done on refining the online user experience, most experts agree that universities have established the groundworks for a new hybrid model, where a mix of online and offline teaching defines the future of education.

SEE: Digital transformation: The new rules for getting projects done

That hybrid vision chimes with Dawson, who says that – despite the success of LSE’s rapid digital transformation process – lessons won’t all stay online forever. She says there is still “real value” in face-to-face education, especially the opportunity to discuss and debate topics and trends with lecturers and students.

“I think there will be a desire or a need for it, particularly for things like executive education, because it isn’t always the teaching in the room that’s the key differentiator. It’s the networking and the collaborating that makes the difference,” she says.

Dawson says some elements of this collaborative interaction can take place via a hybrid mix of offline and online methods, but key conditions must be met. Any form of hybrid teaching must ensure people inside and outside the classroom have an equitable experience.

“I think it can be done; I hope it can be done, because I can see that that’s what potentially a lot of organisations are going to want,” she says. “But the people in the room can’t have more say than the people who are not in the room.”

Academic institutions, therefore, will have to ensure they focus on refining how technology is used as part of the customer experience that they provide to students, whether they’re in the classroom, at home, or video-conferencing in from abroad.

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Lessons won’t all stay online forever, despite the success of LSE’s rapid digital transformation process.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dawson gives the example of virtual whiteboards that are used in online mathematics lessons. It’s far too hard right now for tutors to be able to write complex statistics on a whiteboard and to successfully convey the details of a lengthy formula, as they would be able to in a traditional classroom setting.

“One of the key reasons we have in the past struggled to get those subjects online is the ability to recreate writing formula up on the screen in a way that can be read by anybody. Because it’s often so small that you can’t see it, so there’s some work to be done there,” she says.

Yet Dawson says it’s important to recognise just how far the move to online learning during the coronavirus pandemic has helped to boost the electronic educational experience, particularly in the case of asynchronous teaching, where teaching materials are posted online and learners work through them in their own time.

Dawson says the good news is academic institutions won’t necessarily need to invest heavily in a suite of new tools to improve the hybrid teaching experience. Most of the key technologies – like video-conferencing tools and online-learning platforms, such as Moodle – have been implemented to help support the shift to online learning in the past 12 months.

“I think good video conferencing, like we’re doing at the moment with Teams and Zoom, really helps create the collaborative environment to discuss the topic. The value is not necessarily in the material that you’ve just watched, but in the discussion that you have afterwards with the tutor. And I think we’ve seen it works – we just need to hone everyone’s skills and just make it better,” she says.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/future-of-education-how-cloud-computing-is-supporting-a-new-hybrid-model-of-learning/

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ZDNET

Crackonosh malware abuses Windows Safe mode to quietly mine for cryptocurrency

The malware is thought to have generated millions of dollars in just a few short years.

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Researchers have discovered a strain of cryptocurrency-mining malware that abuses Windows Safe mode during attacks.

The malware, dubbed Crackonosh by researchers at Avast, spreads through pirated and cracked software, often found through torrents, forums, and “warez” websites.

After finding reports on Reddit of Avast antivirus users querying the sudden loss of the antivirus software from their system files, the team conducted an investigation into the situation, realizing it was due to a malware infection.

Crackonosh has been in circulation since at least June 2018. Once a victim executes a file they believe to be a cracked version of legitimate software, the malware is also deployed.

The infection chain begins with the drop of an installer and a script that modifies the Windows registry to allow the main malware executable to run in Safe mode. The infected system is set to boot in Safe Mode on its next startup.

“While the Windows system is in safe mode antivirus software doesn’t work,” the researchers say. “This can enable the malicious Serviceinstaller.exe to easily disable and delete Windows Defender. It also uses WQL to query all antivirus software installed SELECT * FROM AntiVirusProduct.”

Crackonosh will scan for the existence of antivirus programs — including Avast, Kaspersky, McAfee’s scanner, Norton, and Bitdefender — and will attempt to disable or delete them. Log system files are then wiped to cover its tracks.

In addition, Crackonosh will attempt to stop Windows Update and will replace Windows Security with a fake green tick tray icon.

The final step of the journey is the deployment of XMRig, a cryptocurrency miner that leverages system power and resources to mine the Monero (XMR) cryptocurrency.

Overall, Avast says that Crackonosh has generated at least $2 million for its operators in Monero at today’s prices, with over 9000 XMR coins having been mined.

Approximately 1,000 devices are being hit each day and over 222,000 machines have been infected worldwide.

In total, 30 variants of the malware have been identified, with the latest version being released in November 2020.

“As long as people continue to download cracked software, attacks like these will continue and continue to be profitable for attackers,” Avast says. “The key take-away from this is that you really can’t get something for nothing and when you try to steal software, odds are someone is trying to steal from you.”

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Crackonosh has been in circulation since at least June 2018. Once a victim executes a file they believe to be a cracked version of legitimate software, the malware is also deployed.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/crackonosh-malware-abuses-windows-safe-mode-to-quietly-mine-for-cryptocurrency/

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South Australia splashes out on space, defence, and cybersecurity in 2021-22 Budget

The South Australian government believes tech-focused sectors such as defence, space, and cybersecurity will have a key role to play in the state’s future.

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In taking a forward-looking approach into what the future of South Australia will look like, the South Australian government has announced it will bolster investment in tech-focused sectors such as defence, space, and cybersecurity as it hands down the 2021-22 Budget [PDF].

“This Budget is our blueprint for a stronger South Australia, creating jobs, building what matters and delivering better services to further secure our growing global reputation as one of the safest and most attractive places in the world to live, work, and raise a family,” Treasurer Rob Lucas said on Tuesday.

Some of the specific funding announcements include AU$20.8 million to upgrade the existing buildings at Lot Fourteen to make way for the expansion of space, digital, hi-tech, and cyber companies, with a particular focus on companies involved in small satellite development.

Separately, AU$6.6 million will be contributed over five years to assist with the SASAT1 Space Services Mission, which will see a local manufacturer launch a small satellite in mid-2022 as well as deliver space-derived services to the state.

South Australia’s Defence and Space Landing Pad program has also received a boost, with the state government saying it will deliver AU$860,000 over three years for the program that is used to support international defence and space companies that bring new, sought-after capability to South Australia.

Local artificial intelligence and health technology companies are set to receive additional support through a AU$1.6 million allocation delivered over four years. Under this investment, AU$985,000 will be used for grants to support AI and health technology companies through matching co-funding for health application pilots, and $589,000 to deliver project support activities, including investment concierge services.

Meanwhile, AU$2.6 million will be earmarked to support small businesses developing digital and cyber security capabilities as well as other capabilities to enter the national market.

The Budget papers also indicated AU$21.1 million over three years will be dedicated towards the implementation of stages three and four of the South Australia Police Shield project, which involves linking South Australia Police’s data and records management system directly with other justice sector agencies. The state government touted the move will improve collaboration and data sharing capabilities.

In a bid to boost bushfire response, the 2021-22 Budget revealed that it will contribute AU$7.7 million over four years towards the ongoing management, support, and maintenance of automatic vehicle location systems (AVL) used by the emergency services sector. AVL provides real time location information of firefighting and other emergency response vehicles during incidents. AVL is expected to be installed in approximately 1,400 vehicles at a total cost of AU$12.7 million.

Additionally, the 2021-22 Budget indicated support for the state government’s commitment to improving digital services for citizens remains ongoing through its AU$120 million Digital Restart Fund, noting that AU$4.3 million in 2021-22 will be put towards the South Australian government’s online services portal, AU$5.5 million over two years for the expansion of the residential aged care enterprise system, AU$1.3 million over two years for the child and family services information systems, and AU$500,000 in 2021-22 for the Safeguarding smartphone app.

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Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/south-australia-splashes-out-on-space-defence-and-cybersecurity-in-2021-22-budget/

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How to build business credit

Business credit is vital for businesses that need to borrow money to grow. Building business credit is not impossible; it just takes time and dedication.

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The face of business continues to change. Even before the pandemic of 2020 hit, business market trends suggested that the growth of e-commerce would continue to be the big wave of the future. Businesses are learning to adapt to changes in the digital marketplace and stay ahead of changes by adopting the innovations of e-commerce.

As consumer spending continues to rise, businesses will have to invest to compete. This will require working capital and cash flow to purchase the software and technologies needed to survive in the digital economy.

For those businesses without large amounts of working capital or wealthy investors — like many small businesses and startups — it has brought up the idea of building business credit.

Below, ZDNet has all the information you need on how to build business credit.

What is business credit?

At some point, entrepreneurs and business owners consider borrowing money. Many have not accumulated enough capital and cash to hit the ground running right out the gate when starting a business.

Business credit allows a business owner or company to borrow money to build their business, pay for the necessary purchases, or expand their business. Of course, they must pay this money back with interest.

Some businesses do get to the point where they can maintain their working operations off of profits, but most require constant cash flow — good business credit affords this.

However, it isn’t as simple as walking into a bank and getting large amounts of cash. Businesses must first work hard to build business credit to qualify for needed loans. It takes patience and the right knowledge to build business credit the right way.

How to build business credit the right way?

Most people are familiar with building credit for personal use — applying for loans, purchasing homes or vehicles, or getting credit cards — building business credit is not much different in principle.

How to choose a business structure?

Unless you plan on being a sole proprietor, you must first establish your business as an entity separate from yourself. Not doing so leaves you open to assuming personal liability if legal issues were ever to arise.

In addition, separating yourself from your business also brings advantages at tax time. The most common business entities are limited liability companies (LLC) and corporations.

How to register your business?

Once the proper business structure is chosen, you need to register your business and apply for a federal tax ID from the IRS — known as an EIN. Without an EIN, you will be unable to open business bank accounts or apply for business lines of credit.

How to establish a business credit profile?

Once your business entity is filed and registered, you can begin the task of building your business credit. To establish a trusted financial reputation among lenders, you will need to have a working business credit file.

Every lender will check your credit profile when you apply for a loan or line of credit. The lender must establish trust with the borrower, making sure money borrowed will be repaid. This is referred to as “creditworthiness.”

One way you can begin to develop this trust is by opening a business bank account.

Begin building business credit

There are numerous business bank accounts for traditional banking and online banking. You must find one that suits your business needs.

Consider these when choosing a business bank account:

  • Is it trusted and secure? Make sure you establish a bank account with a trusted bank, one that is registered and insured by the FDIC. As time goes on, you will also want to ensure your bank is an equal opportunity lender in good standing; all reputable banks are.

  • Explore the services and management tools. Chances are you will want to apply for a business credit card; if so, what are the APR rates? What type of management tools do they offer for business accounts?

  • Check the investment rates and maintenance fees. If you’re looking to earn interest on your money, what are their APY rates? What are the required minimum balances to take advantage of those rates? Most banks have monthly maintenance fees, another factor to consider.

  • How are the help and support? New business owners will profit from a bank with professional help centers and financial advisors on-site or within reach. If you’re always on the go, does the bank have an app for mobile banking?

Get a business credit card

Another way to help establish your business credit profile and build your business credit is by getting a business credit card. Business credit cards allow business owners to pay for necessary expenses without massive amounts of cash flow while also helping to build a business credit history.

Most come with higher credit limits and bonus rewards that you won’t find with personal credit cards.

Here are a few advantages:

  • More spending for business tools: Business owners, especially startups, can use higher credit limits to invest in the necessary software and business tools they may need. Business credit cards allow you to build business credit as you boost cash flow.

  • Protection on purchases: As opposed to cash-only purchasing methods, business credit cards often come with protection on purchases — if lost, stolen, or damaged.

  • Rewards and cashback: Many credit card companies offer rewards for spending, e.g. points or miles to travel. Some offer cashback bonuses after meeting certain spending thresholds.

  • Building business credit history: Perhaps the most significant advantage for our purposes is the ability to build a business credit history. It is essential to make your credit card payments on time or early to establish a trusted credit history. This will boost your business credit profile and score with credit bureaus.

Explore other forms of business credit

In addition to business credit cards, there are other ways to establish and build business credit. These include different forms such as supplier credit, vendor credits, and service or retail credits.

  • Supplier credit: Supplier credits are a great way to establish a reputation of trust with your business. Most businesses need a steady stream of supplies and inventory to maintain operation. Supplier credit is an agreement between you and a supplier allowing you to defer payment for supplies. This helps conserve working cash flow and allows you to build credit as you make your payments.

  • Vendor credit: Like supplier credits, vendor credits allow you to purchase services (or products) from vendors with short-term financing. These payments can be made with a business credit card, allowing you additional time until profits roll in. Again, making payments before or on time is critical.

  • Service credit: Service credits are usually the simplest form of building credit outside of business credit cards. Services providers — internet, phone, TV, or other utility services — allow business owners to build credit as they make service payments.

  • Retail credit: Business owners can also establish relationships with their preferred retailers; most offer store credit cards for businesses. This is yet another avenue to build credit as payments are made.

  • Pay early (or at least on time): Again, it is important to pay these entities on time, but preferably early. It is equally important that these entities report payments to credit bureaus. This will ensure that your business credit profile gets a boost.

Keep building and monitoring your business credit

Once your business credit profile is established, and in good standing, you will have a better opportunity to branch out into other forms of lending — lines of credit and business loans.

Again, it is vitally important that these lenders report to credit bureaus so that your business credit profile and history continue to rise.

It is also essential to monitor your business credit profile to ensure your record is up to date and free of errors. Unfortunately, fraudulent activity happens, and if you are not watching your credit profile regularly, this can have a detrimental impact on your business credit.

Currently, three major companies handle business credit reporting — Equifax, Experian, and Dun & Bradstreet. Each varies slightly in their reporting, but each offers ways to monitor your business credit score and standing and allows you to update business information if the need should arise.

Building business credit is not complicated, but it does take time and dedication. Doing so will ensure that your business is equipped and prepared for whatever the future may hold.

At some point, entrepreneurs and business owners consider borrowing money. Many have not accumulated enough capital and cash to hit the ground running right out the gate when starting a business.

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/build-business-credit/

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