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DRONACHARYA-- Gurukul Combining tradition with MODERNITY
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Donald Trump blamed for job losses as India tech workers face cuts

Swapana Bhosale was stunned when she found out earlier this month she was losing her job at tech services provider Cognizant Technology Solutions in India. Layoffs in the business are rare, particularly if employees are in the middle of client assignments like she was.

“Pulling people out of projects to sack them is unheard of in our industry,” said Bhosale, who demanded to be fired rather than resign so she can take legal action.

The 36-year-old sees an unusual culprit behind job losses in the country’s outsourcing industry: US President Donald J. Trump. She thinks his immigration policies are contributing to early cutbacks, aggravating losses that come from automation and softer customer demand. Cognizant and peers like Infosys Ltd. and Wipro Ltd. won’t disclose how many jobs they cut, but it appears the industry is going through one of the largest retrenchments in its three-decade-plus history.

Bhosale’s not alone in blaming Trump. In cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata, thousands of engineers who have been axed or face dismissal are banding together on social networks and WhatsApp groups to decry Trump’s policies. They are discussing the creation of the first industrywide IT labor union, which may foreshadow broader changes in a $110-billion business at the heart of India’s economy.

“People are angry,” said 25-year-old Pankaj Kumar Singh, a software analyst who was dismissed from Cognizant’s Kolkata operation after two years at the company. “They feel Trump’s policies have a lot to do with the firings.”

The view from the “Make America Great Again” president is different, of course. Trump campaigned on the idea of bringing back American jobs and frequently criticized the outsourcing industry for replacing US workers with those from overseas. Trump is tightening the criteria for letting foreign employees into the US, particularly through the controversial H-1B visa program.

India’s outsourcers are moving to adjust. Earlier this month, Infosys said it would hire 10,000 American workers in the US, jobs that in the past may have been filled with foreign employees on temporary visas. That has incensed workers who have taken to WhatsApp groups to argue the company is firing at home so it can hire in the US

Infosys, Cognizant and other companies say that is not the case. They say any exits are routine and performance-related. “We do this every year and the numbers could vary every performance cycle,” Sarah Vanita Gideon, an Infosys spokeswoman, said by email. The 200,000-strong company is still hiring and a batch of fresh recruits will soon begin their training, she said.

Cognizant, with headquarters in Teaneck, New Jersey and more than three-quarters of its 260,000 employees in India, said it has not conducted layoffs and will continue to hire. Some employees are “transitioning out of the company” after performance reviews, Harsh Kabra, a spokesman said via email.

Still, the backlash has swelled to the point where the trade group Nasscom decided to convene a press conference in Delhi last week to address the outcry. With representatives from Cognizant, Wipro, Tech Mahindra Ltd. and Mindtree Ltd. present, Chairman Raman Roy denied reports of mass dismissals. He said 170,000 new jobs were added to the 4-million-worker industry in fiscal 2017 and has continued to be a ‘net hirer’ in fiscal 2018.

That’s little consolation to people like Bhosale. She contributes to mortgage payments on the family’s two-bedroom flat and had just enrolled her 3-year-old in a pricey pre-school when she was notified of the firing. She pleaded for time to find a new job, but had her request denied.

She has turned to social media to cope with unemployment. She joined a WhatsApp Messenger group to swap advice and gossip with nearly a hundred Cognizant colleagues in the same predicament. Such digital forums now abound with rants against managers and memes on Trump.

“I hate Trump…” one newly-terminated worker of Cognizant railed anonymously on a Facebook Confessions page. “I remember the day he was elected…I never thought it had so much direct impact on my life/career.”

The worst is yet to come, said Kris Lakshmikanth, chairman of the Bangalore-based talent search firm, The Headhunters. He anticipates terminations will accelerate and top 150,000 or even 200,000 next year. “In my 25 years in executive search, managers were rarely fired. This year, I reckon Cognizant alone has let go of 1,500 managers to be replaced with less expensive resources.”

Workers have begun debating what could be a landmark union. Though trade unions are common in India in manufacturing and transportation, they have never had much success in information technology, in part because of double-digit pay hikes, attractive perks and foreign postings.

But with those heady days over, workers are feeling the pain of terminations. In Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, groups of ex-employees are petitioning local governments’ labor commissioners to intervene. In Chennai, the only region where tech employees were recently allowed to set up or join a union, employees have formed an IT wing with the New Democracy Labor Front.

The NDLF is calling for more transparency and accountability as the tech industry deals with the downturn. “Why are companies cloaking such large-scale firings under the guise of performance appraisals?” asked S. Kumar, a representative of the NDLF

He said the union is getting hundreds of calls and emails from workers across the country who have been laid off or are worried they will be. The union is advising such workers not to resign and to keep phones switched off to avoid calls from HR. “The companies are accountable to the government,” said Kumar. “Didn’t they benefit from subsidized government land, tax holidays and other freebies by saying they are creating jobs and boosting exports?”

Researchers find new ransomware EternalRocks, its stronger than WannaCry

NEW YORK: EternalRocks, a new strain of malware, has been identified by the researchers that targets the same vulnerability that wrecked havoc worldwide by 'WannaCry' ransomware, a media report said.

EternalRocks exploits the same vulnerability in Windows that helped WannaCry spread to computers. The malware includes far more threats than WannaCry, making it potentially tougher to fight.

Like the original ransomware, known as WannaCry, EternalRocks uses an NSA tool known as EternalBlue to spread itself from one computer to the next through Windows. But it also uses six other NSA tools, with names like EternalChampion, EternalRomance, and DoublePulsar (which is also part of WannaCry), Fortune reported.

In its current form, EternalRocks does not have any malicious elements--it does not lock or corrupt files, or use compromised machines to build a botnet. But that's not particularly reassuring, because EternalBlue leaves infected computers vulnerable to remote commands that could 'weaponize' the infection at any time.

WannaCry, has hit over 150 countries, including India and affected over 240,000 machines, primarily those running unpatched versions of Windows 7. It encrypts files on infected machines and demands payment for unlocking them.

EternalRocks is stronger that WannaCry because it does not have any weaknesses, including the kill switch that a researcher used to help contain the ransomware.

EternalBlue also uses a 24-hour activation delay to try to frustrate efforts to study it, the report noted.

The researcher who found EternalRocks does not claim that it has spread very far yet, but it's just one example of a wave of new malware based on the NSA-authored exploits. The consequences have already been serious, and they could get worse.

The last 10 days have seen a wave of cyber attacks that have rendered companies helpless around the globe.
First it was WannaCry that spread by taking advantage of a Windows vulnerability that Microsoft released a security patch for in March. It encrypted files on infected machines and demanded payment for unlocking them.

WannaCry had some loopholes that made it easier to slow and circumvent.

Over 48,000 attempts of ransomware attacks were detected in India. With 60 per cent of the attempts targeted enterprises, while 40 per cent were on individual customers, a cyber security firm, Quick Heal Technologies had said.

Government on alert for ‘zero-day’ attack

NEW DELHI: The government has sounded an alert for a possible onslaught on its information technology apparatus, warning that loopholes in software and the set-up at large could be exploited by assailants to paralyse the system.

Such a cyber assault, where a system’s vulnerability is exploited by hackers to gain unauthorised access to infiltrate malware or spyware, is known as a ‘zero-day’ attack.

The government’s heightened vigil comes amid increased concerns about malware attacks on critical installations, especially in the wake of the recent ‘Wannacry’ ransomware attack that crippled hundreds of thousands of systems in at least 100 countries.

Union information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that a National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) was being set up to counter security threats and strengthen the IT security apparatus. “We are strengthening the cyber-security walls, and this is being undertaken on a proactive basis,” Prasad told TOI, “It is a 24X7 vigil.” A government report has pointed at “security threats” to official infrastructure through laptops, desktops and mobile phones being used by senior officers.

According to the report, there should be a “central control” on the browsing, and these measures should be rolled out through the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In). Prasad said that the cyber coordination centre was being set up in order to have real-time situational awareness and mount a rapid response to cyber security incidents. “It will generate the necessary situational awareness of existing and potential cyber-security threats, and enable timely sharing of this information for proactive preventive and protective actions by individual entities,” he added.

It was the government’s prompt response to warnings that minimised the impact of WannaCry in India. Prasad said that CERT-In had issued a “vulnerability note” regarding a potential cyber attack as early as March 15, and came out with a response on May 13 when the attack hit computers and software systems in the country. CERT-In also alerted the RBI as well as Sebi, besides key organisations in banking and finance, power, defence, telecom, income tax, and central and state governments.

The government has also formulated a crisis management plan to counter hackers, cyber terrorists and online attackers. “This will be implemented by all the ministries and departments of the central and state governments as well as organisations in critical sectors.”

Ransomware attack: Time for India to consider hiring professionals to build its cyber offensive

WannaCry, unleashed on hundreds of countries, infected computers and blocked users from their own data, in a matter of hours. Its magnificence in scale was eclipsed by poor execution and low ransom fees — signs of a silly attack. WannaCry’s real lesson is the danger of countries stockpiling cyber weapons and the damage from its use, intentional or otherwise.

Governments everywhere must know that the most crippling wars of the future will be in cyberspace, with no bloodletting. To limit damages, India must build robust counter-intelligence, including a highly capable cyber wing of global experts who are proactive rather than reactive.

WannaCry has demonstrated how a theft at America’s National Security Agency (NSA) surfaced months later to attack a hospital system in Britain. The victim, the National Health Service( NHS), found several hospitals tuned out digitally, resulting in a wide patient shuffle to those that were unaffected. The ransomware had bugged an outdated operating system that hadn’t been plugged with the latest updates.

Some blame for this must rest with the US government. It found a way into a vulnerability in the affected Microsoft operating system, but issued warnings only after the exploit had been stolen by hackers and released online. As Microsoft put it, “It’s like having a Tomahawk missile stolen [from the US military].” This, then, was used to target those who were probably never the intended victims.

Countries poor and rich know that cyberwarfare can cause huge losses or can be used to furtively embarrass establishments by hacking into and exposing classified information — the equivalent of a diplomatic put-down in the new order. As everything from utilities to stock markets squat online, the risk of cyberattacks becomes omnipresent and omnipotent.

So, while the theft of cyberweapons will become commonplace, this risk won’t deter agencies such as the US Cyber Command from nurturing teams of cyber experts capable of launching online attacks on other countries. A Brookings Institution report estimates that some 100 countries are already building cyber military commands.

In this climate, countries that lack their own cyber arsenal and intelligence will always be disadvantaged. As India expands digitally, the burden on this government will increase heavily to keep the data and transactions of a billion Indians secure — not just on computers, but the more ubiquitous mobile phone. That means making sure thousands of different agencies, offering everything from government services to selling goods, keep data secure on multiple operating systems. It’s not a light task.

In 2007, Estonia, which invested heavily in digitising services, found itself throttled after it ignored warnings and removed a Russian memorial statue from the centre of town. Soon after, Estonia ground to a halt. Its citizens couldn’t even get news online, let alone access services. Though Russia never claimed responsibility for the attack, it gave the world a taste of how cyber warfare could be used in lieu of military bullying. That was a decade ago.

Trouble is, the next generation of cyber attacks will not be from a bunch of hackers in hoods. It will most likely be driven by machines, in which artificial intelligence (AI) and neural learning will be big players, for attack and defence. Research institutions have already demonstrated systems such as Ai Squared, an initiative led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which uses AI and analyst intuition to spot cyber attacks. Systems similar to these are the ones that India needs to have as part of its arsenal. Given India’s raw economic ambitions and troubled relations with some of its neighbours, it will always make for a target.

Managing this situation needs a sophisticated approach. While India has avast pool of talented coders, it sharply lags behind the West on AI and neural learning.

Infosys has unwittingly acknowledged this weakness by agreeing to set up innovation hubs in the US and hire 10,000 Americans to focus mostly on technologies of the future. So, the Indian government must now also think more like a big business, which wants to stay not just in the game but on top of it.

For too long, the Indian administration has been bound to hiring only its citizens for top policy and administrative roles. It must now consider the limitations this poses. In the cyber-driven world, it may be better off hiring the best available global professionals to build systems for its cyber offensive.

In the future, hostility will be borderless and reside online. Its only defence will be a high level of readiness that cuts across borders.

The writer is CEO, Content Pixies.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai reinforces company's AI ambitions

MOUNTAIN VIEW: Google's computer programs are gaining a better understanding of the world, and now it wants them to handle more of the decision-making for the billions of people who use its services.

CEO Sundar Pichai and other top executives brought Google's audacious ambition into sharper focus Wednesday at an annual conference attended by more than 7,000 developers who design apps to work with its wide array of digital services.

Among other things, Google unveiled new ways for its massive network of computers to identify images, as well as recommend, share, and organize photos. It also is launching an attempt to make its voice-controlled digital assistant more proactive and visual while expanding its audience to Apple's iPhone, where it will try to outwit an older peer, Siri.

The push marks another step toward infusing nearly all of Google's products with some semblance of artificial intelligence - the concept of writing software that enables computers to gradually learn to think more like humans.

Google punctuated the theme near the end of the conference's keynote address by projecting the phrase, "Computing that works like we do."

Pichai has made AI the foundation of his strategy since becoming Google's CEO in late 2015, emphasizing that technology is rapidly evolving from a "mobile-first" world, where smartphones steer the services that companies are building, to an "AI-first" world, where the computers supplement the users' brains.

AI unnerves many people because it conjures images of computers eventually becoming smarter than humans and eventually running the world. That may sound like science fiction, but the threat is real enough to prompt warnings from respected technology leaders and scientists, including Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking.

But Pichai and Google co-founder Larry Page, now CEO of Google corporate parent Alphabet Inc., see it differently. They believe computers can take over more of the tedious, grunt work so humans have more time to think about deeper things and enjoy their lives with friends and family.

Other big tech companies, including, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, also are making AI a top priority as they work on similar services to help users stay informed and manage their lives.

Google believes it can lead the way in AI largely because it has built a gigantic network of data centers with billions of computers scattered around the world. This while people using its dominant internet search engine and leading email service have been feeding the machines valuable pieces of personal information for nearly 20 years.

Now, Google is drawing upon that treasure trove to teach new tricks to its digital assistant, which debuted last year on its Pixel phone and an internet-connected speaker called Home that is trying to mount a challenge to Amazon's Echo. Google Assistant is on more than 100 million devices after being on the market for slightly more than six months and now is trying to invade new territory with a free app released Wednesday that works on the operating system powering Apple's iPhone. Previously, the assistant worked only on Google's Android software.

Google's assistant will be at a disadvantage on the iPhone, though, because Siri - a concierge that Apple introduced in 2011 - is built into that device.

. Lens uses AI to identify images viewed through a phone. For instance, point the phone at a flower and Assistant will call upon Lens to identify the type of flower. Or point the camera at the exterior of a restaurant and it will pull up reviews of the place.

Pinterest has a similar tool. Also called Lens, it lets people point their cameras at real-world items and find out where to buy them, or find similar things online.

Google Photos is adding a new tool that will prompt you to share photos you take of people you know. For instance, Photos will notice when you take a shot of a friend and nudge you to send it to her, so you don't forget. Google will also let you share whole photo libraries with others. Facebook has its own version of this feature in its Moments app.

One potentially unsettling new feature in Photos will let you automatically share some or all of your photos with other people. Google maintains the feature will be smart enough so that you would auto-share only specific photos - say, of your kids - to your partner or a friend.

Google is also adding a feature to Photos to create soft-cover and hard-cover albums of pictures at prices beginning at $9.99. The app will draw upon its AI powers to automatically pick out the best pictures to put in the album.

Government allays IT job loss fears, says working on H-1B issues

NEW DELHI: The government allayed fears of job losses in the IT sector, saying that reports of mass layoffs were misleading and incorrect. Secretary for IT and telecom Aruna Sundararajan said Tuesday that the IT industry was continuing at a growth pace and the government was in "close coordination” with the US authorities on the ongoing issue of H-1B visas to Indian professionals.

On issue of ‘WannaCry’ ransomware cyberattack on India, Sundararajan said a multi-agency team has been set up for continuously monitoring and assessing the situation.

"Since March the government of India has been on high alert,” the secretary told reporters on the sidelines of the Broadband India Forum event. "We have installed the necessary security patches as far as government key networks are concerned. We have not got any reports of widespread infection.”

"A multi-agency monitoring team has been set up, continuously monitoring and assessing the situation on a 24/7 basis… Overall, there has been no report on any substantive scale that Indian systems have been (impacted),” she added.

Cert-in, the agency under the ministry of IT and electronics that tracks computer security in India, had affirmed that apart from five or six isolated instances - one of 18 computers of police in Andhra Pradesh, as well as five odd instances in Kerala where some of the panchayat computers have been affected — very small, fragmented, isolated machines have been affected.

When asked about the US government’s decision to review the H-1B visa programme, which enables educated migrants with specific skills to work temporarily in the US, the secretary said she was certain that the US would take into account value add provided by Indian companies.

"There have been no steps or actions taken which curb the number of visas by individual companies, so I am sure as and when US government does a review, they will take into account what has been the value added by Indian companies,” she said.

While adding that only 17% of the 85,000 visas go to Indian companies, and that a large number of American companies rode on the backbone of services provided by Indian companies, Sundarajan said it would be "premature to have too many apprehensions”.

On recent reports of job losses in the IT sector, Sundararajan said the industry was continuing to grow at 8-9% this year, same as last year, and reports of massive job losses in the industry were untrue.

Ransomware cyber attack hits computers in two Kerala local bodies

Thiruvananthapuram: Even as companies around the globe are preparing for an imminent cyber attack, the computers of two village panchayats in Kerala were hit, with messages demanding $300 in virtual currency to unlock the files.

Officials who on Monday opened the office computer at the Thariyode panchayat office in the hilly district of Wayanad found that four of their computers have been hacked.

"The four computers were switched on as usual and they were unable to open the any document files as the virus displayed messages demanding a payment of $300 in virtual currency Bitcoin to unlock files and return them to the user. We have informed the district authorities about this," said Santhosh, a panchayat official.

Likewise another village panchayat at Aruvapulam near Konni in Pathanamthitta district on Monday morning got a similar virus message when their computer was switched on.

Officials attached to the two offices said the computers that have been affected did not have any major documents as they continue to rely on paper files.

IT experts are working on these systems on how best to come out of this cyber attack.

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Government working to bridge gap between digital India and Bharat: Harsh Vardhan

KOLKATA: Union Minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan today said the government was working towards bridging the divide between "digital India and Bharat" so that the poorest of the poor could also have access to all the facilities.

"A digital movement has already started - which is the combination of a scientific movement and a technology movement - so that the poorest of the poor in the remotest part of India can have access to all the facilities," he said.

Vardhan was speaking to reporters after inaugurating the Phase 4 of "Rashtriya Atlas Bhavan" of National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO) here.

He said that in the past 2-3 years over 2-lakh km optical fibre had been laid, and by 2018 the whole country is expected to be covered.

"Modiji wants that the 125 crore people of the country use mobiles and by pressing the button they get Re 1 in full and not just 15 paise they used to get previously," he said, adding "there should not be the real divide any more."

The Union minister referred to the sacrifices made by "Jan Sangh founder Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee" and said that the Shyamaprasad Mukherjee Research Foundation had renovated his birth place and digitised his archival photos.

He said NATMO was working with the aim of making the National Atlas freely available to the citizens of the country.

He said that with his own core team the PM was monitoring government schemes being implemented in the country and "the Department of Science and Technology was encouraging scientists to be pro-active and think out-of-box.

Crediting Modi with making the dream of digital India happen, Harsh Vardhan said, "After Modiji announced demonetisation on November 8, not a single man in the line said 'Uff' despite standing in line for hours."

In an apparent dig at the Opposition and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, he said, "While the opposition parties paralysed Parliament for days, a leader from Bengal kept making comments against demonetisation day after day."

Vardhan also praised former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee for bringing science to the centrestage of government policies.

"Vajpayeeji first coined the slogan 'Jai Vigyan'," he said.

Microsoft launches Azure migration tools, resources for hybrid cloud

NEW DELHI: Microsoft on Friday announced new Azure migration tools and resources to help organisations utilise the power of hybrid cloud.

Hybrid cloud is a computing environment which uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms.

The new tools and resources announced include free Cloud migration assessment, Azure hybrid use benefit and Azure site recovery.

"A free Cloud migration assessment will help organisations discover the servers across their IT environment, analyse their hardware configurations and provides a detailed report including the estimated cost benefits of moving to Microsoft Azure," the company said in a statement.

Now organisations can activate their "Azure hybrid use benefit" directly in the Azure management portal, simplifying their path to the Cloud in the most cost effective way possible. With the "Azure hybrid use benefit" they can save up to 40 per cent with Windows Server licenses that include software assurance.

Organisations can use "Azure site recovery" to migrate virtual machines to Azure and helps in moving applications whether they are running on AWS, VMware, Hyper-V or on physical servers.

Post has attachment to double storage capacity, add 5,000 new jobs in 2017

New Delhi, E-commerce company on Tuesday said it is set to double its storage capacity with the addition of 14 new fulfilment centres (FCs) in 2017 in India, including the recently announced seven specialised ones for large appliances and furniture.

The Indian unit of the American e-commerce giant said the additional new seven FCs will be set up in Telangana, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh to support its regular business, all of which will be fully operational by the end of this quarter.

Besides, the company also announced doubling of storage capacity of the FC in Ahmedabad and six times more space at the urban FC in New Delhi to support increased customer and seller demand.

"We are excited to announce our plans for 2017 which will double our storage capacity to support this exponential growth of We recently announced seven FCs dedicated to large appliances and furniture and with this capacity doubling, we will now see 41 FCs in India for 2017," Akhil Saxena, Vice President, India Customer Fulfilment, Amazon India, said in a statement.

"These 41 FCs will bring us closer to our customers and enable thousands of small and medium businesses to fulfil their orders in a cost-efficient manner. With close to 5,000 new jobs created by these 14 new FCs, we continue to remain committed to investing in infrastructure and technology in India."

The company said the new FCs will enable the sellers of the three new states of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, empower more sellers to gain access to and service customers across the country at significantly low operating costs.

"The company's FCs will cover a total area of close to 4 million square feet and offer a storage capacity of over 13 million cubic feet," the statement said.

Currently, over two million products are available for immediate shipping through the network of Amazon's FCs in India.

"It (the company) grew almost 85 per cent in the first quarter of 2017 and continues to rapidly expand to tier-2 and -3 cities and more in its aim to deliver to the most remote parts of India," the statement added.

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