Businesses with Apple and Cisco products may now pay less for cybersecurity insurance


Apple and Cisco announced this morning a new deal with insurer Allianz that will allow businesses with their technology products to receive better terms on their cyber insurance coverage, including lower deductibles – or even no deductibles, in some cases. Allianz said it made the decision to offer these better terms after evaluating the technical foundation of Apple and Cisco’s products, like Cisco’s Ransomware Defense and Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Mac.

Allianz found Apple and Cisco’s products offered businesses a “superior level of security,” Apple said in its own announcement about the new deal.

In particular, Cisco’s Ransomware Defense includes advanced email security, endpoint protection, and malicious internet site blocking which can protect an organization against malware, ransomware and other cyber threats.

Meanwhile, the integration of hardware, software and services on iOS devices helps to ensure that each component of the system is trusted, from booting up to installing third-party app, explained Apple.

“Users benefit from always-on hardware encryption, as well as support for secure networking protocols like Transport Layer Security (TLS) and VPN out of the box,” the company also noted.

The new cyber security insurance solution will involve Aon’s cyber security professionals assessing potential customers’ current cyber security situation and recommendations on how to improve their defenses. And participating organizations will have access to Cisco and Aon’s Incident Response teams in the event of a malware attack.

“The choice of technology providers plays a critical role in any company’s defense against cyber attacks. That’s why, from the beginning, Apple has built products from the ground up with security in mind, and one of the many reasons why businesses around the world are choosing our products to power their enterprise,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a statement.

“iPhone, iPad and Mac are the best tools for work, offering the world’s best user experience and the strongest security. We’re thrilled that insurance industry leaders recognize that Apple products provide superior cyber protection, and that we have the opportunity to help make enhanced cyber insurance more accessible to our customers,” he added.

In an interview with Reuters, Aon’s chief exec Jason Hogg explained why this cyber security solution is different from others. Businesses today often address cyber security in a siloed fashion, he said, with technology staff, legal and other departments all playing separate roles.

This solution is instead a more “holistic approach” to cybersecurity and coverage, Hogg told Reuters.

Cybersecurity is no small issue for today’s businesses, given the large-scale hacks companies like Equifax and Target have faced. But addressing it properly could also come with high costs. According to Reuters, U.S. cybersecurity premiums were $1.35 billion in 2016, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

For Apple and Cisco, the new deal could help them attract more enterprise customers to their products, potentially helping them to beat competitors to scoring these larger clients.

“At Cisco, security is foundational to everything we do. As the leading enterprise security company, we know that in a digital world security must come first, and our integrated security architecture reduces customers’ overall risk of exposure to ransomware and malware attacks,” said Chuck Robbins, Chairman and CEO, Cisco, in a statement. “Cisco Security technology is central to the new holistic risk management solution and we are excited to bring another important benefit to our customers with greater options for cyber insurance.”

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Voice interfaces beginning to find their way into business


Imagine attending a business meeting with an Amazon Echo (or any voice-driven device) sitting on the conference table. A question arises about the month’s sales numbers in the Southeast region. Instead of opening a laptop, opening a program like Excel and finding the numbers, you simply ask the device and get the answer instantly.

That kind of scenario is increasingly becoming a reality, although it is still far from common place in business just yet.

With the increasing popularity of devices like the Amazon Echo, people are beginning to get used to the idea of interacting with computers using their voices. Anytime a phenomenon like this enters the consumer realm, it is only a matter of time before we see it in business.

Chuck Ganapathi, CEO at Tact, an AI-driven sales tool that uses voice, type and touch, says with our devices changing, voice makes a lot of sense. “There is no mouse on your phone. You don’t want to use a keyboard on your phone. With a smart watch, there is no keyboard. With Alexa, there is no screen. You have to think of more natural ways to interact with the device.”

As Werner Vogels, Amazon’s chief technology officer, pointed out during his AWS re:Invent keynote at the end of last month, up until now we have been limited by the technology as to how we interact with computers. We type some keywords into Google using a keyboard because this is the only way the technology we had allowed us to enter information.

“Interfaces to digital systems of the future will no longer be machine driven. They will be human centric. We can build human natural interfaces to digital systems and with that a whole environment will become active,” he said.

Amazon will of course be happy to help in this regard, introducing Alexa for Business as a cloud service at re:Invent, but other cloud companies are also exposing voice services for developers, making it ever easier to build voice into an interface.

While Amazon took aim at business directly for the first time with this move, some companies had been experimenting with Echo integration much earlier. Sisense, a BI and analytics tool company, introduced Echo integration as early as July 2016.

But not everyone wants to cede voice to the big cloud vendors, no matter how attractive they might make it for developers. We saw this when Cisco introduced the Cisco Voice Assistant for Spark in November, using voice technology it acquired with the MindMeld purchase the previous May to provide voice commands for common meeting tasks.

Roxy, a startup that got $2.2 million in seed money in November, decided to build its own voice-driven software and hardware, taking aim, for starters, at the hospitality industry. They have broader ambition beyond that, but one early lesson they have learned is that not all companies want to give their data to Amazon, Google, Apple or Microsoft. They want to maintain control of their own customer interactions and a solution like Roxy gives them that.

In yet another example, Synqq introduced a notes app at the beginning of the year that uses voice and natural language processing to add notes and calendar entries to their app without having to type.

As we move to 2018, we should start seeing even more examples of this type of integration both with the help of big cloud companies, and companies trying to build something independent of those vendors. The keyboard won’t be rendered to the dustbin just yet, but in scenarios where it makes sense, voice could begin to replace the need to type and provide a more natural way of interacting with computers and software.

Featured Image: Mark Cacovic/Getty Images

Cisco Spark Assistant bringing voice commands to meeting hardware


Anyone who has used modern meeting software knows it’s still fraught with challenges trying to get everyone into the meeting, futzing with the hardware or software and smoothly integrating external documents like PowerPoint presentations. Cisco is trying to improve and simplify the meeting experience with voice commands, and today it introduced Cisco Spark Assistant, a voice controlled interface for Cisco Spark meeting hardware.

The artificial intelligence underlying the voice recognition technology is courtesy of MindMeld, a conversational AI company that Cisco purchased in May for $125 million. The idea is to reduce the effort required to manipulate the meeting hardware by introducing a limited set of meeting-related voice commands, says Timothy Tuttle, CTO of the Cognitive Collaboration Group, and former CEO and founder of MindMeld.

He says they are not trying to replace popular consumer voice assistants like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Instead, they wanted to maintain a steady focus on the meeting room and the kinds of commands that make sense in that environment.

“Cisco acquired MindMeld in May of this year. We have taken and applied [our technology] to Spark Assistant. The initial focus is to use voice commands to streamline the things people do every single day in meetings involving joining and controlling device functions,” Tuttle explained.

That could be actions like entering your private meeting room, inviting people to your meeting, joining meetings or adjusting the volume. To get the system to listen, you use the trigger phrase, “Hey Spark,” and then the given command such as “Hey Spark, turn up the volume.” The team wanted to create a trigger command that you couldn’t use by accident.

Tuttle says that tuning MindMeld’s technology to work with Cisco hardware has been challenging, but by limiting the command set and taking advantage of the quality of the hardware setups, such as multiple microphones, has made it easier to pick up voices in a room and implement the voice recognition algorithms.

Over time, they hope to add other functionality to call up documents or analytics from various enterprise repositories using voice commands. Other future features could include a full automated meeting transcript (a feature which rival Zoom announced earlier this year).

The product is being announced this week, but won’t be available until some time early next year with additional commands being layered on over time.

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