Hacking Attacks: The Next Gen Warfare

Hacking Attacks: The Next Gen Warfare

As per reports by Cyber Intelligence firm Cyfirma, there are 10-day old conversations on Dark Web forums regarding notorious China based groups – Gothic and Stone Panda, making India the next target of hacking attacks. How far will have they gone in their cyber-warfare plans and what is China’s next move internationally?

Crux of the Matter

What Lurks Behind The Dark Web?
The dark web is part of the World Wide Web content that is not indexed by regular Search engines and requires specific software and configurations as authorization of access. Thus, it can be an easy hideout for dangerous underground communities such as pornography, drugs, hiring hitmen, etc.

Cyber-attacks form a core component of 5th Generation Warfare: propaganda and information war.

China Cooking Revenge Plans?
Several government agencies, media houses, pharmaceutical companies, telecom operators, and a large tyre company in India are on the bull’s eye of a cyberattack by Chinese hacker groups. Their specific targets seemed three central government ministries – Foreign Affairs, Defence, Information and Broadcasting.

Notorius Plans?
This angry plan comes after a violent face-off between India and China earlier this week, a first in 45 years. Twenty Indian and around forty-five Chinese soldiers lost their lives in the clash and others were injured.

Mandarin and Cantonese hacker forums started talking about teaching a lesson to India, pointedly the media houses that have been critical of the Chinese army. Meanwhile, on the Indian front, a boycott China movement has taken pace, which urges consumers to stop buying products made and exported by China.

40,000 Attacks In Just 5 Days?
Maharashtra police’s cyber wing collected information about more than 40,000 hacking attempts, on India’s Information Technology infrastructure and banking sector, in just a matter of five days from 18-23 June. Most of them originated from the Chengdu area in China.

What Are The Two Evil Pandas?
Gothic Panda and Stone Panda came out as the two prominent groups behind such hacking plans, that have a direct affiliation to the People’s Liberation Army. Gothic Panda is an expert in targetting strategic sectors like defense, aerospace, telecom, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and engineering. Stone Panda has a past track record of carrying out secret trade theft and stealing supply chain information. 

Virtual Torment
Both groups actively involve themselves in targeting organizations in countries around the world including India, Japan, the US, Canada, Brazil and Australia. The most common attacks ranging from defacing websites by using a weakness in web applications to data exfiltration using specialized malware. 

Then there can be a denial of service and impersonating companies’ websites and launching malicious phishing campaigns, on top of it. The US and other western countries have long accused China of aggressive espionage, an act of spying and obtaining secret or confidential information, without the permission of the holder of the information.

‘Anonymous’ Online Activists In US
In light of #BlackLivesMatter movement that started in the US after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, hacker group Anonymous’ accounts have pledged their support to protestors against police brutality and racism.

The tweets and Facebook posts in which they highlighted their support, have been seen millions of times, and are repeatedly shared on social media platforms.

Covid-19 Themed Phishing Plans
There were reports of a Covid-19 themed phishing campaign by North Korean state hackers, which was predicted to target six nations including India, Singapore, South Korea, Japan the UK, and the US on June 21.

The attack was a part of the Lazarus Group’s plan against 50 lakh individuals and businesses, including small and large enterprises.

  • A black hat hacker is a hacker who violates computer security for personal gain or maliciousness. The black hat/white hat terminology originates in the Western genre of popular American culture, in which black and white hats denote villainous and heroic cowboys respectively.
  • Activities of playful cleverness can be said to have “hack value” and therefore the term “hacks” came about, with early examples including pranks at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) done by students to demonstrate their technical aptitude and cleverness. Therefore, the hacker culture originally emerged in academia in the 1960s around the MIT.
  • Anonymous is a decentralized international activist/hacktivist movement that is widely known for its various cyber attacks against several governments, government institutions and government agencies, corporations, and the Church of Scientology. The name Anonymous itself is inspired by the perceived anonymity under which users post images and comments on the Internet.

NASA Helicopter Ingenuity To Explore Mars

NASA Helicopter Ingenuity To Explore Mars

NASA is all set to fly a drone-like helicopter in the atmosphere of the red planet. The craft named Ingenuity, will hitch a ride to Mars aboard the Perseverance lander, making it the first experimental flight on another planet.

Crux of the Matter

Ingenuity – The Mars Helicopter
The Ingenuity craft is a wheeled, robotic rover that has a mission to drive across the planet’s rugged surface. It will launch from Earth this summer, with the touchdown scheduled for 18 February 2021 on Mars. The craft is 50 cm high with four blades, mounted on twin, counter-rotating rotors covering 1.2 m. The size of the rotors was needed to be huge enough to fly in Mars’s thin atmosphere.

How Good A Photographer Is Ingenuity
Ingenuity carries a black-and-white navigation camera and images are beamed by short-range radio links to Perseverance, which then relays them to one of the  NASA spacecrafts in Mars orbit. Subsequently, they are transmitted back to Earth. Dr. Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says multiple images can then be stitched into a panorama using ground software tools.

The helicopter attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, will be deployed onto the Martian surface. Source: JPL

What Is The Mission
The rover’s mission is astrobiological i.e it will search for signs of past microbial life. It will then characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future passage back to Earth.

The helicopter’s main focus would be to return engineering data from the test flights that will provide valuable feedback to refine future designs and pave way for further human exploration of Mars. The primary plan is for it to complete five flights over a period of 30 days for now.

Part Of The Bigger Picture?
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

This is just the beginning. Source: NASA
  • The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center in the city of La Cañada Flintridge. The laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft and has managed all four successful robotically operated Mars rovers.
  • Mars Cube One (or MarCO) was a Mars flyby mission that consisted of two nano spacecraft, MarCO-A and MarCO-B, that provided a real-time communications link to Earth. The two spacecraft were nicknamed by JPL engineers as WALL-E and EVE in reference to the main characters in the animated film WALL-E.
  • The Martian is a 2015 science fiction film starring Matt Damon. The film depicts an astronaut’s lone struggle to survive on Mars after being left behind, and efforts to rescue him and bring him home to Earth.

Dexamethasone – The New WHO-approved COVID Buster

Dexamethasone - The New WHO-approved COVID Buster

Recent UK trials have touted an anti-inflammatory drug called dexamethasone as a ground-breaking treatment for serious COVID-19 cases. Reports also state that it could reduce death rates to up to one-third.

Crux of the Matter

Wait, Is It Dexa-metha-sone?
Coronavirus disease triggers inflammation in the patient’s body as he/she tries to fight it with the help of their immune system. At times, the immune system goes into overdrive and causes a fatal reaction. Consequently, the response designed to attack infection ends up attacking the body’s own cells. Dexamethasone is a steroid that is designed to act like a hormone in the body and thus calms this effect.

Does It Work The Same For All?
Dexamethasone is a medicine that acts as a steroid that reduces inflammation, by mirroring anti-inflammatory hormones produced by the patient’s body. Thus the drug does not work on people with comparatively milder symptoms, as suppressing their immune system at an early stage of the infection spread, would not be helpful. It’s considered most useful for the worst COVID-hit hospitalized patients, who are on ventilators.

The Trial And Its Results
The Recovery (Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 therapy) trial was conducted by the University of Oxford. 2,100 patients received a 6mg daily dose of dexamethasone in the test run for 10 days. Their progress was equated with a random sample of about 4,300 patients, who claimed to receive no additional treatment. The results clearly stated how Dexamethasone could prevent one in three deaths for patients on mechanical ventilation and one in five, for the ones on just oxygen supply.

Why Is It The Chosen One?
First made in 1957, Dexamethasone is a low-cost drug as it already exists and is thus in good supply across the world. Additionally, the UK government has stockpiled enough drug supply to treat 200,000 people. The drug is estimated to cost from £5.40 a day per patient, with a regular COVID-19 treatment known to be of 10 days.

What Is Its Reception Worldwide?
WHO has given the thumbs up of approval for the trial results. They further added how the next move on their part would be creating more therapies for COVID-19 patients with milder symptoms. The drug is manufactured mainly in South Africa, where more than 5K people have died of COVID-19. Its government has started issuing medical orders for its real-time implementation in their hospitals.

But Are There Any Side Effects?
Common side effects include anxiety, insomnia, weight gain, and fluid retention while rarer side effects could be eye disorders, blurred vision, and hemorrhage. However, coronavirus patients shall need a limited dosage of the drug, which would limit the side effects as well.

Difference Between Vaccine And Drug
A vaccine acts as a prevention against any bacteria or virus. It is like an agent that protects your body from becoming sick, by injection of weakened antibodies. This helps in building long-term immunity. A drug is a substance that works as a medicine to treat a person infected by the disease and acts as an immediate treatment. To underline the difference, it can be said that Vaccine builds immunity and drug treats symptoms of a disease.

Drugs Tried Out For COVID-19

  • Antiprotozoal Chloroquine drug used to treat malaria is approved for emergency use by the US FDA.
  • Anti-viral Favilavir was the first approved COVID-19 drug in China while Anti-viral FabiFlu was the first oral drug approved in India.
  • Remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to treat Ebola, is approved in India to treat mild cases. Tocilizumab, a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, is now being used in Mumbai Hospitals.
  • Covifor is a drug available in injectable form.

  • Dexamethasone was first made in 1957 by Philip Showalter Hench and was approved for medical use in 1961. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. In 2017, it was the 321st most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than one million prescriptions.
  • The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (EML), contains the medications considered to be most effective and safe to meet the most important needs in a health system. The first list was published in 1977 and included 208 medications.
  • Dexamethasone and most glucocorticoids are banned by sporting bodies including the World Anti-Doping Agency. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA; French: Agence mondiale antidopage, AMA) is a foundation initiated by the International Olympic Committee based in Canada to promote, coordinate and monitor the fight against drugs in sports.

Make Way For The World’s Most Powerful Quantum Computer

Honeywell makes the world's most powerful Quantum Computer

Honeywell, the US-based conglomerate made an official announcement that has got the lead in the race to make the world’s fastest quantum computer. Twice more powerful as the existing computers operated by IBM and Google, their unveiled machine has achieved a high score – quantum volume of 64.

Crux of the Matter

Quantum Volume And It’s Quantum Bit
Qubit or quantum bit is the sub-atomic unit of measurement of quantum information, that can store more information than its counterparts, basic computer bits. Quantum volume is a measurement that takes into account the number of qubits of a machine along with the error rate, thereby expressing its effectiveness. Example – IBM’s Raleigh had achieved a quantum volume of 32, at the starting of this year – Honeywell aims to achieve double this volume.

Summachar Coverage: The Age Of Quantum Memories Begins: Entanglement Implemented Via Fibres

What Can Quantum Computers Do?
Quantum computers follow the rules of quantum physics i.e they aren’t limited to performing a single calculation at a time and can work on multiple calculations simultaneously. This makes them far more capable than classical computers and more energy-efficient than supercomputers. However, due to their complex nature, they are still in the early stages of usage and research.

Quantum computer model in IBM Research Lab

What’s Honeywell’s Beast Made Of?

This is a result of the combination of using identical, fully connected qubits and precision control

Tony Uttley, President of Honeywell Quantum Solutions

The machine is located in a 1,500-square-foot storage facility in Colorado, US. The highly secure facility consists of a basketball-sized stainless steel chamber that is cooled by liquid helium at a temperature above absolute zero, the point at which atoms stop vibrating. Then individual atoms floating above a computer chip are targeted with lasers to perform calculations in that huge chamber.

Glimpses of Quantum Leaps
1981– Nobel-prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, coins the term quantum computer, at Caltech University.

1985 – Physicist David Deutsch, maps out how a quantum computer would operate via a blueprint generated at Oxford.

1994 – Mathematician Peter Shor, writes an algorithm that has the potential to tap a quantum computer’s power, at Bell Labs

2007 – Startup D-Wave, announces a quantum computing chip that can solve Sudoku puzzles.

D-wave’s machines using the quantum chip

2013 – Google partners up with NASA to fund a lab, in order to try D-Wave’s hardware.

2014 – Google starts doing rigorous research in its new quantum hardware lab.

2016 – IBM makes code for its prototype quantum processors open-source, for anyone to experiment with.

2017 – Startup Rigetti opens its own quantum computer facility, to build prototype hardware.

2019 – Google’s quantum computer completed a complex computation in 200 seconds.

Google’s very own Quantum computer
  • The CDC 6600 was the flagship of the 6000 series of mainframe computer systems manufactured by Control Data Corporation. Generally considered to be the first successful supercomputer, it outperformed the industry’s prior record holder, the IBM 7030 Stretch, by a factor of three.
  • Deep Blue versus Garry Kasparov was a pair of six-game chess matches between world chess champion Garry Kasparov and an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue. Kasparov won the first match in 1996 but the 1997 match was the first defeat of a reigning world chess champion by a computer under tournament conditions.
  • Alan Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. His mathematical model, Turing machine, is a model of computation that defines an abstract machine. Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

A Different Corona In The News – Solar Eclipse 2020

Solar eclipse on 21 June, 2020 in India

The onset of Summer Solstice into this decade’s 23rd solar eclipse and first one of this year on Sunday June 21, giving enthusiastic skywatchers a magnificent view. This ring of fire spread across Africa, Asia and other 12 parts of the world.

Crux of the Matter

Ring of Fire this 2020
A solar eclipse is witnessed when the moon is aligned between the Sun and Earth, blocking the light received by the Earth from the Sun but the annual one happens only when the Moon is the farthest from the Earth. This makes the moon looks smaller and does not block the entire view of the Sun creating a “ring of fire” effect.

The coronavirus pandemic had its impact on the eclipse this year. With gatherings banned, special events organized at observatories and planetariums were canceled across the world. However, Astro-lovers chose to stay at home and enjoy the view with their own DIY pinhole cameras and solar filter equipments.

People eager to watch the eclipse in their terrace, while maintaining social distance

Which One Is This Corona Now?
The corona or the crown is the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere and is usually hidden by the bright light of the Sun’s surface, which makes it difficult to be seen by the naked eye. This corona can thus only be seen during a total solar eclipse.

What’s Special About This Eclipse?
The annual solar eclipse coincidentally came on the longest day of this year, summer solstice, when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt toward the Sun. This happens once in each hemisphere, twice yearly.

Annular Solar Eclipse as seen from Mehsana, Gujrat

While most seasons have two eclipses, one lunar and one solar, this one has three and this solar eclipse was the second of that trio. The first lunar eclipse came on June 5 and the final of the three, another lunar eclipse, will occur on July 4-5. These lunar eclipses were penumbral that create only a dark shading on the moon’s face.

Beyond Being A Pretty Phenomenon
Solar eclipses enable researchers to measure the diameter of the Sun accurately and to search for variations in that diameter over long time scale. Scientists can determine with precision the shape of the Moon, which helps in the prediction of ephemeride, the trajectory of naturally occurring astronomical objects. Geophysicists measure eclipse phenomena induced in the high terrestrial atmosphere.

Eclipses Are Much More

Discovery of Helium in India, 1868

French astronomer Jules Janssen noted the presence of a bright line in the yellow part of the sun’s spectrum, which indicated the presence of Helium gas along with common hydrogen. Thus came the name ‘Helios’, Greek for Sun.

Einstein’s Eclipse, 1919
One of the major components of Albert Einstein’s then lesser-known theory of relativity was the bending of starlight by the gravity of the Sun. To test his prediction, U.K. astrophysicist Arthur Eddington took pictures of a cluster of stars in the region around the sun, whose observations confirmed the theory, turning the German physicist into an instant international figure.

The total solar eclipse of 1919 that was a turning point for Einstein’s career
  • An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun’s, blocking most of the Sun’s light and causing the Sun to look like an annulus (ring). An annular eclipse appears as a partial eclipse over a region of the Earth thousands of kilometers wide.
  • A corona is an aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars. The Sun’s corona extends millions of kilometers into outer space and is most easily seen during a total solar eclipse. Corona is derived from Latin for Crown which in turn is derived from Ancient Greek word for ‘garland, wreath’.
  • The magnitude of eclipse is the fraction of the angular diameter of a celestial body being eclipsed. The magnitude of a partial or annular solar eclipse is always between 0.0 and 1.0, while the magnitude of a total solar eclipse is always greater than or equal to 1.0.