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Hacking Hell

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

The first half of 2017 saw an inordinate number of moderate to serious cybersecurity meltdowns worldwide, not just corporate breaches but viral, state-sponsored ransomware, leaks of spy tools from US intelligence agencies, and electoral  campaign hacking.

Little wonder, then, that according to a government think tank in the UK, two thirds of CEOs of Britain's biggest businesses are not trained to deal with cyber attack.  In a report released earlier this week, the British Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the country's top firms and charities urgently need to do more to protect themselves from online threats.  A "cyber health check" report highlighting the scale of the cyber security and data protection challenge showed one in 10 FTSE 350 companies operate without a response plan for a cyber incident, with 68 per cent boards of directors at 350 of Britain's biggest companies having not  received training to deal with a cyber incident, despite 54 per cent saying cyber threats were a top risk to their business. Contradictions like that do make you wonder how they ever got to the head honchos in the first place!

British Minister of State Matt Hancock said: " These reports show we have a long way to go until all our organisations are adopting best practice, and I urge all senior executives to work with the National Cyber Security Centre and take up the government's advice and training.” Many of the Footsy 350 companies, while British-based, are global enterprises and it’s clear from recent cyber attacks that hackers’ motivations differ vastly, from the purely mercenary, either directly from ransom demands or indirectly through the theft of saleable data, to interference with national elections to mere mischief-making and from tech-smart individuals to sophisticated groups.

Consider some of these.  A mysterious hacking group known as the Shadow Brokers first surfaced in August 2016, claiming to have breached the spy tools of the elite NSA-linked operation known as the Equation Group. The Shadow Brokers offered a sample of alleged stolen US National Security Agency  data and attempted to auction off a bigger trove, following up with leaks for Halloween and Black Friday in 2016.  In April this year the group upped the ante, releasing  a trove of particularly significant alleged NSA tools, including a Windows exploit known as EternalBlue, which hackers have since used to infect targets in two high-profile ransomware attacks (see below).

The identity of the Shadow Brokers is still unknown, but the group's leaks have revived debates about the  danger of using bugs in commercial products for intelligence-gathering. Agencies keep these flaws to themselves, instead of notifying the company that makes the software so the vendor can patch the vulnerabilities and protect its customers. If these tools get out, they potentially endanger billions of software users. Shadow Brokers’ activities however, pale into insignificance when compared to the WannaCry virus.  On May 12 a strain of ransomware called WannaCry spread around the world, attacking hundreds of thousands of targets, including public utilities and large corporations. Notably, the ransomware temporarily crippled National Health Service hospitals and facilities in the United Kingdom, hampering emergency rooms, delaying vital medical procedures, and creating chaos. 

Though powerful, the  ransomware also had significant flaws, including a mechanism that security experts effectively used as a kill switch to render the malware inert and stem its spread. US officials later concluded with "moderate confidence" that the ransomware was a North Korean government project gone awry that had been intended to raise revenue while wreaking havoc. However, experts warned against paying the ransom, as doing so could encourage similar attacks in the future and in total, WannaCry only netted around  52 bitcoins, or about $130,000 (P1.3m),  small beer indeed.  Ironically, its reach came in part thanks to a vulnerability exposed by Shadow Brokers – the  Windows  EternalBlue. Microsoft had released the MS17-010 patch for the bug in March, but many institutions hadn't applied it and were therefore still vulnerable to WannaCry infection.

A month later, a second-generation of  ransomware infections still taking advantage of Shadow Brokers’ info, hit targets worldwide. This malware, called Petya, NotPetya and a few other names infected networks in multiple countries including  the US pharmaceutical company Merck, Danish shipping company Maersk, and Russian oil giant Rosnoft—though researchers suspect that the ransomware actually masked a targeted cyberattack against Ukraine. The ransomware hit Ukrainian infrastructure particularly hard, disrupting utilities including  power companies, airports, public transit, and the central bank, just the latest in a series of cyber assaults against the country.  The 'Petya' cyber attack is still affecting major companies around the world.

At the same time, hackers set their sights on interfering with the French election.  2 days before France's presidential runoff in May, they dumped a 9GB trove of leaked emails from the party of left-leaning front-runner (now French president) Emmanuel Macron. The leak seemed orchestrated to give Macron minimal time and ability to respond, since French presidential candidates are barred from speaking publicly beginning two days before an election.  Researchers later found evidence that the Russian-government-linked hacker group Fancy Bear attempted to target the Macron campaign in March, though it was not proven that the same group carried out the May attack.  

The only surprising element of all this cyber-hacking  and viral pandemics is that they are still relatively few and far between.  Considering the amount of data stored in cyberspace and the volumes of e-traffic generated minute-by-minute, discovery and damage is inevitable.  Compare, for example, the now infamous Watergate break-in of 1972 when the US Democratic Party headquarters in Washington DC were broken into by agents working for the ruling Republican party. Even assuming that some sensitive information might have been stored on microfilm, most of the intelligence was still in hard-copy form and the amount of useful data that could have been stolen would have been infinitesimal compared to even a minor cyber theft; similarly, those old-fashioned Cold War-era spies with their concealed micro-cameras look like mere amateurs compared to these anonymous geeks armed with nothing more than a keyboard and an internet connection.

The more sophisticated the ant-viral software and firewalls, the more cunning the hacker becomes.  And of course it’s not big corporates  and powerful politicians who are being hit. Every day some small someone somewhere has his bank  or swipe card details stolen or unwittingly reveals them to some e-fraudster in a microcosmic  imitation of the big hacking guns.  The truth is out there but so, unfortunately, is everything else. You can use all the protection you want or can afford, but you can still get metaphorically knocked up much easier than the perps can get locked up. I believe the technical term for the feeling of frustration that follows such e-rape is known as ‘hacked off’!

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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