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Current Affairs for today- 2nd November 2019

November 2, 2019 GS Paper III In WhatsApp breach, follow the money trail Context On October 30, multiple Indian media publications revealed...

Manasa Sastry Written by Manasa Sastry · 10 min read >

November 2, 2019

GS Paper III

In WhatsApp breach, follow the money trail

Context

On October 30, multiple Indian media publications revealed that a spyware called Pegasus was used to compromise phones of multiple activists, journalists and lawyers and has compromised the privacy of the owner by using the vulnerability in WhatsApp that allowed the spyware software to be installed in a target’s phone by initiating a voice call.

What is Pegasus?

A state-of-the-art spyware software code made by an Israeli firm, NSO is a Tel Aviv-based cyber-security company that specialises in “surveillance technology” and claims to “exclusively help” the government intelligence and law enforcement agencies across the world fight crime and terrorism.

It has used WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) that is the largest messaging platform for about 1.5 billion users worldwide. Around its quarter users- 40 crore are from India, WhatsApp’s biggest market.

It first surfaced in the news in September 2018, when The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary lab in Toronto showed that Pegasus delivers “a chain of zero-day exploits to penetrate security features on the phone and installs Pegasus without the user’s knowledge or permission”. The malware was active in 45 countries at that time according to the report. The research suggested that social engineering is the common strategy to deliver the most sophisticated spyware.

(Note: A “zero-day exploit” is a completely unknown vulnerability, about which even the software manufacturer is unaware of and there is no patch/ bug fix available for it and hence was easy to take over the device in iOS, Android or WhatsApp by exploiting the vulnerability glitch.

How does it work?

The malware code is transmitted to the target’s cellular device by initiating a WhatsApp voice call, and irrespective of whether the call is answered or not, it automatically is downloaded on the device. It can directly provide a backdoor access to the controller by reading all the information including messages, media, contacts, call recordings, data (audio and text) that is exchanged via end-to-end encrypted systems such as WhatsApp (this vulnerability has now been patched) and can turn the phone into a spy device that can switch on the camera or the microphone.

Target?

The main targets include journalists, lawyers, Dalit and Human rights activists

However, the Indian government first committed itself to the statement that the news is an attempt to malign the government and said that the government agencies had a well-established protocol for interception, which included sanction and supervision from highly ranked officials in Central and State governments, for clearly stated reasons in national interest.

While the government has tried to shift the focus to WhatsApp, it is misleading the population as WhatsApp is not the only gateway for Pegasus. In July-August 2016, there were multiple attempts to infect the phone of a Mexican health researcher with Pegasus by sending provocative bulk messages claiming things such as his daughter had met with an accident with a link to the hospital she was admitted to, or that his wife was cheating on him with a link to a supposedly leaked photo- In all cases the access was given through exploit links In all cases, the links were essentially exploit links, clicking on which would have installed Pegasus on the target’s phone.

While Android phones use a modified version of the famous open source OS Linux, iPhones use a mobile operating system called iOS created by Apple. Upon investigation of the 2016 case, upon clicking on the link, the Pegasus software was first able to exploit a vulnerability in the Safari browser, the default browser in an iPhone, and then execute a Stage 2 code which was able to jailbreak the target’s iPhone to gain privileged user access. In the present case with WhatsApp, a specially crafted call was used to trigger a buffer overflow, which in turn was used to take control of the device.

Current status?

WhatsApp has filed a complaint in a US Federal Court attributing to the confirmed privacy intrusion to Israeli NSO Group and has demanded its operations thwarted.

Since WhatsApp is an intermediary, its operations are controlled by government laws and the government affirms that it does not work with NSO. NSO charges an exorbitant sum to sell its products and services. The government needs to investigate who in India can afford to hire NSO and is interested in targeting select activists, lawyers and journalists, especially when NSO itself claims that it sells the software only to government agencies.

What should Android users know?

The Android version of Pegasus is Chrysaor Malware and was found on about three dozen devices in 2017 to Google. The Android version of Pegasus installs as an application on your phone, and uses a known rooting technique called framaroot that enables one to get privileged user (root) access/ developer rights to monitor various activities.

Digital security

In this era of fast life where we would pay the least interest in locking our privacy from the hackers, users must ensure the security of the devices by keeping all the anti-virus apps/ firmware’s security features/ updated. It becomes essential in the current digitally-driven world to be self-aware about one’s digital security, as a compromise in that could lead to allowing total surveillance.

GS Paper II

Women to be inducted in Army by end-2021-Over 100 shortlisted for military police

Context

With the first batch of 100 women starting the training in Corps of Military Police (CMP) in December, and their induction by end-2021, women officers commissioned from April 2020 onwards can opt for it in 6 streams.

It takes 2 years to train and by 2021, the first batch of CMP will be on feet.

Significance
So far, the women were being inducted as officers only, but in its first, women can apply/ register online to join the Army as soldiers/ personnel below the rank of an officer (PBOR) category graded manner to eventually comprise 20 percent of total Corps of Military Police.

The women would earlier be allowed in select areas such as medical, legal, educational, signals and engineering wings of the Army. The appointment of women in CMP is a huge step towards further empowering women and improving their representation to increase their contribution in the Indian armed forces.
Under PBOR, they are given responsibilities to investigate offences such as rape, molestation and theft; serve military operations where the Army needs police assistance; assistance in evacuation of villages during cross-border hostilities;and ceremonial as well as policing duties.
The Army plans to induct 1700 women MP over the next 17 years.

Role of the Military Police

  1. Responsible for preserving “good order and discipline and to prevent breaches of the same by persons serving in or attached to the regular Army”.
  2. Policing cantonments and Army establishments, preventing breach of rules and regulations by soldiers, maintaining movement of soldiers as well as logistics during peace and war, handling prisoners of war and extending aid to civil police when required.

Permanent commission of women officers in Indian Army:
Defence Ministry has already announced that women officers recruited into the armed forces under the Short Service Commission  (a period of 10 years which can be extended up to 14 years) will now have the option of taking up Permanent Commission in the Indian Armed Forces.

GS Paper I

Unearthing an ancient civilization

Context

Excavations in the tiny hamlet of Keeladi prove that an urban civilization existed in Tamil Nadu in the Sangam era on the banks of the river Vaigai. What links did this civilization have with the Indus Valley Civilizations?

Excavated site at Keeladi

Location: Keeladi, a tiny hamlet located 12 km southeast of the historic city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu:

Background

The State Archaeology Department (SDA), carbon samples from Keeladi had been sent to the Beta Analytic Lab in Miami, Florida, for carbon dating, a widely accepted tool to ascertain the age of archaeological and historical remains. The Lab had found that the cultural deposits unearthed during the fourth excavation at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE, placing the artefacts 300 years earlier than believed.

Findings over the years

  1. The Keeladi tale began to unravel in March 2015. The first round of excavation, undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), unearthed antiquities that “may provide crucial evidence to understanding the missing links of the Iron Age [12th century BCE to 6th century BCE] to the Early Historic Period [6th century BCE to 4th century BCE] and subsequent cultural developments.”
  2. The second round (2016) threw up strong clues about the existence of a Tamil civilization that had trade links with other regions in the country and abroad. This civilization has been described by Tamil poets belonging to the Sangam period. (Tamil Sangam, an assembly of poets, had its seat in Madurai between 4th century BCE and 2nd century BCE. The works of this period are collectively called Sangam Literature). This round was significant as it provided archaeological evidence about what was found in Tamil literature, and the carbon dating results of few artefacts was marked to 2nd century BCE (Sangam).
  3. The third round (2017) saw a delayed and a political twist as the excavation findings were being played down. But finally the SDA under the aegis permission of ASI went down further the earlier 400 metres.  ASI permitted the SDA to take up further excavation on its own. Thus, the excavations in the fourth round were carried out by the SDA.

In 2018, 5,820 antiquities were found. These included brick structures, terracotta ring wells, fallen roofing with tiles, golden ornaments, broken parts of copper objects, iron implements, terracotta chess pieces, ear ornaments, spindle whorls, figurines, black and redware, rouletted ware and a few pieces of Arretine ware, besides beads made of glass, terracotta and semi-precious stones.

4. Based on the radiometric dates recovered from the sites like Kodumanal, Alagankulam and Porunthal (in TN), it is known that the Tamil-Brahmi script was dated to 5th century BCE.

Previous findings take our gaze from megalithic burials and the finds of Roman coins to megalithic habitation sites and their chronological developments. Keeladi findings stand distinct pushing it to another century.

5. The fifth round in 2018-19, the SDA team plunged into guided excavation through Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Survey and Magnetometer Survey and the Ground Penetrating Radar Survey.  

Key analysis of the Vaigai Valley Civilization- at Keeladi

  • The similarities in urban planning between the Indus Valley and Keeladi is notable. Rajan refers to the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the two places: This gap is filled with Iron Age material in south India. The graffiti marks encountered in Iron Age sites of south India serve as the only residual links between the Indus Valley Civilisation and south India.
  • Some of the symbols found in pot sherds of Keeladi bear a close resemblance to Indus Valley signs. Graffiti marks are found in earthenware, caves and rocks in or near the excavation sites of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Brahmi script, found engraved on the outer surface or the shoulder of black and red earthenware in Keeladi, carries personal names.
  • Keeladi is a sophisticated urban habitat that reflects all the characteristics of urban civilization, with brick structures, luxury items and proof of internal and external trade.
Similarities to the Indus Valley Civilization and Keeladi artefacts

An interesting feature of Keeladi is that it has not revealed any signs of religious worship in all the five rounds.

  • Recent finds include seven gold ornaments, copper articles, gem beads, shell and ivory bangles, and brick structures that point to the existence of industrial units. The molten metal or filter liquid strongly point to industrial activities.
  • Recent findings and from Keeladi ascertains that Tamil Nadu attained literacy or learnt the art of writing [Tamil-Brahmi] in as early as 6th century BCE during the Early Historic Period.
  • During the Early Historic Period, the 2nd urbanization started in the Gangetic Valley. For instance, the conch shell, typical of the Indus Valley civilization extensively used in the Indus cities, was obtained from the SE coast of the Madras Presidency. It must not be a surprise to find the area of  Tinnevelly District and neighboring areas to discover the ancient seaport of Korkai will unveil a site contemporary with or even little later than the Indus civilization.
  • In Keeladi, 23 bangle pieces made of shell and glass were found in the fourth round. A suggestion in 1960 a possible link between the undeciphered Indus signs and the graffiti marks on black and redware pottery of Tamil Nadu.
  • The most significant find with the use of technology was the continuous brick structure that runs over 340 metres. Over 900 antiquities, including unique signature Carnelian beads, were unearthed during this round.
  • 53% of the animal skeletal fragments belong to oxen, cows, buffaloes and goas (indicating that they were predominantly cattle-rearing inhabitants).

The presence of oxen and cows belonging to the Bos indicus species is a major finding. The hump of the Bos indicus species is referred to as imil in Tamil literature, which later came to be known as timil, this grandeur was seen in Indus Valley as well.

Bos indicus is also the icon of the ancient sport eru thazhuvuthal or eru anaithal (embracing the bull), which was prevalent in villages around Keeladi. In this sport, now practised as jallikattu, the contestant is supposed to hold on to the hump of the bull inside the arena for a particular distance or period of time.

  • Sample analysis of materials used in the construction of walls contained elements like silica, lime, iron, aluminium and magnesium. More significant are the letters engraved on pots that clearly demonstrate the “high literacy level of the contemporary society that survived in 6th century BCE.”
  • It is inferred from the spectroscopic analysis of black and red ware that the potters of Keeladi were familiar with the technique [of using carbon material for black colour and hematite for red] and knew the art of raising the kiln temperature to 1100°C to produce the typical black-and-red ware pottery. They had also followed the same technique and materials from 6th century BCE to 2nd century BCE. Similar composition of earth elements in other regions indicate that the goods were exchanged through traders, craftsmen and visitors.
  • The antiquities suggest that the prime occupation of the people of Keeladi was agriculture, which was supplemented by the iron industry, carpentry, pottery-making and weaving.

Expanding sites

  1. There are demands to expand the excavation along Vaigai so that there is archaeological evidence to prove the glory of life along the river in the ancient Pandya kingdom.
  2. There is sufficient evidence for the Union Government to declare Keeladi and its surrounding villages as a heritage cluster and declare Keeladi as a protected monument.

The State government has already approached ASI to declare five villages — Keeladi, Agaram, Manalur, Konthagai (a burial site) and Pasiapuram — as the Keeladi cluster.

Indus Valley Civilization (IVC)

It was the first major civilization along the valley of Indus river, in South Asia spreading across a vast area of the present-day Pakistan and India ( 12 lakh sq. km). It was the Harappan Civilization or the (IVC). It flourished around 2700 BC- 1900 BC, i.e. around 800 years. It marked the beginning of city life.

IVC was home to the largest of the four ancient urban settlements of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. The ruins of the oldest two cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappan were unearthed by the Archaeological Department of India in 1920.

Some of the Harappan sites are Sutkagendor, Amri, Kalibangan, Lothal, Dolavira, Banawali, etc.

Town-planning features:

  • Harappa and Mohenjodaro each had its own citadel or acropolis, which was possibly occupied by members of the ruling class.
  • Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were inhabited by the common people. They were arranged in a grid-like system.
  • Granaries constituted an important part of the Harappan cities.
  • The use of burnt bricks in the Harappan cities is remarkable, because in the contemporary buildings of Egypt mainly dried bricks were used.
  • The drainage system of Mohenjodaro was very impressive and well planned connecting the township individually.
  • In almost all cities every big or small house had its own courtyard and bathroom.
  • In Kalibangan many houses had their wells.
  • At sites such as Dholavira and Lothal (Gujarat), the entire settlement was fortified, and sections within the town were also separated by walls.

Agriculture

  1. Since mostly the Harappan villages would be near the flood plains, their occupation was agriculture.
    Wheat, barley, rai, peas, sesame, lentil, chickpea and mustard were produced. Millets are also found from sites in Gujarat, while the rice cultivation was relatively rare.
  2. The Indus people were the earliest people to produce cotton.
  3. Oxen were used for ploughing as the representation and patterns on seals and terracotta sculpture indicate that the bull was known.
  4. Slight traces of canals have been found in the Harappan site of Shortughai.

Economy

  1. The Harappans believed in barter system and significantly considered stone, metal and shell.
  2. There is a presence of numerous seals, uniform script and regulated weights and measures that indicate trade.
  3. Indications of trade and commerce with the people of Tigris and Euphrates.
  4. Stone weights, seals, special beads, copper tools, long stone blades etc.
  5. Copper, bronze, silver, gold were present. Artificially produced – Faience was used.
  6. Handicrafts experts and the import of raw materials were of great significance.
  7. Plough was used, but iron was not.
  8.  Red pottery painted with designs in black was a classic.

Decline of the IVC

  • It is believed that there were numerous set of geological and climatic factors that led to the fall of the IVC.
  • The sudden changing patterns of rainfall, tectonic disturbances caused earthquakes would have dried up the river sources.
  • The dramatic shifts in the river courses might have flooded the agricultural areas.
Written by Manasa Sastry
Masters degree holder in Forensic Science. Currently, a UPSC Aspirant helping fellow learners to sort their daily current affairs preparation. Loves to learn and help others. Music, dance and art are just a few of my many hobbies. Profile

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