Intelligence alerts point to malware attack and snooping of data on Railways

Agencies
June 20, 2020

At a time when the country is yet to recover from the shock of losing 20 Indian soldiers in a violent clash with the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Ladakh's Galwan Valley, another shocker has come to light with news coming of a malware hitting the Indian Railways network and snooping its data for foreign countries, including train movements, sources in the intelligence agencies said on Friday.

Meanwhile, Railways Board Chairman V K Yadav said that the national transporter keeps on receiving malware security threats and the engineers in the railways keep on taking all precautions and keeps on updating the firewalls to prevent data theft.

The news comes a day after the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation Limited (DFCCIL) decided to terminate the 417-km signalling project worth Rs 471 crore with Chinese firm Beijing National Railway Research and Design Institute of Signal and Communication Group Company Limited (BNRRDISC) due to non-performance.

According to intelligence agency sources, the system of the Railways has been hit by the APT 36 Malware campaign. The source said that the intel agencies have also alerted the Railway Board to instantly disconnect the system with the Internet and change the password immediately.

The source said the APT 36 Malware is connected to Pakistan, which is a close ally of China. The source further said that following the red flag from the intel agencies, the system of a senior Principal Executive Director of the Railways, working in its vigilance department, has been taken for cleaning the malware threat.

As per the source, through the APT 36 Malware campaign, data stored in the Indian Railways systems were being stolen and stored in foreign locations, including the movement of the trains.

He further claimed that the APT 36 Malware also tried to take defence movement data. 

The source said the APT 36 Malware effect was reported from at least four systems of the Indian Railways.

Responding to queries, the Railways Board Chairman said: "Whether it is our systems or the IRCTC, we continuously update it with firewalls, and it is an ongoing process as we get the updates." 

Yadav said that our system is updated time to time. "We get malware threat on a regular basis. And we look at it continuously," he said. 

When pressed further about the malware threat in four railways systems, he said: "It has not come to our notice that some information has been leaked. Our systems are secure and our engineers keep on working on it."

According to intel sources, besides Railways, there was also malware threat in the defence, central police organisations, education and healthcare sectors, the source said.

In view of the threat, the intel agencies have asked the departments concerned to change the passwords of emails and online services from secure computers, format the hard-disk of the affected computers after taking back-up and re-install the operating systems and other softwares.

Sources in the Railways had said on Thursday that DFFCIL, which is looking after the work of the Dedicated Freight Corridor Project, has decided to terminate the tender with BNRRDISC.

A source in the Railway Ministry said that it has informed the Railway Board and the World Bank to take the final decision in the matter.

The source said the project was awarded to the Chinese firm in 2016 for signalling and telecommunication work on the 417-km Kanpur-Deen Dayal Upadhyaya section of the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor (EDFC). 

The source disclosed that the contract was awarded to the Beijing National Railway Research and Design Institute in June 2016. The source further said that even after four years, the progress in the project was only 20%. The issues that led to the termination of the project are reluctance by the company to furnish technical documents, as per the contract agreement, such as logic design of electronic interlocking.

The source further said that other issues like non-availability of their engineers and authorised personnel on site were a serious constraint. Even physical work could not progress as they have no tie-up with local agencies. 

The 3,373-km DFC, a flagship project of the Railways, aims to augment rail transport capacity to meet the growing requirement of movement of goods by segregating freight from passenger traffic.

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Agencies
January 12,2021

New Delhi, Jan 12: Amid the ongoing debate around the safety and efficacy aspects of Covid vaccines, the president of Indian Medical Association (IMA) has advised the public to not worry too much about it.

Speaking to IANS, Dr. J.A. Jayalal, president, IMA said, "We should not be too worried about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines since enough evidence is available to prove its credibility.

"The vaccines are never 100 per cent protective and efficacious at any time. It helps us to some extent in getting ahead of the disease but eventually, herd immunity will set in to control the viral spread. So let's not worry too much about the safety and efficacy part," he said.

"What we know from the trials is that the vaccines approved for inoculation in India are found safe and elicit an immune response. The technology of harnessing vaccines from inactivated viruses is a proven science. Our least expected efficacy criteria is 50 per cent while at the same time, other drugs we have been using for years are even below this benchmark of efficacy. We use influenza and vaccines against Tuberculosis but still people contract it," Jayalal explained.

"Even natural infection cannot determine the level of antibodies it would create in the body. Some may develop less antibodies, some may exhibit high titers of it while a few may never develop at all. Good thing is that the vaccines are producing antibodies and it's enough at this stage," he added.

Jayalal also said that the vaccine would work against the current and mutant strains of the coronavirus. Such claim was earlier made by Bharat Biotech for its Covid vaccine, Covaxin, which is approved for restricted emergency use in a clinical trial mode'. However, the firm is yet to present the data confirming its claim.

The apex association of modern medicine practitioners in the country has come out publicly endorsing the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. In a statement issued on Monday, it said that the association stands with the scientists to endorse the safety and efficacy of both Covaxin and Covishield for public awareness and to counter myths on vaccine percolating in social media.

The IMA has also appealed to its its 3.5 lakh members in 1,800 local branches to actively take part in the mission of Covid vaccination programme rolled out by the Government of India. "Come out to get vaccinated first to show to the world that these vaccines are safe and efficacious," it had said.

Despite the efficacy of both the vaccines still unknown, the IMA has endorsed the vaccines. When asked about it, Jayalal said the association had a detailed discussion on such aspects with the government agencies. "After analyzing all the scientific data, we have decided to come out firmly in support of the vaccines," he added.

India's drug regulator has approved two Covid vaccine candidates -- Covishield by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech -- for the massive inoculation drive against the Covid-19.

The immunization drive will start from January 16. The vaccines have already reached many of the primary hubs to be distributed further before the roll-out.

Till now, a total 1,51,327 people have succumbed to the deadly disease while it has infected 1,04,79,179 people in the country.

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Agencies
January 5,2021

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Geneva, Jan 5: As India launches the world's most ambitious and biggest vaccination drive against COVID-19, the country will encounter the formidable challenge of rapidly scaling up distribution of the vaccines to secure immunity for its entire population, two prominent Indian scientists at WHO have said.

This daunting challenge is not only for India but also for all the governments across the globe as they start inoculating their populations to tackle the pandemic, noted Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of WHO, and Dr Hamsadvani Kuganantham, Consultant, WHO.

On Sunday, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO),India's drugs regulator, had approved Oxford vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and Covaxin of Bharat Biotech for restricted emergency use for the frontline warriors and senior citizens in the country.

Currently, there are 45 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation and 156 candidate vaccines in pre-clinical evaluation, the WHO scientists said.

COVAX,a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines,is jointly led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance set up by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"It is the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries," they wrote in an article for Manorama Yearbook 2021.

"The goal of COVAX is to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification, by the end of 2021.

These vaccines will be offered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritizing healthcare workers, then expanding to cover vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions," the scientists pointed out.

Further doses will then be made available based on a countrys need, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat.

The scientists said it is equally important to ensure sustained surveillance, tracing, test and treat.

"Vaccines will help us achieve herd immunity but, until then we need to keep practicing the non-pharmacological measures to prevent infection and spread," said Dr Swaminathan and Dr Kuganantham.

"What is clear is that the virus has a foothold in most parts of the world, and transmission increases as soon as public health control measures are relaxed.

Non-pharmacological interventions such as physical distancing and mask-wearing will reduce spread and, ideally, keep infection and death rates down," they observed.

Quoting the global health security index published last year, they said no country is prepared to handle an epidemic or a pandemic.

It concluded that most countries lack foundational health systems capacities vital for epidemic and pandemic response.

With regard to reopening of schools, the scientists said schools operate not in isolation but within the community.

Thus, anything that affects the community affects the schools too.

Data shows that even though the schools have moved online, around 463 million children across the world have no access to remote schooling, the article said adding that education of one-third of the world's children has been affected and one in four countries presently do not have a reopening date for their schools.

"This has devastating outcomes that can affect the children for a lifetime. They will be more exposed to physical and emotional violence, more prone to be pushed to child labour, suffer sexual abuse and further intensify the cycle of poverty.

We need the decision-makers to closely check the factors and ensure a safe environment for the children," they stressed.

Observing that there are many lessons from the pandemic that can be learnt to adapt and prepare for the future,the experts said, "This pandemic will come to an end, but the world needs to work together to ensure that we are better prepared next time.

It is only through science and solidarity that solutions will be found."

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Agencies
January 17,2021

London, Jan 17: An epidemiologist at King's College, London has claimed that there is an increase in the number of COVID patients suffering from uncomfortable mouth symptoms like oral ulcers - not yet listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the COVID-19 symptoms.

Professor Tim Spector said in a tweet that he has seen an increase in such patients.

"One in five people with Covid still present with less common symptoms that don't get on the official PHE (Public Health England) list - such as skin rashes," Spector tweeted.

"Seeing increasing numbers of Covid tongues and strange mouth ulcers. If you have a strange symptom or even just headache and fatigue stay at home!" he added.

There is no mention of oral symptoms listed either by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the WHO.

Spector is leading the 'ZOE COVID Symptom Study' app which allows people to sign up and self-report any of their Covid-19 symptoms.

This is not the first time COVID-19 has been linked to mouth and tongue symptoms.

Last year, research in the Nature journal Evidence-Based Dentistry detailed three Covid-19 patients who experienced oral ulceration or blistering of the mouth.

Another study in JAMA Dermatology looked at 21 Covid patients in Spain who had skin rashes and found six individuals (29 per cent) also presented with an oral rash.

A recent New York Times article said that Covid survivors described oral problems they're experiencing such as "teeth falling out, sensitive gums, teeth turning grey, and teeth cracking."

Studies suggest that the mouth might be a vulnerable area to coronavirus due to the abundance of the ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme) receptor in oral tissue.

According to the WHO, the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Other symptoms include loss of taste or smell, aches and pains, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, red eyes, diarrhoea, or a skin rash.

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