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Shen Xue, a retired Chinese pair skater and 2010 Olympic champion, appeared on Chinese media in December 2020 as the first person to purchase a Beijing Subway pass using the country’s official digital money. Shen celebrated the start of China’s campaign to market its central bank digital currencies overseas during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by swiping the turnstile with ski gloves equipped with the latest digital yuan wallet. The Winter Olympics were supposed to be a big premiere for the e-CNY, a digital version of China’s sovereign currency that would be seen by millions of people across the world. Without a local bank account, foreign visitors will be able to use e-CNY to purchase things at the games, which begin on Friday.

With the emergence of the COVID-19 epidemic, which locked the Chinese capital to the rest of the world, those plans went awry. Beijing has adopted a “closed-loop system” for the games, which isolates the 11,000 participants from the general public as part of a “zero COVID” policy aimed at preventing any virus transmission.

The People’s Bank of China, a forerunner in the development of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), first proposed a digital yuan in 2014, while its colleagues were still assessing the benefits of virtual currencies. CBDCs are issued and managed by a central government, unlike cryptocurrencies, which China banned last year because of worries about financial stability and crime. The central bank announced in January that more than 261 million individual users have enrolled for a digital yuan wallet, an app that allows users to utilise e-CNY. Since October, the number of users has roughly doubled.

According to the Beijing Financial Supervision Authority, Beijing has been pilot-testing its digital currency for usage at the games for more than a year, with 9.6 billion CNY ($1.5 billion) in transactions by the end of 2021.

Before the Olympics, the city tested the digital yuan in over 400,000 “scenes” involving real transactions of products and services, according to the regulator, with over 12 million individual users and 1.3 million business users in the capital registering on the app. Mobile payments handled a record 432 trillion yuan ($67.9 trillion) in transactions in 2020, largely on Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay. Last year, Bloomberg Intelligence predicted that by 2025, the digital yuan would have a 9% domestic market share. Alipay and WePay are thought to have a combined market share of over 90% at the moment.

According to Suji Yan, founder of Mask Network, a Singapore-based cryptographic and encryption start-up, transitioning from tech giants’ digital payments to a CBDC is a simple transition for Chinese citizens. They are already paying with internet giants such as WeChat and Alipay, and the shift [of payment applications] makes no difference to the majority of Chinese customers.

Distrust overseas

Beijing’s Olympic showcase for the digital yuan may be met with scepticism abroad, owing to a rising mistrust of Chinese technology, particularly in terms of data protection and regulatory monitoring. For overseas users, anonymity and privacy are the most pressing concerns when it comes to using the digital yuan. According to official media Xinhua, four levels of user categorization are currently accessible, allowing users to choose how much information to submit with the digital wallet app in order to meet different usage restrictions. Even in the most basic model, with simply a cell phone number, no one believes their transactions will be completely anonymous and private.

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Polity

Conflict, COVID and Climate Crisis: Major Risks of our Time

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Conflict, COVID and Climate Crisis: Major Risks of our Time

‘If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles but microbes……’ words spoken by Bill Gates in 2015 at Ted Talks proved true, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic that brought the world to a stand-still. Killing millions of people within two years with tons of collateral damage in areas of health, economy, national security, etc. has shaken the world to its core. But is it just the microbes over missiles that are going to cause mayhem, or a combined effort of both, catalyzed with cyber-catastrophe? The current Russia-Ukraine conflict, Taliban take-over in Afghanistan, the Worst Emergency crisis in Sri Lanka, and the never-ending Israel-Palestine war – these all point towards intensified armed-conflict chaos around the world. On the other hand, the worsening climate crisis is further aching the world manifold. The Australian Wildfires in 2020, East Africa droughts in 2011, 2017 and 2019, regular cloud bursts, and the melting of icebergs in Antarctica are a few of many natural disasters that beg for climate action. But the newest addition to the list of challenges for survival is cyber-warfare. During COVID lockdown, even large-scale businesses and industries moved online for their survival. This transition was never expected to be as sudden as it did during these troubled times. As a result, the move was made out of fear and fright rather than undergoing due diligence which is the general practice when shoring a business from stores to wires. Hence, the threats of cyber-attacks and other associated risks have further escalated. The increased threats required improved IT security thereby leading to a substantial number of corporate entities signing up for consultancies that offer digital dependency in business processes. This even led to a sharp increase of $20 Billion in the cyber-insurance sector between 2020-2025, which is almost triple to what it was. The market is anticipated to grow even more strongly with the additional momentum gained from digitalization. Munich Re, an insurance company that provides coverage for cyber risks has experienced meteoric growth in this sector gaining a share of 10% of the total market, making it one of the world’s leading insurers.

 Multi-Dimensional Crisis

The Doomsday clock is stuck at 100 seconds to midnight. The world seems to be inching towards a civilization-ending apocalypse. Rising conflict, worsening climate change, and never-ending microbe attacks have the world hanging by a very thin thread of hope, perseverance, of resilience. While a larger section of the world wants to live in a world free of war, the power concentration sadly is inversely proportional to the mammoth population. Even a minimalistic endeavor of having a healthy family, working just enough to put food on the table and have access to quality education for children, seems bleak. But is it really the end or is it just a prolonged halt looking forward to an update?

The World Economic Forum has stressed ongoing and upcoming challenges created by cyber fraudsters, climate change, and space technology. As per the Global Risks Report, 2022 released on January 11, cyber security and space technology were listed as the most emerging risk sectors for the global economy followed by the existing pandemic. Cyberthreats are in no way a particular-sector-centric threat. It has the potential to affect entire civilizations as we live in a time where there is absolutely no connection-deficit. Everyone is connected with everything and vice-versa. And hence, cyber threats are growing faster than society’s ability to effectively prevent and manage them. The rise of cryptocurrencies has given birth to a new breed of online dacoits, resulting in an increased number of malware and ransomware attacks.

What can be done?

It is a race. A race between what trumps what. Ever since the lockdown around the world has been lifted, inter-state wars and conflicts have dominated the attention of decision-makers. Needless to say, the pandemic is by no means over. Similarly, the climate-associated risks are piling up and it remains the largest and most complex existential challenge of our time that warrants unparalleled action. Evidently, vaccination is on roll and has proved to be effective against the invisible enemy, and hence one needs to understand the gravity of 7 million deaths where air pollution has been a major contributor. A heating world, in general, is detrimental to human health and thus, significant obstruction to a thriving society. While a total of 110 countries are now monitoring the quality of air their population breathes, it’s simply not enough. The deterrent theory of removing factories and industries and adapting the primitive way of living is also impossible, especially in the urbanized world. Hence preserving nature and also concentrating on all-around economic development seems oxymoronic and ironical.

But, technological advancements during the wake of COVID have hinted that if ideas are shared and transcended beyond boundaries, there is hope. A simple instance of Tesla championing the sector of electric automobiles has prompted even a developing country like India to work in the furtherance of completely replacing fossil fuels with an alternative transformative source thereby resulting in an increase in electric vehicle production. A hybrid power strategy is inadvertently the need of the hour today. But how much does a country like India which promises a good mix of bright sun and wind along its coasts, requires resources to make the shift to Net Zero. Setting up hybrid power plants is also cost efficient as the plants share common equipment, electronics, and storage, as a dedicated hybrid plant can work round-the-clock with only sporadic recourse to storage.

The aforementioned mechanism is just one facet of a multi-dimensional resolution that the world warrants. The national leaders of countries can no longer lament and find nonchalant advisory bodies to pin their blames act. Furthermore, the citizens are also to be self-monitored. Citizens cannot resort to unveiling a red carpet for a government that completely negates the existence of climate change and cyber security. Rather, the citizens are to hold the constitutional entities accountable, answerable, and liable for negligence and poor performance.

Conclusion

Peace underpins all that is good in our society. But with each passing day, a realization of sorts that ‘peace’ is in short supply, resurfaces itself. The horrors of Covid have shown the world, that no matter how technologically advanced, monetarily rich, and systematically sustainable it looks, it is as vulnerable as one can be. The only upside that one can perceive from the horrifying pandemic, is that the loss of millions of lives and trillion dollars have only waken up the world from its deep slumber. Digitalization and globalization may have brought the world close, but the shrunk world is failing to realize that, with great inter-connectedness comes great interdependencies. And thus, the multi-dimensional crisis is not an individual but collective responsibility.

 

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Technology

Finding a New Earth: the Race to Find a New Inhabitable Planet

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Anyone who has even a passing interest in the global environment is aware that things are not looking good. But how serious is the situation? Our new study reveals that the future of life on Earth is bleaker than previously thought. Over the next few decades, the problems, which are all linked to human consumption and population expansion, will probably definitely worsen. The consequences will be felt for centuries, and all species, including our own, face extinction. This issue has highlighted the importance of finding a habitable planet to replace our own.

 

Humans have travelled to Mars in quest of life beyond our planet, and a surprising discovery from this desolate world has offered up new potential. The Curiosity rover, which is now trundling around Mars, discovered that several of the samples are high in a form of carbon that is connected with life processes on Earth. Perseverance landed in the Jezero Crater region of Mars. The location is thought to have a massive old lakebed, according to scientists. NASA thinks the area is a good site to look for signs of microbial life. If life existed on Mars, scientists believe it would have existed 3 to 4 billion years ago when water flowed on the planet. Perseverance is the fifth rover sent to Mars by NASA.

 

Planet discoveries appear to be plentiful these days: more than three thousand planets have been discovered around other stars, implying that there are hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy alone. Seven years ago, no one – not a casual stranger on the street, nor even the most knowledgeable astronomer – could tell you if any planets similar to Earth existed.

 

Planet-hunting missions like NASA’s Kepler Telescope, TRAPPIST, and a slew of other studies have revealed that there must be a plethora of rocky planets out there. The search for extraterrestrial life has recently taken a giant step ahead. Researchers working on the Breakthrough Initiatives-funded New Earths in the Alpha Centauri Region (NEAR) project may have identified a new planet in the habitable zone of the neighbouring star Alpha Centauri A, which is 4.37 light-years from Earth. Their findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications.

 

The scientists noticed a second bright object in a photograph of the star acquired with the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. They believe it might be a planet four to five times the size of Earth, or around the size of Neptune. It’s between one and two astronomical units (AU) away from its star (one AU equals the distance between the Earth and the sun), putting it in the habitable zone, where water might form and support life.

 

China is now looking at other solar systems after sending robots to the Moon, landing them on Mars, and building its own space station. Scientists will disclose comprehensive plans for the country’s first mission to find exoplanets later this month. More than 5,000 exoplanets have been identified in the Milky Way, largely because to NASA’s Kepler telescope, which was operational for nine years before running out of fuel in 2018. Some of the planets orbited small red dwarf stars and were rocky Earth-like bodies, but none fulfilled the description of an Earth 2.0. Earth 2.0 is a Chinese mission that aims to change that. It is now in the early design phase and will be supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The mission team will receive money to begin building the satellite if the designs pass a review by a panel of specialists in June. The spacecraft will be launched on a Long March rocket before the end of 2026, according to the crew.

 

This revolution in planet-hunting is amazing, but it raises the question of whether this pursuit for a new planet is sustainable, even in a galaxy where there are more planets than stars.

 

Scientists are concerned that an increase in rocket launches and the advent of space tourism would harm the environment and contribute to climate change. Much of the globe gasped in wonder when billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos flew into space this month aboard their companies’ suborbital tourism spacecraft. 

 

For other scientists, though, these anniversaries marked more than just a technological achievement. The flights signalled the potential start of a long-awaited era in which rockets may fly into the so-far relatively pristine upper layers of the atmosphere significantly more frequently than they do today, despite severe hurdles. These flights are powered by a hybrid engine that burns rubber and creates a cloud of soot in the case of SpaceShipTwo, the aircraft operated by Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

 

A single Virgin Galactic suborbital space tourism flight, lasting roughly an hour and a half, can cause as much pollution as a 10-hour trans-Atlantic flight, according to Dallas Kasaboski, the lead analyst at the space consultancy Northern Sky Research. In view of Virgin Galactic’s plans to transport paying tourists to the edge of space many times a day, some experts find this alarming.

 

Of course, Virgin Galactic’s rockets aren’t the only ones to blame. According to Maggi, all rocket motors that utilise hydrocarbon fuels produce soot. Solid rocket engines, such as those used in the boosters of NASA’s space shuttle in the past, burn metallic compounds and release aluminium oxide particles together with hydrochloric acid, both of which are harmful to the environment. The biggest problem, according to Karen Rosenlof, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Chemical Sciences Laboratory, is that rockets pollute the higher layers of the atmosphere — the stratosphere, which begins at an altitude of about 10 kilometres and the mesosphere, which begins at 50 kilometres. 

 

Pollutants are being emitted in regions where they are not ordinarily emitted. We must grasp the situation. What are the consequences if we raise these factors? According to Northern Sky Research, the number of space tourism flights will increase dramatically over the next decade, from perhaps 10 per year in the near future to 360 per year by 2030. This forecast falls far short of the growth rates that space tourism companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin anticipate. The consequences of generating pollutants in places where you wouldn’t ordinarily emit them are poorly understood. Though it is expected that the space tourism sector will grow tremendously in the future years, with the quantity of fuel consumed by the space industry being less than 1%, it is unclear when rocket launches will begin to have a significant environmental impact.

 

It is not only naive but also dangerous, to ignore the magnitude of the issues that face space travel and exploration. And science has a significant role to play in this. Scientists must be honest about the enormous problems that lie ahead. They should instead tell it like it is. Anything else is at best deceptive, and at worst possibly fatal for the human endeavour.

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Climate Crisis; Cries Asia

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By 2050, regions of Asia may see rising average temperatures, deadly heatwaves, extreme precipitation events, catastrophic hurricanes, drought, and water supply problems (see figure below). The GDP of Asia is threatened by global warming, accounting for more than two-thirds of the total yearly global GDP at danger. According to McKinsey & Company’s Climate Risk and Response in Asia report, countries in Frontier Asia (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) and Emerging Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) are the most vulnerable to climate change consequences.

 

Climate change consequences are predicted to be less severe in advanced Asia (Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea) and China, which is a separate category. In fact, increased crop yields are predicted to constitute a net agricultural benefit from climate change in these countries. However, owing to more frequent extreme precipitation events and typhoons in many locations, hazards to infrastructure and supply systems will increase in these countries, which is especially critical given China’s significance in global supply chains.

 

Warming has a significant impact on what is known as Natural Capital. By 2050, the glacial mass will have decreased by up to 40%, fisheries harvests may have decreased by half, and 90 per cent of coral reefs would have suffered significant degradation. Rising temperatures and deadly heatwaves have an impact on livability and effective working hours in key Asian countries, with up to 10% of daylight work hours likely to be lost by mid-century.

 

The paper by McKinsey & Company discusses possible solutions to this massive problem. They point out that, thankfully, Asia is ideally positioned to handle these issues and seize the benefits that come with efficiently managing climate risks — if they choose to do so. Many Asian countries are still developing their infrastructure and metropolitan centres. This gives the region an opportunity to make sure that whatever is built is more robust and capable of withstanding the increased hazards of climate change.

 

The paper by McKinsey & Company discusses possible solutions to this massive problem. They point out that, thankfully, Asia is ideally positioned to handle these issues and seize the benefits that come with efficiently managing climate risks — if they choose to do so. Many Asian countries are still developing their infrastructure and metropolitan centres. This gives the region an opportunity to make sure that whatever is built is more robust and capable of withstanding the increased hazards of climate change.

 

As the Himalayan glaciers have receded, the annual melting water supply used to feed farmland in India’s Ladakh area has decreased. A system was devised to store meltwater in massive standing structures, allowing for year-round irrigation. However, without major decarbonization, these initiatives are likely to fail. Asia is responsible for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions. The research examines the transition from coal to renewables, which includes a combination of solar and wind power with battery storage, as well as rewards to coal asset owners for retiring assets before they reach the end of their useful lives.

These tactics have not proven to be very effective in the real world, and they consume a lot of energy. For everything, the amount of renewables required to reach these goals would require more steel than China now produces, and that doesn’t include renewables to make green hydrogen to decarbonize steel manufacturing. Leading Asia through the challenges of a warming planet is a huge task, but one that is just as important as leading the rest of the globe to the same objective.

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Defence

Information Warfare: The Lethal Weapon of the New Ages

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Great Generals and Strategists have long believed the information to be the key to victory in any operation or conflict. Many empires have fallen or risen as a result of information. It is clear from General Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, that critical information about the enemy will allow us to analyse his strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, and will ultimately provide us with a strategic advantage and triumphs in the wars that are being waged. It also emphasises the importance of information security in winning a battle.

The Internet’s arrival ushered in a fundamental shift in information warfare (IW). It has ushered in a new era in which cyberspace is being used to conduct virtual information operations in order to obtain sensitive data. Information Warfare is a concept in which information is the target and information is the tool used to carry out the information operation. Information operations can be divided into two categories: defensive and offensive.

In every element of society and human connections, information has played a critical role. As a result, it is utilised as a type of warfare in which information gathered through intelligence and cyber espionage is reviewed and manipulated through misinformation campaigns, propaganda, and fake news in order to affect targeted opponents to the state’s advantage or will. In today’s world, contentious geostrategic concerns and power conflicts between states require rivalling states to engage in information warfare, using the essential information of the rival nation. The Three Warfare Strategy and the Assassin Mace Strategy both include information warfare.

China’s Information Warfare Strategy

Information Dominance is the ultimate goal of the Chinese Information Warfare Strategy. The Chinese IW strategy is based on deterring and disrupting the adversary’s ability to use data by focusing on its important information system and decision-making process, which would eventually influence the adversary’s willingness or ability to fight. Conducting cyber espionage and psychological operations to collect sensitive information from the adversary.

Information Operations (IO) are used to strategically implement China’s IW policy across global cyberspace. Information operations are divided into two types: offensive information operations (OIO) and defensive information operations (DIO).

Methods and strategies for disrupting an adversary’s information structure, as well as cyber espionage, are included in offensive information operations. Defensive information operations, on the other hand, were focused on assuring information security, that is, shielding vital information systems from incoming enemy disruption attempts.

Implications for India

According to Cert-In assessments, there has been a slew of serious cyber-attacks linked to Chinese Information Operations against India, targeting both the government and the general population. Since June 1998, when the first known cyber-attack on India was on the computers of BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre), the country has been subjected to Chinese cyber-attacks.

 

Furthermore, after any major events in India, the number of cyberattacks tends to rise. For example, 80,000 cyber-attacks were recorded following the demonetisation of banknotes, and more than 40,300 attacks were reported in the aftermath of the Galwan fight on the Indian internet. In the month following the Galwan Clash, there was a 200 per cent increase in Chinese cyberattacks, most of which were aimed at stealing critical information.

 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitYCert-In)’s (Indian Computer Emergency Response Team) has played a critical role by developing proactive measures. India responded positively by banning over 150 apps, including Tik Tok, PUBG, and other utility apps.

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Technology

Dating Apps: Latest Instruments of Espionage

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Espionage is not some new-age practice.

Diplomatic workers, military attachés, and trade delegations are all routinely acquiring publically available information. They obtain information through open sources such as the media, conferences, diplomatic events, and trade shows, as well as direct contact with representatives from the host government. This allows them to keep tabs on political, economic, and military developments in their host country while also providing information to their own governments. As a result, foreign officials assist their governments in shaping international, commercial, and military policy. This type of effort does not jeopardise our national security. In fact, it frequently assists us in forming positive relationships with other countries.

The goal of espionage is to get non-public information using covert techniques. First and foremost, classified material is kept secret because its exposure could jeopardise national security, jeopardise the country’s economic well-being, or hurt international relations. Its sensitivity necessitates our protection, but it also makes it appealing to spies.

Serious harm can be done if this information is obtained by individuals who have no permission to access it. Other countries, for example, are looking for technical knowledge about weapons systems in order to identify strategies to counteract our military advantages. Furthermore, the theft of sensitive technologies could allow foreign corporations to imitate them, posing a threat to national security as well as job security.

Dangerous Liaisons- Honey Trapping

A wide-ranging Chinese operation to blackmail Western businesses over sexual ties was described by the renowned British security service. The document report expressly states that Chinese intelligence agencies are attempting to build “long-term connections” and have been known to “exploit vulnerabilities such as sexual relationships… to pressurise individuals to cooperate with them,” as the London Times reported in 2009.

Spymasters of all kinds have been training their spies to utilise the amorous arts to gather hidden information for millennia. The “honey trap” is the trade name for this sort of surveillance. And it turns out that both men and women are equally capable of creating one — and equally prone to falling into it. As bait, spies utilise sex, intelligence, and the thrill of living a double life. Against a well-set honey trap, cunning, training, character, and patriotism are frequently ineffective.

Spymasters, Romeo Spies and Elaborate Honey Traps

Markus Wolf, the legendary East German spymaster, perhaps devised the biggest honey trap in intelligence history. Wolf realised in the early 1950s that, as a result of the large number of marriageable German men killed in World War II and the increasing number of German women pursuing careers, the higher echelons of the German government, commerce, and industry were now stocked with lonely single women, ripe — in his opinion — for the temptations of a honey trap.

Wolf established a special division of the Stasi, East Germany’s security organisation, and filled it with his most attractive and intelligent officers. They were dubbed “Romeo spies” by him. Their mission was to infiltrate West Germany, find influential, unmarried women, woo them, and get all of their secrets from them. The Stasi infiltrated most levels of West German government and industry thanks to the Romeo spies and their honey traps. At one point, the East Germans even had a spy inside NATO who could provide information on the West’s nuclear weapons deployment. Another utilised her contacts to work as a secretary in the office of Helmut Schmidt, the West German chancellor.

Honey Trap Spies lurking on Dating Apps Today

In 2019, India discovered 150 Pakistani social media personas that were meant to dupe Indian army officers into divulging state secrets. India instructed soldiers to deactivate Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, and hundreds of other apps from phones because the problem was so serious. A woman would normally begin the seduction by ‘liking’ a soldier’s social media post and asking for more photographs of firearms and aircraft. The conversation would then shift to direct texting, with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence enticingly requesting defence secrets.

Foreign Interference Plot on an unspecified Australian Election Revealed

Tinder and other dating apps are being used by foreign spies to recruit Australians with access to key government information currently. While delivering his yearly threat assessment, ASIO commander Mike Burgess revealed the alarming disclosure, warning that identifying anti-vaccine campaigners who could turn violent was proving tough.

Mr Burgess confirmed espionage and foreign interference has now “supplanted” terrorism as the “principal security concern” in a wide-ranging address to an audience of military chiefs, security bosses, and politicians inside ASIO’s Canberra headquarters, declaring the recent AUKUS nuclear partnership an obvious target for international agents.

Thousands of Australians with access to confidential material are thought to have been targeted by foreign intelligence services through social media profiles over the last two years. These assassins know how to use the internet to find new recruits. On messaging systems like WhatsApp, there has been an increase in dubious approaches. As part of its attempt to entice Australians with access to state secrets, overseas intelligence operatives are being tracked by ASIO on popular dating apps. Foreign intelligence services can easily target personnel of interest by going online, according to the Director-General of Security.

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