Sunday, February 16, 2020

Phishing Attack on MacOS




Phishing is always something that happens to others - until you fall for it yourself.

Today afternoon I was just sitting in a corner scrolling up and down Twitter when I suddenly remembered an email I received yesterday. A message from Apple had informed me that my account needed verification, and I was supposed to respond within 24 hours!

Was it already past 24 hours? Did I miss the deadline??

I hurried back to my Macbook and found the forgotten email. The subject line had a case# and the message itself had a stark message highlighted in the typeface and layout typical of the company websites - "Apple Case - we need your verification".


The sender's address started with the usual "no-reply" but in my haste I scrolled down and clicked on the "login" hyperlink within the message.  The usual apple id page turned up and I quickly typed in my login id. A familiar pop-up asked for my password and as soon as I entered it, a new window came up for my Yahoo id and password. It is only now that I started having my doubts.

Why does Apple need my Yahoo password for verification??

I went back to the Apple id login page and checked again -- even though the page looked exactly like the original one, none of the banner icons showed the usual URLs. With my apprehension slowly turning into panic I went back to the email message and found several grammatical errors - "For Secure to account, We need to verification", and the sender's long email id made no sense at all!

By now I was quite certain that I had been suckered. Having already sent out my id and password what could I possibly do? I searched for the Apple customer-service numbers and found 000-800-100-9009 for India but it turned out that this number could not be reached through the Airtel mobile network. I had to use a landline.

Once the customer-support rep, Ashraf, turned up online, the problem was sorted out in a few minutes - my password was changed, and a troublesome app (Paragon-NTFS) too got cleared in the process.

So the thing to remember in India is that as far as phishing attacks on Apple products go, it is better to -

  • Keep the helpline number 000-800-100-9009 handy, and check in advance to see if can be reached through your mobile service provider
  • Set aside time to deal with such messages - rushing to meet a "deadline" makes you do stupid things
  • Report such messages to abuse@icloud.com
  • Don't expect to see silly grammatical errors in the message you receive. The attackers too are learning from their mistakes.

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LINKS

Apple Support India - https://www.apple.com/in/contact/

Phishing and Other Suspicious Emails - https://www.apple.com/ca/legal/more-resources/phishing/

Increase in Phishing Attacks on MacOS (2019) - https://www.livemint.com/technology/tech-news/phishing-attacks-on-apple-mac-os-and-ios-up-by-9-in-2019-kaspersky-report-11569735034318.html






Thursday, January 30, 2020

Delhi Assembly Elections 2020



Something is amiss in the Delhi Assembly elections.

This is supposed to be prestige battle between the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which runs the central government. While AAP is trying to showcase its achievements over the past five years under the leadership of Arvind Kerjiwal, the BJP seems to be making a half-hearted attempt, not to win the elections, but to merely to try and increase its vote-share by playing up communal issues.

With just a week to go for the Election Day, one  would expect to see an action-packed campaign trail. And yet, ground realities seem to be quite the opposite. 

Today was a day of many first. I got a chance to use two new lines of the Delhi Metro for the first time, and trudge across two constituencies of East Delhi - Gandhi Nagar and Krishna Nagar. As soon as I got off the metro, I had expected to all the usual signs of a big fight -- posters, billboards, stickers, loudspeakers blaring out speeches, and people campaigning for their candidates. 

Instead, all I got to see after walking for a couple of hours through the lanes and bye-lanes of these two constituencies was the regular bustle of a middle-class locality. People trying to make their way through the traffic snarls, vendors plying their wares and housewives haggling with cycle-rickshaw guys on their way back from shopping. 



The only reminder about the elections came from a couple of electric rickshaws fitted out with posters and loudspeakers playing out pre-recorded jingles and election promises. There seemed to be a polite understanding between both the main parties (Congress is missing in action) - AAP and BJP not to cross swords because, in any case the sound of the loudspeakers could barely be heard over the cacophony of vehicles.


Is this a muted election campaign due to the efforts of the Election Commission? Are the politital parties so short so funds that they are unable to make their presence felt in these high-density districts of Delhi?




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LINKS

Delhi Elections schedule - https://eci.gov.in/files/file/11567-schedule-of-general-election-to-the-legislative-assembly-of-nct-of-delhi-2020/

cVIGIL Campaign by EC -  https://eci.gov.in/cvigil/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Delhi_Legislative_Assembly_election


Thursday, January 23, 2020

A River and its Froth




The Yamuna river presents a surreal sight these days.

From a distance it looks like a scene from one of the frozen continents where the arrival of spring has broken the grip of winter. Pure white blocks of snow and ice gently float down a river which meanders and disappears into a mist. 

There has, however, never been a snowfall in Delhi and the last bits of ice in Yamuna would have melted more than a thousand kilometres upstream, long before the river broke out of the Himalayas, on to the plains of North India. What we pretend not to see in Delhi is the effects of reckless industrial and household pollution.

It seems all that froth floating down the river comes from "excess phosphate in household and factory -use detergents and bars". Why are these pollutants not being removed at source? The answer lies in a mix of apathy and convoluted policies and rules.

The Central Pollution Control Board has set standards on the quality of effluent discharge but is unable to enforce them because there are simply not enough treatment plants. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS 4955, 4956, 8080 and 9458) specifies the minimum levels of phosphates to be included in detergents but leaves it to the industry to decide the upper limit!

While this reasoning sounds plausible it does not really add up. India is not self-sufficient in phosphates so it imports it in large quantities - especially for the fertiliser industry. According to PIB we imports nearly 5 million tonnes of rock phosphate, 2.5 million tonnes of phosphoric acid and 3 million tonnes of Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) annually.

Why would industries want to use excess phosphate when it is an expensive imported commodity? Or is the phosphate used by fertiliser manufactures different from the one used by detergent manufacturers?

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REFERENCES & LINKS

https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/delhi-detergent-waste-chokes-yamuna-at-the-mouth-excess-phosphate-behind-deadly-froth-1191452-2018-03-17  

https://www.scoopwhoop.com/foam-covered-yamuna-delhi-pollution/

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shaheen Bagh Protests

Shaheen Bagh has been in the news for more than a month now.

Ever since protests erupted over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Population Register (NPR) three places have constantly been in the news - Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamila Millia University (JMU) and Shaheen Bagh (SB).

CAA is a new law that gives persecuted minorities (Christians, Sikhs, Hindus) - refugees from three neighbouring countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) who fled to India before 2014 - a fast-track route to citizenship. The NPR, on the other hand, is an exercise undertaken in the state of Assam to ostensibly protect the state's culture from all migrants (Hindus, Muslims, etc.).

Thanks to an ill-timed announcement by the Home Minister in the Parliament promising to extend the use of the CAA-NPR combo to all states in India, especially to isolate illegal migrants (read muslims), a wave of protests was triggered at JNU and JMU. Driven by rumours and a fear psychosis fanned on the social media, the protests turned violent in many places with the police responding in kind. Buses were stoned and burnt, and the police responded with batons, tear-gas and arrests.

Amongst the three main sites - JNU, JMU and SH only the last one is spearheaded by women. A large group has been squatting on one of the main roads connecting Delhi to its suburbs seeking the withdrawal of CAA. For more than a month now this group has been feted and egged on by a section of the media while the rest of the citizens are forced to seek alternate routes to cross the river.  Every day lakhs of vehicles have been crawling through traffic jams on the remaining bridges connecting Delhi to Uttar Pradesh.

What exactly is happening in Shaheen Bagh?

I decided to walk through the area today to find out for myself. Starting from the Okhla Vihar metro station I walked through Zakir Nagar, past the SB metro station, skirted the barricades on the main road and entered the main 'protest zone' through the by-lanes of a residential colony.

What struck me at the scene was the festive, disconnected chaos amidst a total disruption of trade and commerce in the area. All the shops and eateries along the main road were shuttered. In an area that is usually packed with vehicles and shoppers there was a large tent right in the middle of the road occupied by about 200 women, and an assorted bunch of busybodies making all sorts of speeches. As I passed by, a hack from Rajasthan was mocking Modi and Trump(!). An announcement was being made for a "special" press briefing at 5:30pm with a plea that the stage be cleared for the invited journalists.



Further down this road an over-bridge was festooned with banners and slogans.  A large map of India proclaimed eternal opposition to CAA and NPR, while a battalion of street vendors did brisk business selling chai, grilled sweet potatoes, fruit-chat and other assorted snacks.

And the police? They were nowhere to be seen. A handful stood at the far end of the barricades, bored and listless, discouraging vehicles from getting through.

As I walked past the Kalindi Kunj metro station, across the murky, frothy, polluted waters of the Yamuna towards Noida, I wondered if the protesters had an end game in mind. What did they expect to get from blocking a main road that prevents lakhs of people from reaching schools, hospitals and  workplaces in time?

It is election season in Delhi and yet none of the main political parties is willing to take up the cause of the protesters. As long as the protesters are 'peaceful' the police seems happy to sit back and let the protestors carry on like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, stewing in their own rhetoric.

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court yesterday, seeking relief from the protests and claiming, among other things, that businessmen has been suffering huge losses as shops in the vicinity of the protest site are “bound or compelled” to remain closed due to the protests.

And so, while everybody plays passing-the-parcel, the protesters let off steam with their fiery promises of an imminent revolution where "Every one is a leader"!

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REFERENCES & LINKS

The CAA Act - http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/214646.pdf

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Food Aid, Trade and WTO


It is a strange world.

There is enough farmland producing more than enough surplus food to feed each and every child and adult in every country in the world, year after year. And yet, what is actually happening is that many countries that produce surpluses actively seek to undermine local farming systems, and to turn entire countries dependent on hand-outs.

It is called the Law of Comparative Advantage. On the face of it this law, based on a theory David Ricardo published in 1817, makes perfect sense. However, in the real world of natural and man-made disasters, it plays out rather differently. Consider these cases -

  • Malawi: In the early 2000s, Malawi faced severe food shortages. Enthusiastic food aid donors over-reacted to a projected 600,000-tonne food deficit, and sent close to 600,000 tonnes of food in aid. However, commercial and informal importers brought in an additional 350,000–500,000 tonnes. Malawi was flooded and had very large carry-over stocks. Maize prices dropped from $250 per tonne to $100 per tonne in the course of a year. Local production of maize, cassava, and rice fell markedly, and in a larger disaster that played out subsequently, estimated losses to the Malawian economy were approximately $15m.
  • The Philippines: US PL 480 food aid was used to finance the purchase of US exports. Ten years later, the Philippines was the largest market for US high-protein soybean meal, with US exporters accounting for 90 per cent of total imports.
  • India: In India the same PL480 scheme resulted in the creation of one of its finest engineering schools. India was required to pay for the food aid in Rupees (plus 50% of ocean freight cost) which was deposited to the account of the US Technical Cooperation Mission in India. These funds were to be spent on programmes approved by Government of India. One of these schemes, guided by PK Kelkar, was used to obtain US expertise in building IIT Kanpur.

According to a study by the OECD, shipping food from donor countries is 33 per cent more expensive than buying it from a third-party country (usually closer to the destination) and 46 per cent more expensive than buying it locally in the destination country. And yet this is exactly what happens on a fairly regular basis.

The WTO has been trying to do its bit but the opposition is formidable. The Doha Round negotiations took this up in light of evidence that the USA sometimes uses food aid to dump agricultural surpluses and to attempt to create new markets for its exports. Nothing came of it - successful  manoeuvring ensured the removal of the clause prohibiting surplus disposal via food aid.

While food aid continues to save millions of people in Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan from starvation, preventing such aid from destroying local production systems, and creating dependencies continues to be a challenge..

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LINKS & REFERENCES

* Narayanan (1960): India-US Food Agreement and State Trading in Food Grains, EPW -https://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/1960_12/39/indous_food_agreementand_state_trading_in_foodgrains.pdf

* The Kanpur Indi-American Program (1962-72) - https://www.iitk.ac.in/doaa/convocation/data/KIAP_Report.pdf






Saturday, October 26, 2019

Yellowjackets


A bee or not a bee?


For the past two weeks I have been intrigued by this bright yellow coloured 'bee' seen here diving deep into a rose. Unlike a regular bee however it did not limit itself to flowers. 

They could be seen just about everywhere in Kabul - perched on Thuja leaves, hovering over lawn grass, and even locked in a mortal combat with a black ant!



Turns out that this is not a bee at all. According to Wiki, this is a species of social wasps called the Yellowjackets - "They can be identified by their distinctive markings, their occurrence only in colonies, and a characteristic, rapid, side-to-side flight pattern prior to landing."

Wonder why they outnumber the regular honeybees...



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LINKS

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowjacket

Friday, October 25, 2019

Farsi Friday


It's Friday today - the weekly holiday - and Farsi is on my mind.

Here is Afghanistan two languages dominate the sound-scape: Dari and Pashto. Last year, when I first landed at Kabul airport, I was amazed to hear the driver who came to pick me up, ask somebody, "Kujo ast?" - and I understood the meaning perfectly!

Then at my workplace, I heard a colleague asking for a "Kainchi" and I knew without looking up that he wanted a pair of scissors. As days went by the list of familiar words got longer and longer - Charkhi (rotate), Hal (solve), Kharid (buy), Khwaab (dream), Daan (gift), Giriftaar (arrest), Pasand (like), Mushkil (difficult), Khushi (joy)... Just about all the words I assumed to be Urdu actually belonged to Farsi!

It turns out that Dari is the same as Farsi, the language of Iran and much of the former Persian Empire which included not only Afghanistan but also Iraq, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and parts of southern Russia. It is spoken by no less than 110 million people! Countries that belonged to the former USSR stopped using the Farsi script and adopted the Russian script.

Now if the words sounded so familiar, how long would it take to make sense of the written Farsi script? The curls, dots and squiggles on banners, shops and books looked completely different from the 32 letters a friend wrote down for me. A search of lessons on YouTube followed, and I gradually learnt that the letters when written together take on completely different shapes.

I continue to be confused by letters that sound similar:
"A" can be آ or ع
"Ta" - ط  or  ت
"Se" - س or  ث
"He" - ح or ه
"Za" - 4 options (!) - ظ ض ز ذ
"Ga" - غ or  ق

It may take a while to get a hang of the written and spoken language but until then, we have music! Here is a sample of some amazing Farsi instrumentals by Mehdi Aminian -