DUBAI: British news media company The Guardian has been hit by a “serious IT incident” suspected to be part of a ransomware attack, the company said.
The incident, which began late on Tuesday night, has disrupted some “behind-the-scenes services” and affected parts of the company’s technology infrastructure, the paper said.
Online publishing, however, has been mostly unaffected with The Guardian continuing to publish stories on its website and mobile app. It also said that it was “confident” it could print Thursday’s print edition.
Most staff, with a few exceptions, have been asked to work from home for the rest of the week.
“Our technology teams have been working to deal with all aspects of this incident, with the vast majority of our staff able to work from home as we did during the pandemic,” Anna Bateson, CEO of Guardian Media Group and the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, told staff.
Cyber-attacks have been common in the newspaper and publishing industry in recent years. At the beginning of this year, Norwegian media company Amedia suffered a cyber-attack that shut down its computer systems, preventing the company from printing newspapers.
In October, a ransomware attack on German newspaper Heilbronn Stimme crippled the newspaper’s printing system, and in 2018, a cyber-attack caused printing and delivery disruptions to leading US newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun.
“News organizations have become a regular target for cyber-attacks this year, and these attacks often have even more damaging effects on the companies targeted,” Jake Moore, global cyber-security adviser at security software company ESET, told the BBC.
“Ransomware can often bring all departments to a standstill, so it is fortunate that despite this attack the organization will still see some key areas working as usual,” he said.
Confused about the timing? The day varies depending where you’re from
Updated 21 March 2023
DUBAI: Mum’s across the world have been celebrated Tuesday with a Google Doodle animation – but don’t worry if you’re American, Filipino, from Sri Lanka or down under – you have a few weeks yet before you need to send flowers to your Mothers.
The Google Doodle features a series of cards that pop open to display love hearts.
Mother’s Day is celebrated on different dates around the world, but the doodle coincided with the majority of the Middle East and North Africa who mark the special day on March 21.
The spring equinox marks the day in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
In the UK, Ireland and Nigeria, Mum’s are marked for the hard work they put in every day on the fourth Sunday in Lent – which this week fell on March 19.
The bulk of the world, mark the day on the date set by the UN – the second Sunday of May – this year that’s May 14.
The date varies from country to country, with some using the seasons to decide the date, while others use religious references.
But many would suggest that every day we should acknowledge the endless work – largely unpaid - that mother’s around the world are constantly carrying out. Maybe even lighten her work and do some of the chores yourselves.
Happy Mother’s Day mums around the world – we think you’re great!
Israel shuts down Palestinian radio station’s Israeli operations
Five Palestinian journalists summoned for questioning
Updated 21 March 2023
DUBAI: Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, ordered the Voice of Palestine radio station to shut down its Israeli operations on Monday.
Israeli police visited the radio station’s Jerusalem bureau to notify employees that the office had to shut down and summoned several Jerusalem-based Palestinian reporters for questioning, according to news reports.
Ben-Gvir’s order bars Voice of Palestine from operating within Israel but does not stop the station from continuing its work in the West Bank or Gaza.
In the order, Ben-Gvir said, “we will not allow incitement and support for terrorism and terrorists, neither by the Palestinian Authority nor by any other body.”
Israeli authorities should immediately reverse their order to shut down the Israeli operations of the Voice of Palestine radio station and should cease harassing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement.
Those summoned include Palestinian reporters Layali Eid and Lana Kamela, photographers Yazan Haddad and Walid Kamar, and camera operator Firas Handawi, according to multiple reports.
Amir Abbas, director of the Marcel production company, which works with the Voice of Palestine’s parent company the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and other outlets, told CPJ that the five journalists had contributed to various local outlets including those operated by the PBC.
Abbas was also summoned by the authorities, who interrogated him for hours.
The Israeli police gave a verbal warning to all five journalists, as well as Abbas, to stop collaborating with the PBC from Jerusalem, and released them without filing any formal charges, Kamar and Abbas told the CPJ.
“Israeli authorities must reverse their order to close the Voice of Palestine’s operations in Israel, which was issued without citing any specific problems with its coverage,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator.
“Palestinian journalists should be able to do their jobs freely, without fear of being interrogated, harassed or obstructed from doing their work.”
Sara Balghonaim’s short film starts international festival tour next month
Updated 21 March 2023
DUBAI: Saudi film “Me & Aydarous” is set to kickstart its international festival tour at the Aspen Film Festival’s Shortsfest next month.
Written and directed by Sara Balghonaim, the film is set in the early 2000s in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. It tells the story of a young woman who sneaks off for a date only to butt heads with her chaperoning chauffeur.
Balghonaim, a Saudi filmmaker who is based between Riyadh and New York, is currently in her thesis year at New York University’s graduate Film & Television MFA program in directing and writing.
Her writing workshops inspired the concept for the movie with Balghonaim penning the script in the second year of the program.
Students from different backgrounds shared their experiences of growing up during the early 2000s in different cultures during a workshop.
“Looking at my own past, I found that most of my memories from this time period featured my chauffeur in Riyadh,” Balghonaim told Arab News. “This is what inspired me to write this story: Me and every girl who grew up during this period have similar memories of their live-in chauffeurs knowing everything about their personal lives.”
Although the events of the film are not based on her personal life, “the dynamic between the protagonist and her driver, is my experience and the experience of most Saudi women,” she said.
Live-in chauffeurs were a common feature in Riyadh households, who knew everything about the young women they drove around from their taste in music to their relationship with their parents, Balghonaim said.
“And, if you are a girl in Saudi Arabia in the early 2000s, he (the chauffeur) knows a whole lot about your romantic life . . . or lack thereof.”
As she grew up, she saw young couples become more creative in navigating the strict rules in order to date with many meeting in cars more frequently.
“For women, that meant their chauffeurs were chaperoning these dates,” she said.
The making of the film was almost as challenging as dating in the Kingdom — from funding to casting. Production began two years ago when there was no year-round state funding for Saudi short films, Balghonaim said.
“So, despite the lack of funding from organizations, we managed to pool together money for this project, along with the support of our family and friends who loaned us their cars, and houses, and contributed their time to helping us where they could.”
The filming itself was a challenge too since the entire film takes place inside a cramped van.
“A challenge my director of photography Khalid Alsudairy and I faced was figuring out how to fit the camera and cast in this closed space whilst creating a dynamic visual language,” she said.
The biggest challenge, however, was casting, with the team auditioning many actresses before deciding on Ida Alkusay, who Balghonaim described as “extremely skilled and fearless.”
“Many of them were afraid of participating in a story that is still considered taboo,” said Balghonaim, who had to personally reassure their fathers that there would be no physical intimacy in any of the scenes between the protagonist and her boyfriend.
Since then, Saudi Arabia has come a long way both in terms of investment in the local film industry as well as changes in culture and society.
“The film speaks to a time that is different to where we are now — the GenZ in Saudi are growing up in a time with massive cultural changes, with more freedom to exercise normal day-to-day life,” she said.
With this film, Balghonaim wants to share the experiences of many Saudi women of her generation with a global audience. “I want people to question, to reminisce, and to laugh at the creative lengths we go to when it comes to getting what we want; to exercising our basic need for intimacy and connection,” she said.
“Me & Aydarous” marks Balghonaim’s debut as a director. She has worked with Haifa Al-Mansour as an assistant director on “The Perfect Candidate,” starred in “Dunya’s Day,” winner of the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and recently produced “Sweet Refuge,” which won the Directors Guild of America Student Award.
Balghonaim is currently working on a feature-length film.
“The stories I’m writing center on women breaking the status quo, and touch on societal behavior and limitations,” she said.
“Me & Aydarous,” which won the Wasserman Award last year, is produced by Raed Alsemari and Salman Almusaad, and associate produced by Khalid Alsudairy, starring Ida Alkusay and Ballah Mohammad Alfadhel.
CineWaves Films owns the film distribution rights in the Arab world and Africa.
BBC urged staff to remove TikTok from work devices
Decision follows concerns raised by government authorities worldwide regarding data privacy and security
BBC is second media company in the world to issue guidance
Updated 20 March 2023
LONDON: The BBC has urged its staff to delete TikTok from their work devices.
“We don’t recommend installing TikTok on a BBC corporate device unless there is a justified business reason. If you do not need TikTok for business reasons, TikTok should be deleted,” said the broadcaster in a note sent to staff on Sunday.
Use of the app for editorial and marketing purposes is still permitted, a spokesperson said, adding that the network would continue to monitor and assess the situation, issuing further guidance if necessary.
Explaining the move, the BBC said: “The decision is based on concerns raised by government authorities worldwide regarding data privacy and security.”
It added that employees who use TikTok on personal or business devices should contact the security team to discuss “the type of BBC information that you are working with.”
Commenting on the news, TikTok said it was “disappointed” by the decision but “(welcomed) the fact TikTok can still be used as part of editorial, marketing and reporting purposes.”
In a statement, the Chinese video platform said: “We believe these bans have been based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics. We remain in close dialogue with the BBC and are committed to working with them to address any concerns they have.”
The BBC has a strong presence on the platform, with 1.2 million people following the BBC News account and over 4 million following a second BBC account that shares the broadcaster’s program clips.
The BBC seems to be the first UK media organization to issue the guidance and only the second in the world after Denmark’s public service broadcaster, which announced a similar guidance earlier this month.
The news comes a few days after the UK government announced that ministers and civil servants would be barred from having the TikTok app installed on official devices amid fears that sensitive data could be accessed by the Chinese government.
In recent months, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been at the center of intense criticisms after Western governments grew increasingly skeptical of its relationship with the Chinese government.
TikTok has strived to reassure Western officials over its handling of user data, but several officials have moved to ban the video app from work devices.
ByteDance said the decision was politically motivated and based on “fundamentally wrong information.”
Western social networks including Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, which TikTok says gather similar data on their users, are officially blocked in China.
China has accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok after President Joe Biden threatened to ban the app entirely if its Chinese owners do not divest their stakes in it.
Surveillance nation: India spies on world’s largest population
Across the country, the use of CCTV and facial recognition is increasing in schools, airports, train stations, prisons and streets as authorities roll out a nationwide system to curb crime and identify missing children
Updated 20 March 2023
NEW DELHI: Khadeer Khan was arrested in the south Indian city of Hyderabad in January after police claimed to have identified him from CCTV footage as a suspect in a chain snatching incident. He was released a few days later, and died while being treated for injuries he allegedly sustained while in custody.
The police said Khan was arrested because he looked like the man seen in the CCTV footage.
“When it was ruled out that Khadeer was not the one who had committed the crime, he was released. Everything was done as per procedure,” said K. Saidulu, a deputy superintendent of police.
But human rights activists say the 36-year-old was clearly misidentified — a growing risk with the widespread use of CCTV in Telangana state, which has among the highest concentrations of the surveillance technology in the country.
“We have been warning for many years that CCTV and facial recognition technology can be misused for harassment, and that they can misidentify people,” said S.Q. Masood, a human rights activist who filed a lawsuit in 2021 challenging the use of facial recognition in Telangana that is still ongoing.
• India poised to become world's most populous nation
• Increased digitisation of services has led to greater surveillance, activists say
• Authorities say surveillance needed to curb crime
“This case has exposed just how harmful it can be,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Across the country, the use of CCTV and facial recognition is increasing in schools, airports, train stations, prisons and streets as authorities roll out a nationwide system to curb crime and identify missing children.
It’s not the only form of surveillance in the country.
The biometric national ID Aadhaar, with some 1.3 billion IDs issued, is linked to dozens of databases including bank accounts, vehicle registrations, SIM cards and voters’ lists, while the National Intelligence Grid aims to link nearly two dozen databases of government agencies for citizen profiles.
Meanwhile, policing of the Internet has also grown, with greater monitoring of social media, and the most frequent Internet shutdowns in the world.
Authorities say they are needed to improve governance and bolster security in a severely under-policed country. But technology experts say there is little correlation to crime, and that they violate privacy and target vulnerable people.
“Everything’s being digitised, so there’s a lot of information about a person being generated that is accessible to the government and to private entities without adequate safeguards,” said Anushka Jain, legal counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group in Delhi.
“At a time when people are attacked for their religion, language and sexual identity, the easy availability of these data can be very harmful. It can also result in individuals losing access to welfare schemes, to public transport or the right to protest whenever the government deems it necessary.”
BIRTH TO DEATH
India is poised to become the world’s most populous country in April, overtaking China with more than 1.43 billion people, according to estimates by the United Nations.
The government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has prioritized the Digital India program to improve efficiency and streamline welfare schemes by digitising everything from land titles to health records to payments.
Aadhaar — the world’s largest biometric database — underpins many of these initiatives, and is mandatory for welfare, pension and employment schemes, despite a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that it cannot be a requirement for welfare programs.
Yet despite its wide adoption, millions face difficulties with their Aadhaar IDs because of inaccurate details or fingerprints that don’t match, and are denied vital services.
“The government claims linking to Aadhaar brings better governance, but it will lead to a totalitarian society because the government knows every individual’s profile,” said Srinivas Kodali at Free Software Movement of India, an advocacy group.
“The goal is to track everyone from birth to death. Anything linked to Aadhaar eventually ends up with the ministry of home affairs, and the policing and surveillance agencies, so dissent against the government becomes very difficult,” he added.
The ministry of home affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
The latest iteration of digitization is Digi Yatra, which was rolled out at the Delhi, Bengaluru and Varanasi airports in December. It allows passengers to use their Aadhaar ID and facial recognition for check-ins at airports.
The ministry of civil aviation has said Digi Yatra leads to “reduced wait time and makes the boarding process faster and more seamless,” with dedicated lanes for those using the app.
But those who choose to not use Digi Yatra may be viewed with suspicion and subject to additional checks, said Kodali.
The data — including travel details — can also be shared with other government agencies, and may be used to put people on no-fly lists, and stop activists, journalists and dissenters from traveling, as is already happening, said Kodali.
The ministry of civil aviation did not respond to a request for comment.
Some of the lowest-paid public-sector workers in India bear the brunt of the government’s surveillance mechanisms.
Municipal workers across the country are required to wear GPS-enabled watches that are equipped with a camera that takes snapshots, and a microphone that can listen in on conversations.
The watches feed a stream of data to a central control room, where officials monitor the movements of each employee, and link the data to performance and salaries.
Authorities have said the goal is to improve efficiency. Workers across the country have protested the surveillance.
In January, the federal government said that the National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app would be mandatory for all workers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), after having rolled it out in several states last year.
Women make up nearly 60 percent of the more than 20 million beneficiaries nationwide who get 100 days of work in a year, and are paid a daily wage of up to 331 rupees ($4).
The new system requires the supervising officer, called a mate, to upload pictures of the laborers when they start work and when they finish, as proof of their attendance, which was marked in manual logs earlier.
But this requires the mate — usually a woman — to have a smartphone and a stable Internet connection twice a day, which is near impossible in many rural areas, said Rakshita Swamy, a researcher with the non-profit Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee.
“If the pictures don’t get uploaded, the workers are considered absent, and they don’t get paid for the work,” she said.
“There is also hesitation among the women about having their pictures taken. There is no transparency about what happens to these photographs — it’s highly likely that they are being used to train facial recognition algorithms,” she added.
Hundreds of NREGS workers are holding a protest in Delhi, calling for payment of back wages and doing away with the app.
The ministry of rural development has said the app would lead to “more transparency and ensure proper monitoring” of workers, without addressing surveillance concerns.
A long-delayed data protection law, which is awaiting passage in parliament, would offer little recourse as it gives sweeping exceptions to government agencies, say privacy experts.
In Rajasthan state, which has among the highest number of Internet shutdowns in the country, Kamla Devi, a mate in Ajmer district, has struggled with the NMMS app for several months.
“On many days, there’s no network, and I tell the workers to go home. There’s no point if they work because they won’t get paid,” she said.
“This app is ruining livelihoods. It was better when we had a manual attendance log.”