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North Korean hacking group becoming a global threat

NORTH KOREA – North Korean cyber-spy group “Reaper” is emerging as a global threat, conducting espionage well beyond the Korean peninsula in support of Pyongyang’s military and economic interests, FireEye Inc said.

The group, known also as APT37, in 2017 began attacking targets in Japan, Vietnam and the Middle East after having focused on its southern neighbour for years, FireEye said in a report. The hacking group – traced to an IP address in North Korea – now infiltrates a range of industries from electronics and aerospace to automotive and health care, the cybersecurity firm said.

Reaper joins a growing list of hacking units linked to Kim Jong Un’s regime, including “Lazarus,” which the US blamed for a 2014 data theft at Sony Pictures Entertainment. North Korea has been widening its cyber-operations in pursuit of cash and intelligence in an attempt to cushion the impact of international sanctions, and Reaper underscores the challenge in fending them off.

“They’ve laid low on the radar for a long time,” John Hultquist, director of FireEye’s intelligence unit, said by phone. “They are probably not getting their due, considering this is a tool of the regime that can be used in all the same ways that Lazarus is being used.”

Reaper has been active since at least 2012, and typically sends its targets emails laced with malware to steal confidential information. Its targets have included a Middle Eastern telecommunications company doing business in North Korea, a Japan-based entity associated with a United Nations group on sanctions and the general director of a Vietnamese trading company, FireEye said, declining to name the victims.

“North Korea appears to be confident about hacking South Korea and now wants to look beyond,” said Shin Jin, a professor of political science at South Korea’s Chungnam National University. “Foreign nations are an unexplored market and many of them have security infrastructure weaker than South Korea.”

The group came under FireEye’s scrutiny when South Korea warned last month about a security vulnerability in Adobe Flash. A developer believed to belong to Reaper made the mistake of revealing his or her North Korean IP address, Hultquist said. It’s unclear how large the group is, he added.

“Ignored, these threats enjoy the benefit of surprise, allowing them to extract significant losses on their victims, many of whom have never previously heard of the actor,” FireEye said in an emailed statement. —




Shuklaphanta National Park embarks on first of its kind savanna experiment

KANCHANPUR:  The Shuklaphanta National Park has been carrying out a scientific study and research in one of its prime grasslands. The research works have been started with the implementation of the Darwin Project.

The savanna covering 20 hectares at Singhapurphanta has been divided into five blocks for conducting separate research studies on each block, said Pradip Raj Joshi, Inspection and Survey Officer at the Zoological Society of London’s Nepal Office.

“For three years we have been slashing and burning the reeds, the elephant grass and other vegetation in the grassland, we have been leaving patches of grassland fallow, setting the grassland on fire without cutting grass, keeping record of the presence of wild animals and observing the grass grow here, Joshi said, adding that the grassland would be brought to use on the basis of our observations regarding the wildlife presence, the status of the vegetation and adaptation.

According to Joshi, this type of experimentation on savanna is a new kind of study.

Assistant conservation officer with the National Trust for Nature Conservation, Anil Prasain, said the grassland is an important ecosystem in Shuklaphanta national park as it is inhabited by swamp deer, tiger, rhinos and large species of birds and other animals.

There are 12 large and small savannahs inside the Shuklaphanta Park which is considered important in terms of the conservation and management of grassland ecosystems in Nepal.

The current research study is an attempt to contribute to augment to the ecosystem conservation in the park, Assistant Conservation Officer at the Shuklaphanta National Park, Gopal Bahadur Ghimire, said.



Human eggs grown to maturity in lab, say researchers

Scientists have grown human egg cells to full maturity in the lab in a potential breakthrough for fertility treatment, they announced in a study published recently. — pic via AFP


PARIS:  Scientists have grown human egg cells to full maturity in the lab in a potential breakthrough for fertility treatment, they announced in a study published today.

Researchers in New York and Edinburgh developed a new method to grow eggs from very early-stage cells obtained from ovary tissue, a team reported in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction.

The eggs were grown to the point at which they could be fertilised.

This had previously been achieved with mouse egg cells, while human eggs had been successfully cultivated starting from a much later stage of development.

“The latest study is the first time a human egg has been developed in the lab from its earliest stage to full maturity,” said a statement from the University of Edinburgh.

Experts who did not take part in the research hailed the achievement as promising, but stressed it would take years to translate into a safe and proven therapy.

The technique holds promise specifically for women who have to go through sterilising treatments such as chemotherapy.

It would allow them to freeze early-stage egg cells before undergoing treatment, to be matured in the lab at a later time to be fertilised with sperm to make a baby.

Traditionally, cancer patients can have a piece of ovary removed before chemotherapy, but reimplanting the tissue later may risk reintroducing cancer.

“This is an elegant piece of work, demonstrating for the first time that human eggs can be grown to maturity in a laboratory,” Channa Jayasena of the Imperial College London said in a comment on the study results.

“It would take several years to translate this into a therapy. However, this is an important breakthrough, which could offer hope to women with infertility in the future.”

Azim Surani of the University of Cambridge pointed out that the eggs yielded by the research were smaller than normal, and “it might be of interest to test the developmental potential of these eggs”.

And Robin Lovell-Badge of The Francis Crick Institute said the procedure was “really quite inefficient”, with only nine out of dozens of early-stage cells becoming mature eggs.

Study co-author Evelyn Telfer of the University of Edinburgh said the team was now studying how healthy the eggs are.

“We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised,” she said.

–  AFP

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