WANNACRY ATTACK: NHS, major organisations left reeling by co-ordinated hack

 

Winnipeg – VIJAY SHAH via Winnipeg Free Press and ReportCA.net

Several of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service trusts, as well as numerous large companies across the globe are still recovering from a large-scale ‘unprecedented’ ransomware cyber attack which occurred this weekend, ReportCA.net wrote yesterday.

The ‘cyberextortion’ attack, which involved hackers accessing computers via phishing emails, and locking systems and encrypting company data, also affected numerous firms engaged in the manufacturing, finance and transport sectors. Government agencies were also caught up in the debacle. Technicians at the NHS, which offers subsidised healthcare in the U.K., scrambled to limit the spread of the ransomware, which caused problems with accessing patient data and hospital appointments, among other things. Many companies ordered their employees to disconnect their workstations from the Internet and to avoid opening emails from unfamiliar sources.

Such was the scale of this weekend’s mass attack, Microsoft was moved into changing its cybersecurity policy, making free of charge updates and patches for computers running older packages such as Windows XP, which many small and medium enterprises still rely on, due to the expense of system upgrades or lack of technical knowledge and ICT skills.

 

 

 

Apart from the NHS, Spain’s Telefonica and Iberdrola also reported computers being targeted. The German national railway Deutsche Ban was another victim. ReportCA.net published a photo taken by an eyewitness at Chemnitz rail station, showing a display board for train times. The screen was partly obscured by a red and white pop-up with a padlock logo, a sight reported by other victims of the attack. The hackers locked out users and demanded payment in bitcoin currency to release encrypted data. Other victims included the Russian Interior Ministry, the country’s mobile phone operators MTS and MegaFon, French car maker Renault, and football clubs in Europe. One long-established club, IF Odd, said Saturday that its online ticketing service was crippled by the ransomware.

The British home secretary Amber Rudd said that one in five of her country’s 248 NHS trusts, which manage hospitals and patient services above general practitioner level, had been hit. Thousands of patient appointments and operations, including for serious conditions, were cancelled, as medical staff were frozen out of their databases and systems. According to Rudd, 48 trusts were affected, but quick reaction times by their ICT departments meant that as of yesterday, only six were still reporting issues. The National Cyber Security Centre also stepped in to mitigate the impact of the attack.

Cybersecurity officials urged both individuals and companies to ensure they regularly update their anti-virus and security systems, enact security updates if they are Windows users and to back-up data on a separate server or in the cloud.

The source of the attack is as yet unknown, although Russian and Chinese hackers have targeted companies and governmental agencies in the West in past years. Two cybersecurity firms, Avast and Kaspersky Lab, have said that the ransomware attacked PCs in 70 countries, with Russia the most affected. There have been reports that the hackers used the WannaCry ransomware program, said to have been based on spying technology utilised by America’s NSA (National Security Agency). More than 36,000 infections were detected by yesterday. It is reported that the hackers behind ‘WannaCry’ stole the hacking tools from the NSA, which created the tool to exploit a loophole in Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Ori Eisen, founder of Trusona cybersecurity firm in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, warned that the WannaCry attack is just the beginning and another more advanced attack could have serious and potentially lethal implications. Speaking with the Associated Press news agency, Eisen said: This is child”s play, what happened. This is not the serious stuff yet. What if the same thing happened to 10 nuclear power plants, and they would shut down all the electricity to the grid? What if the same exact thing happened to a water dam or to a bridge?” he asked.

“Today, it happened to 10,000 computers,” Eisen said. “There”s no barrier to do it tomorrow to 100 million computers.”

Intranational policing agency Europol described the attack as at “an unprecedented level and will require a complex international investigation to identify the culprits.”

The onslaught of WannaCry was successfully halted after a 22-year-old British cybersecurity researcher, known only by his or her tag ‘MalwareTech’ accidently stumbled across a ‘kill switch’ that disabled the ransomware. By entering a nonsensical domain name, MalwareTech was able to stop the malware spreading further. He or she purchased the domain name for around £9, yet this quick thinking decision saved companies millions in potential damage control. The kill switch only worked for those not affected however, and many organisations who were already hit were forced to pay the ransom demand or call up emergency data stocks.

SOURCES:

HEM Newsbreakers, HEM News Agency, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind/lists/hem-newsbreakers

Report 24 Canada, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/Report24CA

“Unprecedented global “ransomware” attack seeks cash for data” – Winnipeg Free Press via ReportCA.net (13 May 2017) https://reportca.net/2017/05/unprecedented-global-ransomware-attack-seeks-cash-for-data/

IMAGE CREDIT:

“File:Wana Decrypt0r screenshot.png” – WannaCry via SecureList, Wikimedia Commons (12 May 2017) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wana_Decrypt0r_screenshot.png

 

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POST-BREXIT SCOTLAND: First minister may sign off separate trade deal with EU

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London, UNITED KINGDOM
VIJAY SHAH via BBC News

As the UK decides what to do next after the life-changing EU referendum in June which saw the country vote largely to leave the European Union, and the nation is facing a rocky political climate coupled with a weak pound, there are concerns about whether the UK will still be able to maintain access to the European single market.

In a sign of the complexity of the situation, and with EU leaders hitting back hard at the UK’s pick-and-choose approach to negotiations, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has hinted that her country may go it alone in seeking a separate trade deal with the Continent, the BBC reports.

 

 

Around 62 per cent of eligible Scottish voters were in favour of Remain, and in the aftermath of the highly divisive referendum, some members of Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party pushed for another plebiscite on Scotland quitting the UK and rejoining Europe. In a recent interview with the BBC, the First Minister said that she believed a deal could be struck which will preserve Scotland’s own access to the single market, saving the country millions of pounds in tariffs and other fees for importing European goods.

Speaking on videolink with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Sturgeon said that Brexit should not come in the way of Scotland establishing its own and separate trade deal that will not be affected by the rest of the union’s departure from the EU.

“I think that is possible,” she said.

Sturgeon also added that her government are examining the technicalities of a separate trade deal and mentioned We will publish proposals over the next few weeks.”

In recent days, EU leaders have warned the UK that continued access to the single market is dependent on it continuing to allow free movement of EU citizens. Concerns over the UK being a magnet to EU arrivals was one of the issues vocalised by supporters of Leave.

SOURCES:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
Ace News Services, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/AceNewsServices
“Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland may seek separate EU trade deal” – BBC News – UK – Scotland – Scotland politics (16 October 2016) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-37671236?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
IMAGE CREDIT:
“Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland” – First Minister of Scotland, Flickr (29 November 2014) https://www.flickr.com/photos/firstministerofscotland/15805899567

ASEF: Journalism event on crisis reporting in November

The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) is launching a special event for journalists this November to explore and share best practice on reporting global crises. The 10th ASEF Journalists’ Colloquium on Crisis Reporting is being held in Luxembourg over three days from the 4-6 November 2014, according to a source with ASEF’s branch in Singapore.

The colloquium is being organised in conjunction with the 12th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM FMM12), an important regional political meeting being held at the same time also in Luxembourg. A specially selected number of 25 practicing journalists from Asia and Europe to come together to discuss and learn different approaches, skills and tools used in crisis reporting from Asian and European perspectives.

(c) ASEF via Journalism.co.uk/Mousetrap Media.

From public health crises such as the E. Coli out breakout of 2011 in Germany, to environmental disasters such as the devastating 2013 cyclone Haiyan that struck the Philippines and this weekend’s earthquake in Nepal and India, the attendees will learn and build upon their understanding of the many issues these crises pose for Asian and European media. The recent terror attacks in places like France, and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria also pose many challenges for reporters.

This colloquium will enable journalists to share their perspectives and best practices regarding international and regional challenges during crisis reporting from the different regional perspectives, as well as definitively understanding the role of the European and Asian media in reporting and witnessing such profound events. Journalists from ASEM countries (members of the Asia-Europe Meeting) can qualify to answer the call for applications. A list of participating ASEM nations can be found at http://www.aseminfoboard.org/members

Participating media professionals will see their recommendations and the event’s highlights published as the ASEF Media Handbook, which will be a ready reference for Asian and European journalists as well as for research and civil society organisations working in the field.

Founded in 1997, ASEF fosters understanding and dialogue between European and Asian countries through intellectual, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. This is with the goal to help encourage the growth of common development and stability, as well as contributing to world peace and prosperity. The Foundation particularly focusses on matters of concern such as war and famine in addition, and offers a range of collaborative events including seminars, workshops, conferences, lecture tours and exhibitions. In the past seventeen years, ASEF has seeded over 650 projects involving 17,000 direct participants over the two continents.

Interested journalists from ASEM countries can apply to take part at the colloquium. Application information can be found here: http://bit.ly/ASEFJC10

Travel (by economy class only) to and from Luxembourg and nearby hotel accommodation will be provided by the organisers for participants selected to attend this unique event. All applications should be submitted online by Tuesday, 12 May 2015, at the link above.

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HEM NEPAL EARTHQUAKE APPEAL

Nepal Quake Emergency Appeal pizap_opt

As many of you are well aware, Nepal was struck yesterday by the worst earthquake to be witnessed in its recent history. More than 1,200 people have lost their lives, mainly in Nepal, but also in India and Bangladesh. Much of the tourism infrastructure in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu has been obliterated, and thousands more are injured and without homes, food, and blankets for the harsh cold nights there.

The Half-Eaten Mind has joined forces with the international development charity Oxfam to support them in their Emergency Appeal. The top of the sidebar has a special link to Oxfam Great Britain’s giving page, where you can make donations securely via credit and debit card or PayPal. I am not aware if givers from outside the U.K. can donate via this link, but if you cannot, then please support any charities helping Nepal in your country.

Please donate what you can. Every little helps.

Thanks for reading.

Vijay Shah,

Editor and Blogger – the Half-Eaten Mind.

HEM 3rd anniversary banner pizap.com14293560242241

SOURCES:
“Call for Journalists: 10th ASEF Journalists’ Colloquium on Crisis Reporting” – Debasmita Dasgupta, Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) via Journalism.co.uk/Mousetrap Media Ltd (24 April 2015) https://www.journalism.co.uk/press-releases/call-for-journalists-10th-asef-journalists-colloquium-on-crisis-reporting/s66/a564889/
“Project Updates” – Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) http://asef.org/projects/themes/sustainable-development/3412-10th-asef-journalists-colloquium#3511-call-for-applications-10th-asef-journalists-colloquium
“Upcoming Events 10th ASEF Journalists’ Colloquium 4-7 November 2015 (tbc)” – Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) http://asef.org/projects/themes/sustainable-development/3412-10th-asef-journalists-colloquium
“The History” – Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) http://www.asef.org/about/history
“What We Do” – Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) http://www.asef.org/about/what-we-do
IMAGE CREDIT:
“Call for Journalists: 10th ASEF Journalists’ Colloquium on Crisis Reporting” – Debasmita Dasgupta, Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) via Journalism.co.uk/Mousetrap Media Ltd (24 April 2015) https://www.journalism.co.uk/press-releases/call-for-journalists-10th-asef-journalists-colloquium-on-crisis-reporting/s66/a564889/

EAST LONDON THAMES CROSSING: Newham mayor lays into Boris over bridge delay

The Mayor of the east London borough of NewhamSir Robin Wales, has slammed his GLA counterpart for the ‘unnecessary delay’ in securing a new river crossing over the Thames to link east London with areas south of the river, The Newham Mag reported recently.

In attendance at a meeting of the Parliamentary Transport Committee in the Houses of Parliament, Mayor Wales said: “A bridge at Gallions Reach in Beckton has been unnecessarily delayed for seven years. Having only a ferry is simply not good enough for London in the 21st century. London is moving east and a bridge should be built urgently“.

The Newham mayor also told the committee that he was against any plans to levy tolls for vehicles using the proposed river crossing at Beckton. He argued that people living and working in west London, who have several bridges at their disposal, are not required to pay to cross them, so the same courtesy should be extending to Londoners in the east. “If there are tolls there must be reductions for local people and local concessions“, Wales added.

There was no word of the London Mayor Boris Johnson‘s response to Wales’ criticism of his cabinet’s delay in construction of the Beckton crossing, but the transport committee is currently holding an inquiry into essential crossing over the river that cuts through London and have also been scrutinising the response to the delay by the Department for Transport. Newham Council have been petitioning City Hall for several years to establish a viable river crossing linking Newham with Greenwich, with Gallions Reach, home to a shopping centre, being the preferred location.

Newham Council hopes that the proposed bridge, which will be available 24 hours a day all week, will bring massive economic benefits and jobs to their borough, which has long struggled with high unemployment rates and lack of opportunities for residents. The new bridge could also reduce commuting times and help fuel growth in the area as part of the much-vaunted London Plan in the Thames Gateway, which includes Newham and four other boroughs.

The river Thames has over 200 bridges for foot and wheel, along with 27 tunnels, six public ferries and the Emirates cable car link between the O2 and southern Newham. With the expectation of the above-river cable car route which opened in June 2012 and is rarely used, Newham’s only links with the south are an underground tunnel connecting North Greenwich and Canning Town tube stations on the Jubilee line, and a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) connection between King George V station in Silvertown and Woolwich Arsenal in Woolwich. The Woolwich area also links with Newham via the Woolwich car ferry. There are no bridges at all along Newham’s stretch of the river with the nearest one being the famous Tower Bridge, completed in 1894 and situated around six miles (ten kilometres) away.

The transport committee’s report on the Gallions Reach crossing is expected to be published later this year.

SOURCES:
“Delay on bridge is slammed” – The Newham Mag – Issue 308, Newham Council (30 January 2015)
“List of crossings of the River Thames” – Wikipedia/Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crossings_of_the_River_Thames
“Beckton Bus Station” – Google Maps, Google Inc. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Beckton+Bus+Station/@51.5215347,0.0819957,13z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x1f7da9fadcbde07d
“LB Newham Economic Impact of Gallions Reach Crossings” – pba Peter Brett Roger Tym/Peter Brett Associates LLP & Newham Council (March 2013) http://www.newham.gov.uk/documents/news/gallionsreachcrossingseconomicimpact.pdf
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

 

 

HOSNI MUBARAK: Egyptian court dismisses case against controversial ex-president

A court in the Egyptian capital Cairo has dismissed all charges pending against the country’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, the New York Times reports.  Despite observers expecting Mubarak to be sentenced for a lengthy amount of time in prison, there is now the possibility that he may be released since his detention after the 2011 revolution which began the ‘Arab Spring‘, which spread onwards to Tunisia and Syria. That revolution, which saw thousands of protesters converge on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in the centre of the city, saw widespread human rights violations  by the Mubarak government and local police and the ousting of the president after several decades in power , followed by the establishment of an interim military government.

In previous hearings, specialist human rights lawyers at the court demanded that ex-president Mubarak face stiff penalties and long-term imprisonment for violations against the Egyptian people carried out over his three-decade long tenure. However, today’s (Saturday 29 November 2014) court session saw remaining charges against Mubarak cleared from the record, to tumultuous cheers from supporters observing his trial from a public dock.

The former leader, now aged 86, had arrived at the court in a stretcher from a nearby military hospital where he has been detained since suffering a spell of ill health after the revolution. As the presiding chief judge, Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi, read out the verdict to the court, Mubarak listened with a stony-faced expression, according to the New York Times. He then smiled briefly, before his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, hugged and kissed him in celebration. The two sons were also facing charges, but were acquitted at the same time by Judge al-Rashidi. Alaa and Gamal Mubarak were both being held for corruption charges relating to embezzlement of public funds along with their father.

Judge al-Rashidi refused to elaborate on his reason for acquitting the three Mubaraks, and instead advised observers to read a 240-page summary which he had prepared from the 1,340-page explanatory report written on the case on Egypt’s one-time autocratic strongman.

The charges al-Rashidi dismissed are among some of the most serious levelled against Hosni Mubarak. One concerned the former president’s involvement in the killing of hundreds of protesters who brought Cairo to a standstill during the protests that brought Mubarak down. The New York Times reported that the protesters had been peaceful and were not armed. Another charge concerned a corruption case where Mubarak and his sons were accused of selling natural gas to neighbouring Israel at below-market prices. Other allegations also dismissed were that Mubarak and sons awarded themselves with holiday homes and monetary kickbacks illegitimately.

In May this year, Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to three years in prison in a separate corruption case, involving lavish and government-funded improvements to his and his sons’ personal homes, which had not been approved by the treasury. However, as the former president has already served this time in detention-based custody, he may in fact be freed if the court determines that he has indeed served the requisite time in jail.

After passing the acquittal of the remaining charges, Judge al-Rashidi said his final verdict on the long drawn-out Mubarak case, which has equally gripped and divided the Egyptian nation was “…nothing to do with politics“,  the New York Times wrote. Many citizens who have been following the case say it is a sign that the country has moved beyond the times since the agitations of three years ago. The country’s current president, military general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who in 2013 led an army takeover of Egypt, removing the Muslim Brotherhood government under another former and controversial leader, Mohammed Morsi, has already cemented himself as Egypt’s toughest leader and has ingratiated himself with several of Mubarak’s former advisors and minsterial kingpins. However there is no suggestion from the New York Times report that el-Sisi had anything to do with the dismissal of his predecessor today.

The tide has increasingly turned against the leaders of the 2011 revolution in recent months. Egypt’s state-run media outlets along with pro-government newspapers have denounced the revolutionaries as a dangerous “fifth column” that is out to destabilise Egypt, while the Islamists under Morsi’s cabinet have also been denounced and had punitive measures enacted against them. Earlier this year, thousands of supporters allied with Muslim Brotherhood were originally sentenced to death by the military government, although some may have had their sentences commuted or executions stayed.

Legal experts studying Mubarak’s trial have questioned the legitimacy of the court proceedings, citing that they were flawed from the start. They claim that the trial had been rushed into the courthouse without any legal checks due to public pressure to punish Hosni Mubarak for his crimes along with feelings of revenge among both ordinary Egyptians and the new politicians holding the reins.

The murder charges where police were directed to gun down protesters encamped in Tahrir Square would have been difficult to prove conclusively, the legal experts reported, as the Egyptian military is notoriously complex, with many layers of structure and chains of command. The country’s police are also given much leeway in self-defence, which means proving their guilt will be problematic given that inspectors could cite that their officers were under threat from protesters. Legal analysis of the corruption charges on the abuse of public money by the Mubarak family determined that they too were built on shaky ground as they had been hastily thrown together. No thorough review was made of the numerous other corruption allegations levelled against Mubarak in his 30 year reign.

Mubarak had in fact earlier been found guilty of the exact same charges he was acquitted from today, and the judge presiding over that earlier trial had sentenced the ex-president to life in prison. An appellate court threw out that verdict after the judge from the earlier trial admitted that there was a ‘lack of evidence’ to firmly establish Mubarak’s conviction. Several corruptions charges against junior members of Mubarak’s inner circle were also terminated by the previous judge, due to ‘technical grounds’.

The New York Times report does not disclose the ex-president’s and his son’s current whereabouts or what legal steps the Egyptian court system may take next. No comment has been reported yet from opponents of Mubarak or of the reaction of the Egyptian media following the dismissal.

SOURCES:
Vijay Shah { विजय }, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/VShah1984
Andrew S. Ginsburg, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/GinsburgJobs
“Egyptian Court Dismisses Criminal Charges Against Mubarak” – David D. Kirkpatrick & Merna Thomas, The New York Times – World/The New York Times Company (29 November 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/world/hosni-mubarak-charges-dismissed-by-egyptian-court.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
IMAGE CREDITS:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

JOURNALISM APPRENTICESHIP: Editors, NCTJ to develop higher on-the-job journalist training

Britain‘s National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) reports that it is currently working with journalism employers from several newspapers and TV channels to develop a programme of higher apprenticeships for journalists to acquire news-writing skills on the job. Their plans were formally announced in a news release published on the council’s website this past Thursday (23 October 2014). The NCTJ along with selected employers had recently pitched their idea of a higher apprenticeship to the British government. Ministers there have now given the new qualification system the green light of approval in their efforts to tackle rising youth unemployment in the country.

A group of journalism representatives from a variety of national and regional media organisations including Archant, the BBC; BSkyB; i; The IndependentIndependent on SundayJohnston Press; the KM GroupLondon Evening Standard; the Mark Allen Group; Newsquest; MNA Media and the Telegraph Media Group, jointly submitted an application to Whitehall which has been approved as part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition‘s ‘phase three’ trailblazer apprenticeship scheme to help unemployed and undecided youngsters obtain valuable skills that will prepare them for future careers in the media. Traditionally, British journalists were taken on as junior reporters after completing their formal education. They received on-the-job training from senior news workers and editors, but in the past fifteen years an increasing emphasis by the U.K. jobs market on university qualifications universally has seen the journalism apprenticeships of several decades ago become almost obsolete. Newer cohorts of media hopefuls tend to be university graduates who pick up training via often unpaid or expenses only work experience. Media organisations have lately been criticised for not being inclusive enough in their intake of new employees and several major news providers have reinstated internships and apprentice training courses to attract new recruits from less well-represented sections of society.

The trailblazer scheme aims to give employers more say and freedom to develop apprenticeship standards in their industry which will help deliver the practical skills needed by vocational trainees for a particular business sector.

The new journalism apprenticeship was announced the day Skills Minister Nick Boles visited the offices of international media outlet Sky, home of Sky News and Sky Television, to meet with Bella Vuillermoz, director of their training school, the Sky Academy, to discuss training opportunities for young and new journalists moving into the career away from the university pathway favoured by most recruiters in the current media environment. Boles also conversed with Nicola Hart, Sky’s head of future talent; Andy Cairns, its executive editor, and Laurie Tucker, head of training at Sky Sports News; and Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, who is co-ordinating the industry’s apprenticeship trailblazer projects.

In a discussion on the government’s trailblazer scheme and its wider changes to the national apprenticeship and employment programme, the NCTJ chief executive lauded the improvements to the initiative, saying that the old system had now been made more streamlined and simplified and that she was encouraged to see  greater responsibility and autonomy allocated to employers and the NCTJ in attracting more learners to the UK media industry’s training courses. She did however criticise the ongoing reliance on jargon within the programme, which may put off potential apprentices from signing up. Meanwhile, Sky’s head of training apparently joked that at a recent meeting he had struggled with the shorthand outline for ‘synoptic assessment’. Boles also had the opportunity to meet Britain’s first journalism apprentice undergoing training thanks to the trailblazer scheme, James Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is now interning at Sky Sports News and is one of 18 apprentices on the second NCTJ apprenticeship day release course at Lambeth College in south London. James will experience all aspects of the Sky Sports News operation, starting with the digital media team, with an aim to give him and his fellow apprentices a well-rounded experience of the day-to-day life as a Sky journalist.

The higher apprenticeship by the NCTJ is following in the path of an existing standard for junior apprenticeships in journalism set up by the council in league with employers. This standard, although complete, will not come into force in England until 2015. It will be an update of the current apprenticeship qualification offered by the NCTJ to trainee reporters who wish to forego the usual graduation route. The proposed senior journalist apprenticeship will also now be written to an industry standard to be decided by the NCTJ with consultations from the media industry expected to commence  in the New Year.

Chairman of the journalism apprenticeship group, David Rowell said: “This is an exciting new development in our apprenticeship training scheme and will provide an opportunity for school leavers to progress to more senior roles.

Skills minister Nick Boles said: “I congratulate the journalism employers for the key role they are playing in developing new top-quality apprenticeships. Through the trailblazers initiative companies, in collaboration with their industry partners, will give people the skills they need to thrive and our businesses need to compete.

The full guidance document for the British government’s phase three of the trailblazer scheme for apprentices can be viewed here.

Several media organisations in the United Kingdom already run their own training programmes and apprenticeships for students, including the BBC, Sky and ITV, offering training with actual journalists in fields such as broadcasting, public relations, digital/new media and radio. The BBC’s Academy of Journalism attracts thousands of applications from would-be trainees every year, with only a small number successfully securing places. The NCTJ, which is the official body for journalism training in the U.K., offers its own qualifications and accreditations which are highly respected and sought after by journalism employers. The council currently offers a Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Journalism enabling students to combine learning at sixth-form college or further education institutions with on-the-job training. It has been supported by media industry leaders for opening doors to a competitive industry for local young people as well as those who come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

SOURCES:
“Useful Sites” – Vijay Shah, The Half-Eaten Mind https://halfeatenmind.wordpress.com/useful-sites/
“Government accepts proposal to develop higher-level journalism apprenticeship” – National Council for the Training of Journalists (23 October 2014) http://www.nctj.com/latestnews/Governmentacceptsproposaltodevelophigher-leveljournalismapprenticeship
“Apprenticeships” – National Council for the Training of Journalists http://www.nctj.com/journalism-qualifications/apprenticeships
IMAGE CREDIT:
Getty Images via Zemanta.

INTERNET EXCHANGE POINT: Mauritian government aims to bring in faster nationwide internet

The Mauritian government plans to unveil a new internet exchange point in the island’s premier technology hub to help bring faster web-surfing and e-commerce infrastructure to the public and businesses, it was reported today in the French-language newspaper L’Express.

The Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Tassarajen Pillay-Chedumbrum announced that Mauritian ISPs (internet service providers) such as Orange Mauritius/Mauritius Telecom and Bharat Telecom, will possibly be able to connect a local exchange point into their service networks to bring about faster speeds and download times for their Mauritian customers. A current point exists, but the newer version will be a faster and more developed service being offered to all the country’s internet providers on a mutual shared basis.

(c) austinevan/Flickr/Compfight

A information technology complex in Ebene’s CyberCity.

The exchange point will be a piece of switchboard-based IT infrastructure that connects the networks of different operators in a technologically mutual effort to rapidly increase broadband speeds on the island. The point will also be a cost-saving exercise that will benefit ISPs, as they will be able to exchange traffic to relieve their networks, thereby slashing the average amount of expenses incurred for each provider. It will also lessen the country’s dependence on costly international satellite and fibre-optic networks. The point will give equal priority to all Mauritius-based ISPs with a lack of traffic hegemony or filtering rules to hinder that objective.

The current exchange point technology is a ‘layer-two Internet exchange’ operating over Ethernet, which means that participants exchange traffic via an Ethernet switch without any settlements, according to the government ministry in charge of the original internet exchange point. It has not yet been publicly announced what the new point’s exact hardware and operational specifics will be.

In order to begin building up an internet exchange point (IXP) especially for Mauritius, the ministry will organise a workshop in partnership with the African Union Commission. This was announced yesterday (Monday 25 August) by ministry representatives at the Cyber Tower in Ebène, the heart of Mauritius’ steadily growing IT industry. The workshop hopes to train up a new generation of Mauritian IT technicians with the requisite skills to lay the foundation of the improved island-wide IXP.

If we can have a local Internet exchange point, this will allow us to minimise the cost. We will not have to pay international fees. In addition, the Internet will be faster, “said Pillay-Chedumbrum.

The exchange point, known officially as MIXP, has already had a web presence established as the groundwork starts up. The MIXP website describes the service as “the professional, neutral Internet exchange that leads the way in global peering services enabling the savings of precious International bandwidth in Mauritius“. A previous incarnation has been in existence since June 2006, but with fewer capabilities.

Telecommunications have had a long history in Mauritius. The first telephone line was installed in 1883, only seven years after the original device was said to have been invented by Scot Alexander Graham Bell. ICT services also took off early on the island, with the establishment of a governmental National Computer Board (NCB) in 1988 to advise the island’s parliament on the formulation of national policies for the development of the IT sector and promotion of technology culture in Mauritius. The following year, the Central Informatics Bureau (CIB) was organised to encourage increased computerisation of civil service records. Since then, Mauritius has become an important centre for IT-related activities in the Indian Ocean and the African continent, with numerous national and international ICT firms setting up shop in the CyberCity park in the town of Ebène, which is south of the Mauritian capital Port Louis.

The new MIXP forms part of the Mauritian government’s ambition to continually raise the standard of corporate and public ICT services on the island. Ministers are aiming to make the ICT sector the ‘fifth pillar’ of the Mauritian economy, after tourism, agriculture and finance, and envisioned transforming Mauritius into a ‘cyber island’.

SOURCES:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
l’express, Twitter https://twitter.com/wwwlexpressmu
“TIC: un point d’échange Internet local pour réduire les coûts de connexion” – lexp Société/lexpress.mu/L’Express (26 August 2014) http://www.lexpress.mu/article/251452/tic-un-point-dechange-internet-local-pour-reduire-couts-connexion
“Home” – MIXP – Mauritius Internet Exchange Point http://www.gov.mu/portal/sites/mixp/index.htm
“About MIXP” – MIXP – Mauritius Internet Exchange Point http://www.gov.mu/portal/sites/mixp/index.htm
“Telecommunications in Mauritius” – Wikipedia/Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommunications_in_Mauritius
IMAGE CREDIT:
‘austinevan’, Flickr via Compfight http://compfight.com/search/cybercity-ebene/1-3-1-1

NIGERIA SCHOOLGIRL ABDUCTION: Government hires lobby firm to save its image

A Nigerian newspaper has reported that the government of the West African nation has hired an American lobby firm to ‘launder’ its image after it was internationally criticised for not doing enough to locate over 200 schoolchildren abducted by a militant group, Boko Haram, from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok. The girls were taken by the militants into dense jungle near the Nigerian border with Cameroon in April and have still not being found.

Online newspaper Premium Times, in a report filed via African news aggregate AllAfrica.com, claimed that the government of Preisdent Goodluck Jonathan has taken on the services of a U.S. public relations outfit. The lobby firm will be paid 195 million naira (GBP £702,721; USD $1,195,926) to tender its services, which the Nigerian politicians will help improve their shattered reputation on the world stage. The firm, identified in the report simply as ‘Levick’,  plans to help change “international and local media narrative” surrounding the quest to free the missing children, which the Premium Times report described as “inept handling”. The newspaper also condemned the hiring of Levick by Nigeria as an attempt to whitewash the government’s handling of the abduction. The girls were made to change their religion by their captors from Boko Haram, a group which is waging war on the federal government in Abuja in order to impose religious law,and the instigator of the crime has threatened to marry them off to his fighters as well as sell them abroad.

Abuja City Gate
Abuja City Gate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Militants from the highly dangerous Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is sinful” in northern Nigeria’s Hausa language, forced the girls into waiting trucks seventy days ago just as they were about to sit their final secondary school examinations. Around fifty-three managed to escape the militants and fled on foot to safety. Most of the girls had been staying in the dormitories of the Government Secondary School in Chibok when they were taken prisoner.

A couple of weeks later, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he addressed Nigerian politicians. The video, bilingually narrated in Arabic and Hausa, depicted Shekau speaking to camera and threatening to sell the Chibok children into slavery. He also made an offer to release the girls in return for Boko Haram fighters currently incarcerated in the country’s jails. Another video showed the girls dressed in Islamic clothing. By then they had allegedly been split into two groups to evade discovery, and no word on their condition has been lately announced.

Nigeria’s government has come under severe criticism both locally and internationally for its lethargic handling of the Chibok crisis. Foreign governments, notably Britain and the United States, have sent planes and advisors to help locate the missing girls but with little success. This prompted the ruling party, The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to lay the blame on the opposition for making matters worse by them setting up a campaign in the media aimed at discrediting the PDP. To add to the government’s woes, the United States allegedly released a statement this past Wednesday urging Nigerians to hold their leaders accountable for the abject failure in liberating the abducted schoolgirls two months on from the incident. Boko Haram meanwhile has continued to carry out terrorist atrocities in Nigeria including a fatal bombing of a bus station in the capital Abuja a few weeks ago that killed more than 70 commuters.

According to American political paper The Hill, which publishes matters at the heart of the US Capitol, the Levick firm will also be “assisting the government’s efforts to mobilize [sic] international support in fighting Boko Haram as part of the greater war on terror” as well as effecting “real change” in Nigeria. A Levick company vice-president, Phil Elwood, told The Hill “A communications strategy alone is not enough to solve the complex and multifaceted problems facing some of the more controversial nations”. Fellow Levick employee Lanny Davis, the company’s executive vice-president, added “For me, after talking to him, the priority for President Jonathan beyond any [doubt] is finding and bringing home the girls,…”There’s got to be a way to amplify what he’s saying and doing to find these girls because over here in America, we’re not hearing much about his effort,” Davis added.

Levick will also be working with the human rights lawyer Jared Genser, who has worked on cases alongside notable human rights activists such as South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu,as well as Myanmari pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Genser will help the PR firm publicise “President Goodluck Jonathan Administration’s past, present and future priority to foster transparency, democracy and the rule of law throughout Nigeria”.

Genser told The Hill that he took the job following Mr Jonathan’s commitment to tackle Boko Haram.

In terms of advancing human rights, however, the real work has to be done working with governments that are well meaning but lack the capacity — or as much capacity as they might like — and want to do the right thing,” he said.

At the end of the day, the [Nigerian] president has said clearly to us that he wants results,” he said.

I would not sit here and pretend that we are singlehandedly going to rescue the girls, that’s not our role,” Genser added. “What we can do is, we can provide advice and support about how to do so in accordance with international human rights norms and standards,” he further added.

The public relations contract between the Jonathan administration and Levick will also incorporate ‘extra costs’ for advertisements, video productions and website designs via an unnamed state-owned multimedia agency. In addition, Levick will receive an extra 3,487,500 naira ($22,500) if one of its staff needs to make a business trip to Nigeria.

The hiring of the PR firm to handle the scandal came to light after a respected public relations industry site, http://www.holmesreport.com first mentioned the Nigerian government’s search for a suitable agency to handle their tarnished image with local and world media. When approached, political representatives denied that any PR services were being enlisted while the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria, (PRCAN) criticised the government describing its search for a foreign PR firm as a “needless strategic gaffe”, according to the Premium Times. “The purported search is premised on a wrong foundation of white washing Nigeria before foreign media and audiences. However, the real challenge before the Federal Government of Nigeria lies elsewhere and that is at the home front with its citizens, representing the primary stakeholders,” the PRCAN said in a statement issued at the time.

The expenses shed by the Nigerian treasury could backfire on Jonathan’s party as it is almost certain to provoke additonal criticism of money being wasted at a time when the Nigerian army’s finances are being stretched to the limit in fighting Boko Haram. In addition, there is a more deeply entrenched issue with the government in that many Nigerians still live in poverty, despite lucrative oil and finance industries making their country one of the most buoyant new ‘lions’ to emerge in recent decades from the sub-Saharan region.

SOURCES:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
allAfrica.com, Twitter https://twitter.com/allafrica
“Nigeria: Govt Hires U.S. Lobby Firm for N195 Million to Launder Image Over Handling of Chibok Abduction” – Nicholas Ibekwe, Premium Times via AllAfrica (27 June 2014) http://allafrica.com/stories/201406271433.html
xe http://www.xe.com/
IMAGE CREDIT:
“File:Abuja gate.jpg” –  Chippla, Wikimedia Commons (28 March 2007) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abuja_gate.jpg
 

PHOTO MOMENT: Mauritian minister receives honourable award at Reduit State House

(c) Axelle P (@lslaxeoule) via @lslvideo/@lslatish/L’Express

Mr. Satya Veyash Faugoo, the Mauritian Minister for Agriculture (Agro-Industry portfolio) receives the GOSK civil award as part of the National Day awards ceremony at the State House in Reduit, near Port Louis, the island’s capital. Faugoo is the man with the cream scarf on the left.

Faugoo serves in the cabinet of current prime minister and political stalwart Navin Chandra Ramgoolam, whose father, Seewoosagur, was the country’s first prime minister. A recipient of the GOSK as well, the late elder Ramgoolam is widely respected for leading Mauritius through self-government from the U.K. As well as being agriculture minister, Faugoo also represents the constituency of Triolet and Pamplemousses, in the north of Mauritius. He belongs to the Mauritian Labour Party (Parti Travayis Morisyen/Parti Travailliste).

The GOSK, or to give its full official name, The Most Distinguished Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Oceanis the highest order of merit awarded by the Mauritian government. It was established in 1992, the same year Mauritius became a republic to honour personalities who have made contributions to social progress in both Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands. Unlike many other civic awards, recipients of the GOSK do not need to be citizens to be awarded.

 

 

Links:

Bio-data of The Honourable Satya Veyash FAUGOO, MP

Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security

 

SOURCES/IMAGE CREDITS:
Half-Eaten Mind, Twitter https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind
Axelle P, Twitter https://twitter.com/lslaxeoule
“Satya Faugoo” – Wikipedia,Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satya_Faugoo
“Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean” – Wikipedia,Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_Star_and_Key_of_the_Indian_Ocean