Current Affairs (12th May 2021)
- A ransomware attack on a key US pipeline network has led to a disruption in fuel supplies in the eastern part of the United States.
- Colonial Pipeline Company, which transports about 45 per cent of all petrol and diesel consumed on the east coast of the US was forced to shut down operations after a cyberattack.
- The shutdown led to the US federal government declaring a regional emergency to allow transportation of fuels through tanker trucks to tide over the impact of shortages.
What is a ransomware attack?
- A ransomware attack is a cyber-attack using malware that encrypts the victim’s files and requires users pay a ransom to decrypt the files.
- According to experts, with companies having moved to real-time backups, hackers have, as in the case of the Colonial Pipeline attack, also added the element of downloading all the data on an enterprise network before encrypting it.
- The hackers can then threaten to leak the data if the ransom is not paid.
- The US Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that a criminal gang called Darkside was responsible for compromising the Colonial Pipeline network.
How did this attack impact oil prices?
- Oil prices rose in response to the attack on Colonial Pipeline, with the rise in the price of Brent crude.
- The Colonial Pipeline company has said that it is restoring operations in a phased manner with the goal of “substantially restoring operations”.
- Experts noted that a prolonged shutdown of the operations of the pipeline could push up petrol prices in the US as demand peaks during the summer. The disruption has already led to an uptick in international refining margins, pushing up the price of auto fuels.
- An increase in the price of petroleum products in Asia could provide a further push to petrol and diesel prices in India, which are already at record high levels.
- Crude oil prices have risen over the past fortnight despite a surge in Covid-19 infections in Asia due to expectations of increasing crude oil demand from the US and Europe.
How can oil and gas companies deal with such attacks?
- Experts noted that there was a need to move towards fortifying approaches to prevent attacks including employing a zero-trust security framework in enterprise networks.
- A zero-trust approach means anything is suspected whenever any activity is done on the network, and every user, including the CEO, will have to be verified time and again.
- This expert added that other measures such as Cloud Access Security Brokers (CPAB), which act as intermediaries between users and cloud service providers, could “give teeth” to an overall cyber security strategy.
- The expert noted that India’s oil and gas PSUs were making efforts to beef up security, and that organisations managing critical infrastructure such as pipelines and refineries were required by the government to implement certain security measures.
- Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report on endangered species threatened by conflict.
Major Highlights of the Report
- A report examined the close interplay between the environment and armed conflict.
- It found that Civil unrest and military exercises pose heightened risks to more than 200 threatened species, including elephant populations and the critically endangered Eastern gorilla which is found in the conflict-prone Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
- The species were facing threats from the direct killing of wildlife, degradation of ecosystems and the disruption of conservation efforts.
- The report meanwhile found that conflicts were less frequent within the boundaries of nature reserves and other protected areas.
- Such areas cover an estimated 15% of the land but overlap with only three per cent of the armed conflict events.
- The report stressed that conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of natural resources can help in reducing the pressures that drive conflict.
- It suggests improving the condition and productivity of the landscape which supports the livelihoods and well-being of indigenous and local communities.
- As environmental degradation and climate change intensify, it is becoming increasingly important to formulate security, development, and environmental policy.
- The report listed policy recommendations to mitigate and prevent armed conflict, including establishing safeguards for staff in protected areas, environmental defenders, and other conservationists.
- It also called for sanctions against those who commit environmental war crimes.
Digital Financial Inclusion
- NITI Aayog and Mastercard released a report titled ‘Connected Commerce: Creating a Road map for a Digitally Inclusive Bharat’.
- The report identifies challenges in accelerating digital financial inclusion in India and provides recommendations for making digital services accessible to its 1.3 billion citizens.
Key recommendations in the report include:
- Strengthening the payment infrastructure to promote a level playing field for NBFCs and banks.
- Digitizing registration and compliance processes and diversifying credit sources to enable growth opportunities for MSMEs.
- Building information sharing systems, including a ‘fraud repository’, and ensuring that online digital commerce platforms carry warnings to alert consumers to the risk of frauds.
- Enabling agricultural NBFCs to access low-cost capital and deploy a ‘phygital’ (physical + digital) model for achieving better long-term digital outcomes. Digitizing land records will also provide a major boost to the sector.
- To make city transit seamlessly accessible to all with minimal crowding and queues, leveraging existing smartphones and contactless cards, and aim for an inclusive, interoperable, and fully open system such as that of the London ‘Tube’.
Digital Financial Inclusion
- It can be defined broadly as digital access to and use of formal financial services by excluded and underserved populations.
- Such services should be suited to customers’ needs, and delivered responsibly, at a cost both affordable to customers and sustainable for providers.
- Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung, located in the North Sumatra province, erupted in May 2021 belching a massive column of volcanic ash and smoke 3,000 metres (3 km) into the sky.
- The volcano has been active since 2010 when it erupted after nearly 400 years of inactivity.
- Indonesia is home to many active volcanoes owing to its location in the “Ring of Fire” or the Circum-Pacific Belt — an area along the Pacific Ocean characterised by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes.
- The Ring of Fire is home to about 75 per cent of the world’s volcanoes and about 90 per cent of earthquakes also occur here.
Why does a volcano erupt?
- Basically, there are three types of volcanoes — active, dormant, or extinct.
- An eruption takes place when magma (a thick flowing substance), that is formed when the earth’s mantle melts, rises to the surface.
- As magma is lighter than rock, it can rise through vents and fissures on the surface of the earth. Following eruption, the magma is called lava.
- When the magma is runny and thin, gases can easily escape it. In such cases, the magma will flow out towards the surface. However, if the magma is thick and dense and gases cannot escape it, it builds up pressure inside resulting in an explosion.
3 naval ships bring in medical supplies
- Nine ships have been deployed for COVID relief operation ‘Samudra Setu II’ for shipment of Liquid Medical Oxygen and associated medical equipment from friendly foreign countries in the Persian Gulf and South-East Asia.
- Navy’s landing ship tank INS Airavat arrived from Singapore with eight cryogenic oxygen tanks and other critical COVID medical stores.
- INS Trikand and INS Kolkata returned to India with oxygen-filled containers from West Asia.
- Two more warships were en route to India from Kuwait and one ship was at Brunei to embark with medical supplies.
Indian Air Force Initiative:
- Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft carried out sorties from various parts of the country, airlifting oxygen containers, other medical supplies, and equipment.
- IAF aircraft also carried out international sorties. The equipment has been procured from Singapore, Dubai, Thailand, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Indonesia, and Israel.
SOCIALLY AND EDUCATIONALLY BACKWARD CLASSES (SEBC)
- The Supreme Court said that the Centre alone is empowered to identify Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) and include them in the Central List for claiming reservation benefits.
- The President alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), which shall be deemed to include SEBCs in relation to each State and Union Territory for the purposes of the Constitution.
- States could only make suggestions to the President or the statutory commissions concerned for inclusion, exclusion or modification of castes and communities to be included in the List.
- The Central List is to be the “only list” for the SEBC.
- Once published, under Article 342A (1), the list can only be amended through a law enacted by Parliament, by virtue of Article 342A (2).
- In the task of identification of SEBCs, the President shall be guided by the Commission (National Commission for Backward Classes) set up under Article 338B; its advice shall also be sought by the State regarding policies that might be framed by it.
- If the commission prepares a report concerning matters of identification, such a report has to be shared with the State government, which is bound to deal with it, in accordance with provisions of Article 338B.
- However, the final determination culminates in the exercise undertaken by the President (i.e., the Central Government, under Article 342A (1).
- However, the President’s prerogative as far as the identification and inclusion of SEBCs in the List would not affect the States’ power to make reservations in favour of communities or castes within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16.