Eyes in the sky for Amarnath route
The first batch of Amarnath pilgrims on its way in Jammu on Wednesday
NEW DELHI: For the first time ever, drones and helicopters will mount aerial surveillance along the Amarnath yatra route and over the base camps in Jammu & Kashmir. Given the uninterrupted visibility in the terrain comprising mountains and valleys, the eyes in the sky are expected to act as a force multiplier, enabling the security personnel deployed for the pilgrimage to track any suspicious movement of terrorists much before they can mount an attack. The maiden use of advanced technology for the yatra was cleared by home minister Rajnath Singh to ensure that effective preventive measures are taken to ward off threats to the yatris as well as security personnel tasked with securing them over the next one-and-a-half month. The annual pilgrimage to the holy shrine begins on Thursday and will conclude on August 7. On Tuesday, the home minister chaired a final preparatory meeting ahead of start of the yatra. The meeting, during which all measures to tackle the terror threat and guard against any natural and man-made disasters were reviewed in detail, was attended by the Army, central forces, intelligence and home ministry brass.
During the meeting, emphasis was laid not only on high alertness levels among security personnel positioned for the yatra but also on optimal use of technology to track terrorist movement and activity before they can come close to targeting the pilgrimage. Though terror threats to Amarnath yatra are not unusual, the central security establishment is particularly cautious this year given the law and order challenges witnessed in parts of J&K, particularly south Kashmir, in the recent months. Security agencies fear terrorist outfits may try to mount a spectacular attack to create communal tension not only in J&K but across the nation. A recent intelligence input shared by an IG-level officer of J&K police claims that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials engaged in security of the yatra. Incidentally, apart from preparing for the impending terror threats, the home ministry is also ensuring proper disaster preparedness and mitigation measures.
Special team to patrol 15km e-way stretch
Loose boulders fell in the Khopoli exit area of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, affecting traffic on Wednesday
PUNE/MUMBAI: A three-member Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) team will tag along with Highway Safety Patrol (HSP) staff on the 15-km landslide-prone stretch in the ghat section of the Pune-Mumbai expressway to identify rock fall areas. Boulders had fallen in the Khopoli exit area on the expressway early on Wednesday. The ghat observation and action team will also watch out for loose boulders and suggest immediate action to engineers. It will operate from nine police chowkies recently started by HSP to watch out for traffic jams and accidents in the ghats. As part of their daily routine, members will move between the Khopoli exit and Lonavla, which is vulnerable to rock falls, particularly on the Mumbai corridor.
A senior MSRDC official told TOI the team will identify loose boulders and suggest their removal. The spot and details will be communicated to senior MSRDC officials immediately, he said. Another team of engineers will remove the boulders. “We have told team members to ensure any exercise should not hamper traffic on the expressway for more than 15 minutes. The team will be accompanied by HSP officials, who will halt vehicles, whenever an exercise is undertaken,” the official added. “The team will be functional throughout the monsoon in the ghat section 24×7. Six officers in two shifts will observe the section. They have not been given special equipment to identify loose boulders,” the official said.
Government notifies fresh rules to link Aadhaar, PAN from July 1
NEW DELHI: The government has, in a fresh notification, made it mandatory to link existing Aadhaar numbers with PAN for taxpayers with effect from July 1. Amending income tax rules and notifying them, the government has made quoting of the 12-digit biometric Aadhaar or the enrolment ID must at the time of application of permanent account number (PAN). The decision is intended to make Aadhaar necessary for those filing tax returns. The Supreme Court order of June 9 upheld the law linking Aadhaar with PAN but said cards without UID linkage will not be considered invalid, for the time being. It said the law must be applied prospectively. The government notification states “every person who has been allotted PAN as on the 1st day of July, 2017 and who in accordance with the provisions is required to intimate his Aadhaar number, shall intimate his Aadhaar number” to the income tax authorities.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, through an amendment to tax proposals in the Finance Bill for 2017-18, had made Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns and provided for linking of PAN with Aadhaar to check tax evasion through the use of multiple PAN cards. Aadhaar is a biometric identifier that will rule out one person using different PAN cards for transactions such as property purchase or passport and other ID applications. As many as 2.07 crore taxpayers have already linked their Aadhaar with PAN. There are over 25 crore PAN cardholders in the country while Aadhaar has been issued to 111 crore people, or nearly 98% of the adult population. Pursuant to the SC ruling, the Central Board of Direct Taxes had said the linking of Aadhaar and PAN will be a “must” for filing tax returns and obtaining PAN from July 1.
Bengalureans lose up to Rs 2 crore to online job scamsters
BENGALURU: Cashing in on the spreading fear about recent layoffs, especially in the IT sector, racketeers are cheating people of lakhs of rupees after offering them fake job offer letters, purportedly from big firms like IBM and Wipro, among others. Six cases of job fraud were registered with Bengaluru cybercrime police station in June alone, taking the total number of such cases to 25 since March 25. Scamsters are estimated to have siphoned off nearly Rs 2 crore. The biggest fraud involved a Bengaluru youth falling prey to a fake placement offer at US auto major Tesla and shelling out Rs 24 lakh. Besides, 50 more complaints of job fraud involving loss of smaller amounts too were registered. Travel agency staffer Sumesh Kumar from Ashok Nagar approached cybercrime police on June 20 after his brother was deported on landing in Turkey where he was posted as a marine engineer in Europe. “In early May, we came across an advertisement on Facebook calling for marine engineers for vessels based out of Europe. I called the number which was of an agent in Lucknow,” said Kumar, who sent the fraudster his brother’s passport copy and other documents. On May 15, the victim received his offer letter and a Turkish work visa. After transferring Rs 1.9 lakh in four instalments to a specified bank account, the younger Kumar flew to Istanbul, only to be deported to India as the visa and offer letters were both bogus.
Police investigation revealed that the fraudsters pick targets mainly from job portals and lure them with lucrative but fake job offers from behemoths from IT, aviation, automobile, hospitality and other sectors. “The culprits register as employers or consultants in various job portals and fish out resumes of job seekers containing email IDs and cellphone numbers. They then pose as HR executives from big companies and even overseas recruiters and approach the victims via phone or email, offering them good positions in their firms,” added an investigating officer. In another case registered, the complainant received an email claiming to be from Wipro and offering him a position in Bengaluru. Taking it for real and as a backdoor entry to the dream job without interviews or aptitude tests, the victim transferred the money the fraudster demanded. He realised he had been conned only after reaching the Wipro office to report to work. “The complainant argued that the emails were indeed sent from Wipro and realised the truth only after we demonstrated some fake mailer options online used by crooks,” added another officer. Top companies like IBM said they never ask candidates to deposit any money in lieu of job offers. “We don’t authorize external parties or individuals to conduct job drives or extend offer letters on our behalf. No letter of appointment is sent via email but can only be accessed through the IBM Candidate Portal by individuals using a unique ID and password,” said Dilpreet Singh, VP Human Resources, IBM India. Wipro also pointed out that under no circumstances are job aspirants required to pay cash or any security deposit for placement at their firm and if anyone approaches the candidates for money for Wipro jobs, the matter should be taken to police.
100 jet-skiing lifeguards to secure beaches
MUMBAI: If you looked in awe at beaches in western films for the safety apparatus and well-equipped lifeguards there, here’s some good news for you. More than 100 lifeguards, with binoculars, whistles and jet skis, will soon be posted at six of the most-visited beaches in Mumbai, fire brigade officials said. And to ensure that every nook and cranny is under their eyes, lifeguards will do surveillance from wooden beach towers. Chief fire officer P Rahangdale said, “The existing lifeguards try to deter people from venturing out in the sea, but people get into the water somehow. Therefore, we are planning to bring in 93 more lifeguards and deploy them at Girgaum, Dadar, Juhu, Versova, Gorai and Aksa beaches.” These 93 lifeguards are proposed to be stationed at the beaches all through the year and not just during the monsoon.
At present, there are 11 permanent lifeguards while 26 others are serving on contractual basis. Apart from them, flood rescue team and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel are deployed during public holidays or high tide days. The fire brigade has now proposed to bring in 93 life guards – to be outsourced from a private agency. Only the 11 permanent lifeguards would continue to work with the new ones. The proposal has already been sent for administrative approval, sources said adding that the lifeguards may be seen in action in a couple of months. About the plans to erect permanent beach towers, Rahangdale said that this could help lifeguards monitor the situation from a height. “Therefore, when someone is trying to enter the sea they could immediately take required measures. The lifeguards would be equipped with binoculars, whistles and jet skis among other equipment,” said Rahangdale.
Armed in Chennai, they repel cyber-attacks across globe
CHENNAI: Sitting in Chennai a group of ethical hackers is safeguarding servers and systems across the world. Vinod Senthil and his team at InfySec have been up for the past 24 hours watching the Peyta ransomware outbreak. With panic calls from clients with questions on systems shutting down and data recovery expected, they will have their hands full for the next few days. But this is usual business for professionals like Senthil who act as watchdogs of the Internet and cyber space. Peyta, currently affecting systems in India, Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Ukraine, has struck a few weeks after the WannaCry attack. “We have a close network of security experts and we alert one another when there is a threat. WannaCry has made companies serious about cyber-security. While none of our clients have been affected, news of a ransomware attack spreads fear,” said Karthick Vigneshwar, director, InfySec. But ethical hackers say their work is not taken seriously by corporates. A week before Zomato’s database was hacked, InfySec accessed user information in Zomato’s database as part of the bug bounty programme. “We got user names, email ids, addresses, history of transactions. We informed Zomato but did not hear from them,” said Vigneshwar.
With the tools and knowledge to hack a network, website or programme, white hat hackers use their skills to aid corporates in strengthening cyber-security. However, they are often misjudged. “Their work is frowned upon because people worry that vulnerabilities in their systems will be made public or data the ethical hacker gets might be put up on the dark web,” said Vivek Rajaraman, part of the cyber-security team of an IT giant. While many take up ethical hacking as a part-time job, there are others like Gopinath Kandasamy who was driven by passion. A Java developer with a leading IT company, Kandasamy spends 10 to 12 hours a week participating in several bug bounty programmes. “Since I am a developer, I can learn about my mistakes besides identifying vulnerabilities in systems when I participate in these programmes,” said Kandasamy. For Manoj Jayakumar, challenge and financial reward drew him to ethical hacking. “Finding a bug is a challenge and if I get paid, I can’t ask for more,” said Jayakumar who was able to repay his education loan through rewards he earned from such programmes. But ethical hacking and warding off cyber-threats are not performed at the click of a mouse. “One must invest time and hard work. Every bug will not be recognized and rewarded. Your finding has to be unique and well documented. Companies consider the criticality of the discovery and rank you accordingly,” said Rajaraman.
Lutyens’ feels safer, thanks to 18,000 CCTV cams, bike patrols
NEW DELHI: The crime rate in New Delhi police district has registered a 67% drop in the first six months this year against the corresponding period last year. Police data show that robbery cases have dropped by 84% while those of rioting have dropped from nine in 2016 to just two this year. What’s more encouraging is that the rate of cases being cracked has risen to 80% against 37% last year. The working out rate of rape, dacoity and murder cases stands at 100%. Police credit extensive patrolling involving bike patrols, bicycle patrols in and around parks to safeguard women, and 18,000 CCTV cameras installed in the area for it. They also believe other measures like integrated checking, dedicated investigation teams and special pickets to prevent snatching and robbery contributed in bringing down the crime rate in the area. New Delhi police district includes sensitive zones like Connaught Place, Barakhamba Road, Khan Market, India Gate etc. Police here also handle a massive number of protests and demonstrations.
This year, 2,283 dharnas and demonstrations have happened as against 1,921 last year. “Overall performance of New Delhi district police has been very impressive. It has not only been able to control, curb and contain crime but has shown improvement in working out heinous cases too besides handling a huge number of protests and demonstrations,” said Deependra Pathak, special commissioner and chief spokesperson of Delhi Police. Crime pattern in the district was analysed in great detail. Police said that the location of pickets and patrol cars were changed accordingly to curb snatchings and robberies. Many anti-terror measures were also adopted in the busy markets of Connaught Place and Khan Market by deploying quick reaction teams, intensive foot patrols and group patrols. Anti-sabotage checks are also conducted by the local bomb squad.
US unveils enhanced airline security plan to avoid laptop ban
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: US Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Wednesday unveiled enhanced security measures for foreign flights arriving in the United States in what officials said was a move to prevent an expansion in-cabin ban on laptops and other large electronic devices. “Inaction is not an option,” Kelly said, saying he believes airlines will comply with the new screening. But he said the measures are not the last step to tighten security. US officials are requiring enhanced screening of personal electronic devices, passengers and explosive detection for the roughly 2,000 commercial flights arriving daily in the United States from 280 airports in 105 countries. The decision not to impose new restrictions on laptops is a boost to US airlines, which have worried that an expansion of the ban to Europe or other locations could cause significant logistical problems and deter some travel. Airlines that failed to satisfy new security requirements could still face future in-cabin electronics restrictions, Kelly said. European and US officials told Reuters that airlines have 21 days to put in place increased explosive screening and have 120 days to comply with other security measures, including enhanced screening of airline passengers. Reuters reported earlier that US officials had suggested enhancements, including explosive trace detection screening, increased vetting of airport staff and additional detection dogs. Since laptops are widely used in flight by business class passengers – who pay double or more than the average ticket price – the airline industry had feared expanding the ban could cut into revenue.
Airline officials told Reuters they are concerned about adding new enhanced security measures to all airports worldwide that have direct flights to the United States rather than focus them on airports where threats are highest. European airline groups said in a document reviewed by Reuters that if the threats are confirmed, the restrictions should be deployed to cover all EU departing flights, not just U.S.-bound flights. The United States imposed restrictions on laptops in March on flights originating at 10 airports in eight countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey. They came amid fears that a concealed bomb could be installed in electronic devices taken aboard aircraft. Britain quickly followed suit with a similar set of restrictions. Homeland security officials said Wednesday that those 10 airports can get off the list if they meet the new security requirements. US airline stocks were higher on Wednesday, with United Continental Holdings up 0.9 percent, Delta Air Lines Inc. up 1.9 percent and American Airlines Group up 1.5 percent. None of the airlines immediately commented. Starting in April, Kelly repeatedly said it was “likely” the laptop ban would expand to other airports – and even said in May the government could potentially expand the ban worldwide. Kelly said he planned a “step by step” security enhancement plan that included short, medium-term and longer-term improvements that would take at least a year to implement fully. Kelly met with senior airline executives in May and Homeland Security officials have had repeated meetings with U.S. airline executives. Robert Mann, analyst at R.W. Mann & Co, said if U.S. officials had insisted on an expanded laptop ban, it could harm business travel. One big issue facing policymakers was the potential safety implications related to past problems with laptop batteries and storing large numbers of laptops in the cargo hold.
30 civilians dead in air strikes on IS-held area of Syria: Monitor
Smoke rising around buildings after the sir strikes
BEIRUT: At least 30 civilians were killed in air strikes on an area of eastern Syria held by the Islamic State group on Wednesday, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was not immediately able to say whether the strikes in Deir Ezzor province were carried out by the US-led coalition, or by the Syrian army or its Russian ally. They came just two days after a suspected coalition strike on an IS jail in the province killed 42 prisoners and 15 jihadists, according to an Observatory toll. Today’s strikes hit an area 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Mayadeen, the town where the prison bombing took place. Most of Deir Ezzor province is controlled by the jihadists and it has been the target of air strikes by the US-led coalition as well as the Syrian army and Russia. The coalition has been hitting IS in both Syria and Iraq since mid-2014 and the jihadists are under growing pressure in both countries. Syria’s war has killed more than 320,000 people and forced millions from their homes since it began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.
New computer virus spreads from Ukraine to disrupt world business
FRANKFURT/MOSCOW/KIEV: A cyber-attack wreaked havoc around the globe on Wednesday, crippling thousands of computers, disrupting operations at ports from Mumbai to Los Angeles and halting production at a chocolate factory in Australia. The virus is believed to have first taken hold on Tuesday in Ukraine where it silently infected computers after users downloaded a popular tax accounting package or visited a local news site, national police and international cyber-experts said. The malicious code locked machines and demanded victims post a ransom worth $300 in bitcoins or lose their data entirely, similar to the extortion tactic used in the global WannaCry ransomware attack in May. More than 30 victims paid up but security experts are questioning whether extortion was the goal, given the relatively small sum demanded, or whether the hackers were driven by destructive motives rather than financial gain. Hackers asked victims to notify them by email when ransoms had been paid but German email provider Posteo quickly shut down the address, a German government cyber-security official said. Ukraine, the epicentre of the cyber-strike, has repeatedly accused Russia of orchestrating attacks on its computer systems and critical power infrastructure since its powerful neighbour annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.
The Kremlin, which has consistently rejected the accusations, said on Wednesday it had no information about the origin of the global cyber-attack, which also struck Russian companies such as oil giant Rosneft and a steelmaker. “No one can effectively combat cyber-threats on their own, and, unfortunately, unfounded blanket accusations will not solve this problem,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. ESET, a Slovakian company that sells products to shield computers from viruses, said 80 percent of the infections detected among its global customer base were in Ukraine, with Italy second hardest hit with about 10 percent. The aim of the latest attack appeared to be disruption rather than ransom, said Brian Lord, former deputy director of intelligence and cyber-operations at Britain’s GCHQ and now managing director at private security firm PGI Cyber. “My sense is this starts to look like a state operating through a proxy … as a kind of experiment to see what happens,” Lord told Reuters on Wednesday.
ETERNAL BLUE : While the malware seemed to be a variant of past campaigns, derived from code known as Eternal Blue believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), experts said it was not as virulent as May’s WannaCry attack. Security researchers said Tuesday’s virus could leap from computer to computer once unleashed within an organisation but, unlike WannaCry, it could not randomly trawl the internet for its next victims, limiting its scope to infect. Bushiness that installed Microsoft’s latest security patches from earlier this year and turned off Windows file-sharing features appeared to be largely unaffected. There was speculation, however, among some experts that once the new virus had infected one computer it could spread to other machines on the same network, even if those devices had received a security update. After WannaCry, governments, security firms and industrial groups advised businesses and consumers to make sure all their computers were updated with Microsoft security patches. Austria’s government-backed Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) said “a small number” of international firms appeared to be affected, with tens of thousands of computers taken down. Security firms including Microsoft, Cisco’s Talos and Symantec said they had confirmed some of the initial infections occurred when malware was transmitted to users of a Ukrainian tax software programme called MEDoc. The supplier of the software, M.E.Doc denied in a post on Facebook that its software was to blame, though Microsoft reiterated its suspicions afterwards. “Microsoft now has evidence that a few active infections of the ransomware initially started from the legitimate MEDoc updater process,” it said in a technical blog post. Russian security firm Kaspersky said a Ukrainian news site for the city of Bakhumut was also hacked and used to distribute the ransomware to visitors, encrypting data on their machines.
CORPORATE CHAOS : A number of the international firms hit have operations in Ukraine, and the virus is believed to have spread within global corporate networks after gaining traction within the country. Shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk, which handles one in seven containers shipped worldwide, has a logistics unit in Ukraine. Other large firms affected, such as French construction materials company Saint Gobain and Mondelez International Inc., which owns chocolate brand Cadbury, also have operations in the country. Maersk was one of the first global firms to be taken down by the cyber-attack and its operations at major ports such as Mumbai in India, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Los Angeles on the U.S. west coast were disrupted. The company said on Wednesday it was unable to process new orders and its 76 terminals around the world were becoming increasingly congested. Other companies to succumb included BNP Paribas Real Estate, a part of the French bank that provides property and investment management services. “The international cyber-attack hit our non-bank subsidiary, Real Estate. The necessary measures have been taken to rapidly contain the attack,” the bank said on Wednesday. Production at the Cadbury factory on the Australian island state of Tasmania ground to a halt late on Tuesday after computer systems went down. Russia’s Rosneft, one of the world’s biggest crude producers by volume, said on Tuesday its systems had suffered “serious consequences” but oil production had not been affected because it switched to backup systems.