[Newsbits] 25.06-1.07.2024: CriticGPT, Snowblind Malware. & More

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António Costa, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, has been elected as the President of the European Council, marking a significant shift in EU leadership. Costa, known for his pragmatic and socially just leadership, has a rich political background, including roles as a cabinet minister, vice president of the European Parliament, and mayor of Lisbon. His notable achievements include receiving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award and holding an OCI card. The European Council presidency, established by the Treaty of Lisbon, involves guiding discussions and achieving consensus among EU member states. Costa’s election signifies Portugal’s rising influence in the EU.

The Indian Army has deployed its first indigenous 4G mobile base station, developed by Signaltron in Bangalore. This move, facilitated through the Government e-Marketplace (GeM), marks significant progress towards self-sufficiency in critical technology. Signaltron, founded by Himamshu Khasnis in 2010, has created the Sahyadri LTE base stations using locally developed chips. These portable and secure systems enhance military communication capabilities. The strategic shift from foreign to indigenous technology strengthens national security and is expected to boost the Indian base station market to USD 24 billion by 2029, with global opportunities in the CNPN 4G/5G market projected to exceed USD 30 billion by 2030.

/ Science & Technology

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The Indian Navy’s participation in RIMPAC 2024, the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, underscores its operational capabilities and commitment to global maritime security. Held in Hawaii, RIMPAC 2024 involves 29 countries, 150 planes, 40 surface ships, 3 submarines, and over 25,000 personnel. The Indian Navy deployed the INS Shivalik, a multi-role stealth frigate, which traveled 9000 nautical miles to participate. The exercise includes a harbor phase (June 27 – July 7) and a sea phase with complex maritime activities. The objectives are to strengthen international ties, enhance interoperability, and maintain Indo-Pacific stability, aligning with the theme “Partners: Integrated and Prepared.”

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North Korea recently fired two ballistic missiles in response to joint military drills by the US, South Korea, and Japan. The missiles, launched from Jangyon, flew different distances, with one landing near Chongjin and the other within North Korea. These launches followed the “Freedom Edge” drills aimed at enhancing joint military capabilities. North Korea condemned these exercises, viewing them as threats to its sovereignty, and showcased its readiness to counteract with missile tests. Historically, North and South Korea have experienced fluctuating relations, marked by moments of cooperation and significant tensions, particularly around the fortified DMZ.

/ Korea

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/ Bangladesh

The Teesta Treaty is a proposed water-sharing agreement between India and Bangladesh concerning the Teesta River, which originates in Sikkim and flows into Bangladesh. The river is crucial for agriculture and the environment in both countries. A 2011 treaty proposal suggested India receive 42.5% and Bangladesh 37.5% of the water, but it was blocked by West Bengal’s Chief Minister due to concerns about the impact on North Bengal. In June 2023, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized managing water flow rather than sharing it, which was met with opposition from West Bengal. The treaty is complicated by political, environmental, and regional cooperation issues, including China’s involvement in Teesta management projects.

/ Indices/Reports

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In 2023, India achieved the highest record of remittance inflows globally, amassing USD 125 billion. This surge was driven by strategic economic deals and robust job markets in countries like the US, UK, and Singapore. A significant agreement with the UAE facilitated trade using local currencies, enhancing remittance flows. The World Bank reported that remittances to India increased, raising South Asia’s share from 63% in 2022 to 66% in 2023. Despite a slowdown in growth rate from 24.4% to 12.4%, declining inflation and job opportunities in high-income countries contributed to this rise. The India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) aims to double bilateral trade to $100 billion in five years, focusing on key sectors and reducing tariffs.

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Denmark has approved the world’s first carbon tax on livestock emissions, targeting its significant dairy and pork sectors. Starting in 2030, each cow will be taxed 672 krone ($96) annually, with the tax rising by 2035. The tax aims to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact, Denmark’s largest pollution source. Initial tax rates are set at 300 krone ($43) per tonne of CO2-equivalent emissions, increasing to 750 krone ($107) by 2035, with a 60% tax break initially reducing the effective charge. The tax revenue will support environmental projects and the farming industry’s green transition. The policy has mixed reactions, with concerns about competition and investment impacts, but it could influence global environmental strategies.

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The ABHYAS is a High-Speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT) developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Bengaluru for the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). It is designed to simulate enemy aircraft for defense training. Recently, six successful trials were conducted at the Integrated Test Range in Chandipur, Odisha, focusing on an improved booster setup. The trials demonstrated key capabilities such as safe booster release and endurance performance. ABHYAS features an autopilot system, high-tech add-ons, and a laptop-based Ground Control System. It is now ready for production by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Larsen & Toubro, marking a significant advancement in Indian defense technology.

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/ China

The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, established in 1954 during Sino-Indian talks, are foundational to China’s foreign policy. Known as the Panchsheel Agreement, these principles include respect for territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. They gained international prominence at the 1955 Bandung Conference, influencing the Non-Aligned Movement. Despite being strained by the 1962 Sino-Indian War and current geopolitical tensions, these principles remain central to China’s diplomatic approach. The 70th anniversary, marked in Beijing, aims to revive these ideals under the theme of global cooperation and shared future.

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/ Awards & Honors

Arundhati Roy, the acclaimed Indian author, has been awarded the 2024 PEN Pinter Prize, an honor recognizing her outstanding literary merit and her serious engagement with global and Indian sociopolitical issues. Known for her Booker Prize-winning novel “The God of Small Things” and her critical stance on human rights and press freedom in India, Roy’s work transcends literature, addressing significant global issues with wit and elegance. The PEN Pinter Prize, established in 2009 by English PEN to honor Harold Pinter, celebrates writers who exhibit bravery in the face of political adversity. Roy’s recognition comes amidst ongoing legal challenges in India, highlighting her unwavering commitment to activism through storytelling.

/ North East

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/ Space

The European Space Agency (ESA) has partnered with Airbus Defence and Space, OHB, and Thales Alenia Space to develop zero-debris satellite platforms for Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This initiative, part of the Zero Debris method, aims to eliminate space junk by 2030. The Space Debris Mitigation Standard, implemented in 2023, supports this goal. The collaboration involves designing large LEO satellites that comply with zero-debris guidelines, with initial designs expected within 18 months. ESA’s efforts also extend to smaller satellites like CubeSats, promoting a sustainable space environment. This initiative aligns with broader environmental goals, including the Paris Agreement.

The Pench Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra has introduced an AI-based system named “Pantera” for early forest fire detection. This system, launched on June 26, 2024, uses a PTZ camera installed on a high hill near Kirringisarra village, covering 350 sq km with a 15 km field of view. Pantera integrates high-resolution camera feeds and data from 15 commercial satellites to provide real-time fire alerts within three minutes. It features infrared technology for 24/7 monitoring, differentiating smoke from clouds to reduce false alarms. The system also incorporates weather data for predictive analysis and uses GPS to track firefighting resources, enhancing response efficiency. This initiative, funded by Solar Industries India Ltd. and the Maharashtra government, is a collaborative effort involving the Satpuda Foundation, Umgrameio, and Forest Fire Tech.

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/ Space

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/ Governance

Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) Limited, a leading Indian shipbuilding company based in Kolkata, West Bengal, has won the “Sustainable Governance Champion Award” at the Outlook Planet Sustainability Summit & Awards 2024. This award recognizes GRSE’s commitment to sustainable business methods, including the implementation of cutting-edge, eco-friendly technologies and adherence to global sustainability standards. GRSE’s proactive steps in the defense and maritime sectors significantly reduce environmental impacts. Established in 1884 and nationalized in 1960, GRSE has achieved several milestones, including being the first Indian port to build 100 warships and diversifying into engineering and engine manufacturing.

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/ Biology

Macrophages are crucial for disease defense and tissue repair, with recent research by Dr. Fernando Martinez Estrada highlighting their activation via the CSF1R marker. This marker helps differentiate macrophages from monocytes and dendritic cells, aiding in their study across various health conditions. Macrophage activation, traditionally seen as pro- or anti-inflammatory, is now understood as a spectrum influenced by the environment. New multi-gene tools targeting immune signals like IL-4, IFNg, and LPS help measure macrophage responses, paving the way for innovative drug development.

/ Industries/Sectors, Space

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Mark Rutte, the outgoing Dutch Prime Minister, has been appointed as the next Secretary-General of NATO, succeeding Jens Stoltenberg on October 1. His selection followed the withdrawal of his main opponent, Klaus Iohannis, and was backed by major NATO countries, requiring a unanimous vote. Rutte faces significant challenges, including maintaining support for Ukraine amidst its conflict with Russia, navigating the potential return of Donald Trump, and ensuring NATO’s unity. NATO, founded in 1949, has key historical milestones such as invoking Article 5 after 9/11 and practices like the Open Door Policy. Its headquarters moved to Brussels in 1967, and it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

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South India’s first and largest leopard safari has opened at Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Inaugurated by Environment Minister Eshwar Khandre, the 20-hectare safari mimics the natural habitat of leopards, featuring rolling hills, rocky outcrops, and deciduous woods. Built at a cost of ₹4.5 crore, it includes safety measures like a 4.5-meter high chain-link mesh and MS sheets angled at 30°. The park houses 14 leopards, with 8 released into the safari. The initiative aims to raise awareness about human-animal conflicts and promote conservation through educational efforts and afforestation.

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Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, launched by Pakistan, aims to combat rising violence and terrorism, particularly from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The operation focuses on improving security, intensifying attacks on terrorists, and employing socioeconomic measures to curb extremist ideologies. It also seeks to address Chinese concerns about the safety of their citizens and investments in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). However, the success of the operation remains uncertain due to the quick nature of militant operations, potential lack of public support, and risks of escalating tensions with Afghanistan.

/ Banking

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/ Internal Security

The Enemy Agents Ordinance, originally issued in 1917 by the Dogra Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, was designed to prevent collaboration with enemies during conflicts. Post-1947, it was incorporated into the state’s legal framework and adapted to new geopolitical realities. Following the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, it remained in force under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act. The law imposes severe penalties, including life imprisonment or death, for aiding enemies. Trials are conducted by special judges with limited rights to legal representation and no appeals. Notable cases, such as Maqbool Bhat’s, highlight its ongoing significance.

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/ Biotechnology

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru has developed a 3D hydrogel culture system to advance tuberculosis (TB) research. This new method, created by the Department of Bioengineering, mimics the lung environment more accurately than traditional 2D culture plates. The hydrogel uses collagen, a key component of lung tissue, allowing for better interaction between immune cells and TB bacteria. This system keeps cells viable for up to three weeks, significantly longer than traditional methods. The research demonstrated the effectiveness of the TB drug pyrazinamide in this model, and RNA analysis confirmed its similarity to human lung cells. This innovation could lead to more accurate TB treatments and has been patented in India.

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/ Energy, Indices/Reports

Sub-Saharan Africa faces significant challenges in achieving energy equity, as highlighted in the World Economic Forum’s 2024 report. The Energy Transition Index (ETI) assesses 120 countries on energy system performance, focusing on equity, sustainability, and security. Sub-Saharan Africa shows the highest growth in ETI scores, driven by improvements in energy access and affordability. Despite progress, 600 million people in the region still lack electricity. Countries like Tanzania and Ethiopia have made strides in improving energy access. Renewable energy adoption is increasing, with Zimbabwe making notable progress. Europe leads in ETI rankings, with Sweden and Denmark at the top.

/ China, France, Space

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The World Investment Report 2024 highlights a 2% global decline in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2023, with significant drops in countries like India, China, France, Australia, and the USA. India’s FDI fell by 43%, from $49 billion to $28 billion, dropping its global ranking from 8th to 15th. Despite this, India remains a top destination for foreign project financing and new construction. The decline is attributed to multinational companies’ caution due to uncertain global growth, geopolitical tensions, economic fragmentation, strict industrial policies, and supply line diversification. Sector-specific impacts include a 23% drop in infrastructure project finance and a 46% drop in mergers and acquisitions.

/ Species

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Uttar Pradesh is a major player in India’s renewable energy sector, particularly in compressed biogas (CBG) production, capable of generating 24% of the nation’s CBG. Western Uttar Pradesh, with towns like Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, and Saharanpur, is pivotal due to its rich feedstock. The state has a robust bioenergy policy, allocating Rs. 750 crore from 2022 to 2027, offering subsidies, and promoting best practices. Despite this, challenges such as bioslurry management, inconsistent gas offtake, skilled personnel shortage, and financial barriers persist. Solutions include policy adjustments, diverse feedstocks, farmer involvement, and enhanced government support.

/ Education

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On June 24, 2024, the Kerala Assembly passed a resolution to change the state’s name from “Kerala” to “Keralam” to align with its Malayalam name. This initiative, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, aims to amend the Constitution’s First Schedule and the Eighth Schedule, which lists official languages. The name “Kerala” has historical roots dating back to 257 BCE, with Emperor Ashoka’s reference to “Keralaputra.” Linguistically, it is linked to the Old Tamil word “Cher” and the Kannada word “Keram.” Kerala was formed on November 1, 1956, by merging Malayalam-speaking regions, reflecting its cultural and linguistic heritage.

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