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Some N.Koreans find ways around govt smartphone controls, report says

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(Last Updated On: April 28, 2022)

Despite North Korea intensifying efforts to stop citizens from seeing information coming from outside the country, a few tech savvy individuals are managing to circumvent tight government controls on smart phones, a U.S. based group said in a report.

“The scale of the hacking still appears to be minor, but recent changes to North Korean law indicate national authorities view it as a serious problem,” Lumen, a U.S.-based non-profit founded to provide North Koreans with access to uncensored information and media, said in report issued this week.

Most of the knowledge needed to hack the phones came from North Koreans who had been sent to China for work, often in software outsourcing businesses, the report said.

Smartphones have proliferated in North Korea, but very few people are allowed to access the global internet. Devices in the country are required to have government apps and other controls that monitor use and restrict access.

Working together with ERNW, a Germany-based independent IT Security service, the report’s authors examined North Korean smartphones and tablets for government controls, and interviewed two defectors who said they had been able to circumvent those restrictions before they fled the country.

The research overturns assumptions that, shut off from the internet, North Koreans lacked the knowledge and tools to be able to mount an effective attack on state information control mechanisms, the report concluded.

The goal of the hacking was to bypass phone security and be able to install different applications, photo filters and media files that would otherwise not be permitted.

The report said the resale value of a phone could also be increased by accessing and deleting screenshots automatically taken with the “Trace Viewer”, an application in each North Korean smartphone that takes random screenshots and locks them away from the user, to try and dissuade illicit activities.

The Lumen report said it is possible that state engineers responded to the techniques described by the hackers by disabling the USB interface used to access the phone.

North Korea also disabled Wi-Fi access on devices and only reintroduced it recently, once controls such as SIM cards, passwords, and supported devices had been designed to ensure Wi-Fi could only be used for approved purposes, the report said.

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Moon landing: US clinches first touchdown in 50 years

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(Last Updated On: February 23, 2024)

A spacecraft built and flown by Texas-based company Intuitive Machines landed near the south pole of the moon on Thursday, the first U.S. touchdown on the lunar surface in more than half a century and the first ever achieved by the private sector, Reuters reported.

The uncrewed six-legged robot lander, dubbed Odysseus, touched down at about 6:23 p.m. EST (2323 GMT), the company and NASA commentators said in a joint webcast of the landing from Intuitive Machines’ (LUNR.O), opens new tab mission operations center in Houston.

The landing capped a nail-biting final approach and descent in which a problem surfaced with the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation system that required engineers on the ground to employ an untested work-around at the 11th hour.

It also took some time after an anticipated radio blackout to re-establish communications with the spacecraft and determine its fate some 239,000 miles (384,000 km) from Earth.

When contact was finally renewed, the signal was faint, confirming that the lander had touched down but leaving mission control immediately uncertain as to the precise condition and position of the vehicle, according to the webcast.

“Our equipment is on the surface of the moon, and we are transmitting, so congratulations IM team,” Intuitive Machines mission director Tim Crain was heard telling the operations center. “We’ll see what more we can get from that.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson immediately hailed the feat as a “triumph,” saying, “Odysseus has taken the moon.”

As planned, the spacecraft was believed to have come to rest at a crater named Malapert A near the moon’s south pole, according to the webcast. The spacecraft was not designed to provide live video of the landing, which came one day after the spacecraft reached lunar orbit and a week after its launch from Florida, read the report.

Thursday’s landing represented the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by a U.S. spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972, when NASA’s last crewed moon mission landed there with astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.

To date, spacecraft from just four other countries have ever landed on the moon – the former Soviet Union, China, India and, mostly recently, just last month, Japan. The United States is the only one ever to have sent humans to the lunar surface.

Odysseus is carrying a suite of scientific instruments and technology demonstrations for NASA and several commercial customers designed to operate for seven days on solar energy before the sun sets over the polar landing site.

The NASA payload will focus on collecting data on space weather interactions with the moon’s surface, radio astronomy and other aspects of the lunar environment for future landers and NASA’s planned return of astronauts later in the decade.

The IM-1 mission was sent on its way to the moon last Thursday atop a Falcon 9 rocket launched by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The arrival of Odysseus also marks the first “soft landing” on the moon ever by a commercially manufactured and operated vehicle and the first under NASA’s Artemis lunar program, as the U.S. races to return astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite before China lands its own crewed spacecraft there, Reuters reported.

NASA aims to land its first crewed Artemis in late 2026 as part of long-term, sustained lunar exploration and a stepping stone toward eventual human flights to Mars. The initiative focuses on the moon’s south pole in part because a presumed bounty of frozen water exists there that can be used for life support and production of rocket fuel.

A host of small landers like Odysseus are expected to pave the way under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, designed to deliver instruments and hardware to the moon at lower costs than the U.S. space agency’s traditional method of building and launching those vehicles itself.

Leaning more heavily on smaller, less experienced private ventures comes with its own risks.

Just last month the lunar lander of another firm, Astrobotic Technology, suffered a propulsion system leak on its way to the moon shortly after being placed in orbit on Jan. 8 by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket making its debut flight.

The malfunction of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander marked the third failure of a private company to achieve a lunar touchdown, following ill-fated efforts by companies from Israel and Japan.

Although Odysseus is the latest star of NASA’s CLPS program, the IM-1 flight is considered an Intuitive Machines mission. The company was co-founded in 2013 by Stephen Altemus, former deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and now the company’s president and CEO.

The proliferation of commercial space ventures has itself been driven by leaps in technology in recent decades.

The Apollo program and robot lunar Surveyor missions that preceded it flew at the very dawn of the computer age, before the advent of modern microchips, electronic sensors and software, or the development of super light-weight metal alloys and myriad other advances that have spurred a revolution in spaceflight.

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Ministry establishes secure gateway for all Internet users in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: February 20, 2024)

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has established an internal gateway or Internet Exchange Point Center (NIXA) for the purpose of security of Internet traffic and confidentiality of citizens’ information, whereby all Internet user information in Afghanistan is protected.

The ministry’s spokesman said in a post on X that in the past, this was done by the Internet supplier countries, but there were many disadvantages.

“Internet data and information were not safe because the traffic was carried out through them so that these countries could have easy access to information and information of Internet users,” said the ministry’s spokesman Anayatullah Alokozay.

“Internet traffic used to be very expensive in foreign countries, but now the said traffic is done cheaply and safely inside the country, and finally due to the length of the route from foreign countries, the quality of services is low and sometimes information and data are lost,” added Alokozay.

Alokozay said that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology values the security of information and information of Internet users within the country and considers it its responsibility and duty to create a safe, secure and valuable environment.

The Internet Exchange Point Center of Afghanistan (NIXA) is the physical infrastructure through which the Internet traffic of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is exchanged.

The Internet Exchange Point Center (NIXA) was established to build an internal gateway for Afghanistan’s internal Internet traffic, privacy of information, improving the quality of the Internet and reducing bandwidth consumption.

By the establishment of the center, customer’s information will be safe and secure, internal traffic speed will increase, and the leak of Information abroad will be prevented.

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Japan successfully launches next-generation H3 rocket after failure last year

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(Last Updated On: February 17, 2024)

Japan successfully launched its new H3 flagship rocket on Saturday, putting its space programme back on track after multiple setbacks including the failure of the rocket’s inaugural flight last year.

The launch also marks a second straight win for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) after its lunar lander, SLIM, achieved a “pinpoint” touchdown last month and made Japan only the fifth country to put a spacecraft on the moon, Reuters reported.

A relatively small player in space by number of launches, Japan is seeking to revitalise its programme as it partners with ally the United States to counter China.

The H3 lifted off at 9:22 a.m. local time (0022 GMT) and after it successfully released a small satellite, jubilant scientists at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan clapped, yelled and hugged each other.

The rocket also released a microsatellite and a dummy satellite during its flight of nearly two hours.

“The newborn H3 has just made its first cry”, JAXA project manager Masashi Okada, who has led the decade-long development of the new rocket, told a news conference.

“And we need to start preparing for the third H3 launch as soon as tomorrow.”

The H3 is due to replace the two-decade-old H-IIA, which is retiring after two more launches. Another failed flight would have seen Japan face the prospect of losing independent access to space.

The first launch in March ended up with ground control destroying the rocket 14 minutes after liftoff when the second-stage engine failed to ignite. JAXA listed three possible electrical faults in a review released in October but could not identify the direct cause.

Five months earlier, JAXA’s small rocket Epsilon had also failed to launch.

“So happy to see this incredible accomplishment in the space sector that follows on from the success of the SLIM moon landing,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a post on X.

The 63 m (297 ft) H3 is designed to carry a 6.5 metric ton payload and over the long-term, the agency wants to reduce per-launch cost to as low as five billion yen ($33 million) – half of what an H-IIA launch costs – by adopting simpler structures and automotive-grade electronics.

JAXA and primary contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), opens new tab hope those features will help them win launch orders from global clients.

“It’s taken some time for the program to get to this point but with this launch, they will be fielding inquiries from around the world,” said Ko Ogasawara, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science.

The Japanese government plans to launch about 20 satellites and probes with H3 rockets by 2030 for domestic use. The H3 is scheduled to deliver a lunar explorer for the joint Japan-India LUPEX project in 2025 as well as cargo spacecraft for the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration program in the future.

Satellite launch demands have skyrocketed thanks to the rise of affordable commercial vehicles such as SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 and a number of new rockets are being tested this year.

Last month marked the successful inaugural flight of the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, a joint venture between Boeing (BA.N), opens new tab and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N), opens new tab. The European Space Agency also plans to launch its lower-cost Ariane 6 for the first time this year.

Masayuki Eguchi, the head of Mitsubishi Heavy’s defence and space business, said the company has a long-term target of launching eight to ten rockets a year, which would boost its 50 billion yen space business sales by 20-30%.

That would require additional production capacity, he added, noting the company’s factories can currently only produce five to six H3 rockets a year.

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