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Malicious Virus Programmer, Hamza Bendelladj Sentenced To Death

Izunna Okpala

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Hamza Bendelladj

Recounting the ordeal of an Algerian hacker and developer of malicious SpyEye malware Hamza Bendelladj who was sentenced by a US court to 15 years in prison and three years of supervised release on charges related to his role in developing and distributing the virus.

Bendelladj, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire and bank fraud, 10 counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse, and 11 counts of computer fraud and abuse. He had faced 60 years prison and a $24m fine.

Bendelladj’s court-appointed attorney, Jay L. Strongwater of Atlanta, told Al Jazeera that his client pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for his actions.

His crimes are estimated to have cost at least $100m.

Bendelladj and codefendant Russian Aleksandr Andreevich Panin formed a computer-hacking crime ring that set out to steal money from bank accounts of individuals and institutions by infecting millions of computers in the US.

Panin had also pleaded guilty to the charges against him and was sentenced on Wednesday to nine years and six months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release.

John Horn, US attorney for the northern district of Georgia, said in a press statement that “it is difficult to overstate the significance of this case, not only in terms of bringing two prolific computer hackers to justice, but also in disrupting and preventing immeasurable financial losses to individuals and the financial industry around the world”.

Bendelladj was travelling from Malaysia to Algeria when he arrested in transit in Thailand in 2013 and later extradited to the US.

The Justice Department statement quoted Horn as saying: “Until dismantled by the FBI, SpyEye was the pre-eminent malware banking Trojan from 2010-2012, used by a global syndicate of cybercriminals to infect more than 50 million computers, causing close to $1bn in financial harm to individuals and financial institutions around the globe”.

Source: Aljazeera

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Apps & Services

Coronavirus: The Covid Tracker software from Ireland is out

Izunna Okpala

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Ireland’s just-released contact-tracing app this morning, where it joined Germany’s Corona Warn-App, which was released three weeks ago.

Gibraltar recently released its Beat Covid Gibraltar app, based on the Irish code.

The Republic’s Covid Tracker software is also the foundation of an app. Northern Ireland is promising to release within weeks. And now there’s a hint Wales could go the same way.

The focus henceforth would be on building a “decentralised” app with the toolkit offered by Apple and Google, which is also being used by Germany and Ireland among a growing list of others.

On Monday, Baroness Harding gave evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee alongside Simon Thompson, the Ocado executive she drafted in to take responsibility for the app.

Mr Thompson started by saying how urgent it was to get the job done. He went on to stress that collaboration with other countries and with Google and Apple meant that “we have growing confidence that we will have a product that will be good, so that the citizens can trust it in terms of its basic functionality”.

Bluetooth doubts

Now it is true that there is very little evidence that Bluetooth-based apps have so far been successful in tracking down people who came close to someone diagnosed with the virus.

People who point to the success of countries like South Korea ignore the fact that its efforts have been based not on Bluetooth but on the use of mass surveillance data, which would almost certainly prove unacceptable here.

Scientists at Trinity College in Dublin who advised the Irish app development team have produced a number of studies showing Bluetooth can be a very unreliable way to log contacts.

After tests on a bus they warned “the signal strength can be higher between phones that are far apart than phones close together, making reliable proximity detection based on signal strength hard or perhaps even impossible”.

‘Good enough’

Germany has celebrated the fact that in three weeks its app has been downloaded by 15 million people out of a population of 83 million. But there is little or no information about whether it is performing well in its core mission of contact tracing.

Then again, countries like Germany, Ireland and Switzerland have taken the view that an app does not have to be technically perfect, and that if there is any chance of it making even a small contribution to the battle against the virus, it’s worth a go.

Countries like Germany might be tempted to point out that they have had that “cake” in the form of an effective manual tracing programme all along. Incidentally, if public trust is vital to the app’s rollout, the people of the Isle of Wight may have something to say about that.

Following the trial of the original, scrapped NHSX app on the island, some residents have been asking what will happen to their data. We’ve asked too – and have yet to receive an answer.

While the Covid Tracker app has been launched by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland, people living across the border in Northern Ireland are able to download it and use it.

Its terms and conditions state that it is intended to be used by anyone living in or visiting the island of Ireland.

They also state that its availability for people living or visiting in Northern Ireland “is intended to help us to inform people living in border areas and to trace cases in those areas”.

Anyone using the app in NI is able to activate the contact tracing facility and can also self-report symptoms using the “Covid Check-In section”.

However, in the section which asks users to enter personal details, including gender and age-range, those living in Northern Ireland can’t add their county of residence. Only counties in the Republic of Ireland are listed – not the six in NI.

It isn’t yet clear what impact this has on the functionality of the app for NI users.

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COVID-19: An update on the success of Coronavirus treatment

Izunna Okpala

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There is hope in the fight against Covid-19. New evidence now exist in the United States of America supporting this procedure. Physicians in the Kansas City area, including Joe Brewer, Dan Hinthorn and Dr. Jeff Colyer, continue to see a lot of patients and some have shown progress. Hydroxychloroquine has been applied to treatment options by major medical facilities including the University of Washington and Mass General.

In addition, before this, according to a study conducted by French researchers on 80 cases who recovered from the virus within six days of treatment, a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin has been found effective in treating patients with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial and anti-inflammatory medication used to treat autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, although it has been tested against symptoms of the novel coronavirus with some results.

Bahrain is one of the first countries to study hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 medication, having first used the drug on 26 February, two days after the first case of coronavirus was reported.

Countries around the world are increasing access to hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, similar compounds that are synthetic versions of quinine, which derive from cinchona trees and have been used to treat malaria for decades.

Considering the urgent therapeutic need to control this disease with efficient and safe medicines, and considering the negligible cost of both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, we believe that this therapeutic approach should be tested urgently by medical practitioners both to prevent the spread of the disease and to treat patients until serious irreversible respiratory complications.

Even now, medical experts are still questioning the use of chloroquine as a drug. Usage of chloroquine for symptomatic treatment of coronavirus has not been licensed by the World Health Organisation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently researching a way to make the drug available for emergency use in the United States, but in a way that gives the government data about whether it is safe and effective.

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The desire to Invest in Africa continues as Africa becomes the New Gold Mine

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COMESA

COMESAThe desire to invest in Africa continues to grow amongst leading investors – in 2015 two well-known private equity fund’s each raised over $1billion to invest in the continent.

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