Day: October 7, 2021

Climate-Friendly Fuel Synthetic Kerosene Could Be Game-Changer in Aviation

German officials unveiled this week what they said is the world’s first commercial plant for making synthetic kerosene. It’s seen as a climate-friendly way to produce jet fuel and could potentially be game-changing. More with VOA’s Mariama Diallo.


Microsoft: Russia Cyberattacks Targeting More Governments, Agencies

Russia appears to be getting more aggressive and more successful as the nation’s hackers launch a growing number of cyberattacks against the United States and other nations, according to a new report by Microsoft. 

Microsoft’s 2021 Digital Defense Report warns that what it labels as “Russian nation-state actors” are responsible for 58% of all nation-state cyberattacks, and that they are now successful almost one out of every three times. 

“Russia-based activity groups have solidified their position as acute threats to the global digital ecosystem,” the report said, cautioning that Russian cyber actors have been adaptable, getting better at using open-source tools “that make them increasingly difficult to detect.” 

Microsoft also said Russia’s most frequent target was the United States, followed by Ukraine and Britain, and that the focus seems to be shifting toward intelligence gathering, with more than half of Russian attacks now targeting agencies involved with foreign policy, national security or defense, up from just 3% a year earlier. 

According to Microsoft, after Russia, the greatest number of cyberattacks came from North Korea, Iran and China.

North Korea’s top target was cryptocurrency companies, while Iran quadrupled its attacks on Israel as tensions between the two countries grew steadily. 

China also was active, focusing much of its cyber efforts on intelligence gathering. 

Microsoft said a large part of Beijing’s efforts, through a threat actor called Chromium, focused on gathering social, economic and political intelligence from India, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan and Thailand. 

Another prominent Chinese threat actor, known as Nickel, focused its efforts on foreign ministries in Central and South America. 

The report also said that South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam were increasingly active in cyberspace, though the volume of attacks carried out from those countries paled in comparison with Russia, North Korea, Iran and China. 

Top U.S. officials have shared their concerns about the growing danger from cyberattacks, especially from nation-state adversaries, in recent weeks. And many have voiced support for legislation that would require private companies to notify the U.S. government if their systems were breached. 

“I think we’re at a point, seeing the arc of cybercrimes and the cyberthreats, that really there’s an urgency to it,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a virtual cybersecurity conference earlier this week. “We’re optimistic the legislation will pass.” 

Speaking at the same summit Thursday, U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly said that while many of the threats are not new, they remain worrisome, given “how vulnerable some of our critical infrastructure sectors are.” 


WHO Launches Strategy to Vaccinate 40% of World Against Covid by End of 2021 

The U.N. secretary-general and the head of the World Health Organization launched an ambitious strategy Thursday to have 40% of the world’s population vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of this year, and 70% by mid-2022.

“With vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, we can reach 40% of people in all countries by year’s end — if we can mobilize some $8 billion to ensure that distribution is equitable,” U.N. chief Antonio Guterres told a news conference.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 6.5 billion doses have already been administered worldwide. Another 5 billion are needed to meet the 70% benchmark, which Tedros said current vaccine manufacturing rates can handle.

“This is not a supply problem, it is an allocation problem,” he said, adding it is critical that the elderly, health care workers and other at-risk groups are prioritized.

An earlier goal to vaccinate 10% of every country’s population by the end of September fell short, with 56 countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East, unable to meet the target. WHO said 200 million doses are needed to get those countries to meet the 10% target.

“That’s a week’s worth of the global supply,” said Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization vaccines and biologicals. “If that can’t be achieved, there really needs to be a fine point put on that.”

To get to the 40% benchmark, Tedros urged countries which have already achieved high coverage to swap their place in the vaccine distribution line with countries that have had less access.

“We can only achieve our targets if countries and companies put contracts for COVAX and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) first for deliveries and donated doses,” Tedros said. “We have the tools to bring the pandemic under control if we use them properly and share them fairly.”

WHO officials said that achieving the 40% vaccination target would essentially end the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic, but if the targets can’t be reached, the risk continues of new variants emerging that may be vaccine resistant.

“It is ambitious, but it is very doable,” said Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to Tedros. He said the doses are paid for, but that the issue is getting them prioritized for distribution through the COVAX facility and AVAT, so they reach the countries that are lagging.

The strategy also urges vaccine-producing countries to share technology and licensing to help other nations scale up production of doses. It also calls on vaccine manufacturers to prioritize fulfilling contracts with COVAX and AVAT, so doses go to the neediest countries. There is a role for international financial institutions, as well, in assisting countries in accessing the funding needed for domestic delivery of doses.

WHO said a three-step approach to vaccination should be taken, targeting the elderly, health care workers and high-risk groups first, followed by all adults and lastly, adolescents.

There have been more than 236.67 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and at least 4.8 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks global data on the infection. 


German Health Minister Says Vaccinations Further Along Than Thought

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday the nation has vaccinated millions more people than previously thought, thanks to some unreported vaccination numbers discovered by the Robert Koch Institute for Disease Control.

The institute says nearly 80% of adults in Germany are fully vaccinated, and about 84% have received at least one shot. Previous official reports were about 5% lower — meaning there are about 3.5 million more people vaccinated than had been reported. 

Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Spahn said the discrepancy was discovered in surveys conducted by the RKI that revealed additional vaccinations. He believes some big companies’ employee vaccination programs and mobile vaccination teams in nursing centers and elsewhere may account for those initially unreported.

The new RKI figures are based on surveys and do not include people under the age of 18, which is why the agency has yet to give a new overall number of vaccinated people in Germany.

Spahn said these new numbers are good news in terms of any new COVID-19 restrictions that might be contemplated in the coming months, barring any unforeseen new variants or surges of cases.  

“From today’s perspective, we will not need any further restrictions in autumn and winter to get through this time well without overburdening the health system,” he said.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.


Nobel Prize in Literature Awarded to Tanzanian Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah for his body of work detailing the refugee experience and how colonialism shaped African culture.

At a news conference at the Swedish Academy’s headquarters in Stockholm, Permanent Secretary Mats Helm said Gurnah received the award for “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.”

Gurnah, born in 1948 and raised on the island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, arrived in England as a refugee himself in the late 1960’s. He has published ten novels and a number of short stories.

In its statement, the academy said, “In Gurnah’s literary universe, everything is shifting – memories, names, identities. An unending exploration driven by intellectual passion is present in all his books.” The statement said that quality is as evident in his latest novel, 2020’s “Afterlives,” which he began writing as a 21-year-old refugee.

The academy went on to say Gurnah’s writing is “striking” for its dedication to truth and “his aversion to simplification. His novels recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world.”

Gurnah will receive a $1.1 million cash prize, but for writers, the prize also adds prestige and publicity by exposing their work to much wider audience. 

The Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry were awarded earlier this week, with the Peace Prize to be awarded Friday, and economics on Monday.

The awards will all be formally presented in December. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the academy announced this year’s ceremony will be a mixture of digital and physical events. Laureates will receive their Nobel Prize medals and diplomas in their home countries.

Some information in this report comes from Reuters. 


Google to Invest $1 Billion in Africa Over Five Years

Google plans to invest $1 billion in Africa over the next five years to ensure access to fast and cheaper internet and will back startups to support the continent’s digital transformation, it said on Wednesday.

The unit of U.S. tech company Alphabet Inc made the announcement at a virtual event where it launched an Africa Investment Fund, through which it will invest $50 million in startups, providing them with access to its employees, network and technologies.

Nitin Gajria, managing director for Google in Africa told Reuters in a virtual interview that the company would among others, target startups focusing on fintech, e-commerce and local language content.

“We are looking at areas that may have some strategic overlap with Google and where Google could potentially add value in partnering with some of these startups,” Gajria said.

In collaboration with not-for-profit organization Kiva, Google will also provide $10 million in low interest loans to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa so they can get through the economic hardship created by COVID-19.

Small businesses in Africa often struggle to get capital because they lack the necessary collateral required by banks in case they default. When credit is available, interest rates are usually too high.

Google said a program pioneered last year in Kenya in partnership with Safaricom that allows customers to pay for 4G-enabled phones in instalments would be expanded across the continent with mobile operators such as MTN, Orange and Vodacom.

Gajria said an undersea cable being built by Google to link Africa and Europe should come into service in the second half of next year and is expected to increase internet speeds by five times and lower data costs by up to 21% in countries like South Africa and Nigeria.