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Current Affairs - 29 June 2017

General Affairs 

Companies Struggle To Recover After Massive Cyber Attack With Ransom Demands
  • Companies worldwide struggled to recover Wednesday after wave of powerful cyberattacks crippled computer systems in Europe, Asia, and the United States with a virus similar to the ransomware assault in May that infected computers around the world.

    Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk said on Wednesday that it was working to recover its operations a day after being hit by a cyber attack linked to malware called Petya.

    "We have contained the issue and are working on a technical recovery plan with key IT partners and global cyber security agencies," Maersk, which handles one in every seven containers shipped world wide, said in a stock exchange announcement. The Copenhagen-based group said its APM Terminals were affected "in a number of ports,"but said that its vessels with Maersk Line were "maneuverable, able to communicate and crews are safe."

    Russia's largest oil company, Ukrainian banks and multinational firms were brought to a standstill Tuesday in in a wave of ransom demands. The virus even downed systems at the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant, forcing scientists to monitor radiation levels manually.

    Cyberattacks also spread as far as India and the United States, where the pharmaceutical giant Merck reported on Twitter that "our company's computer network was compromised today as part of global hack." The New Jersey-based company said it was investigating the attack.

    Cyber researchers say that the virus, which was linked to malware called Petrwrap or Petya, used an "exploit" developed by the National Security Agency that was later leaked onto the Internet by hackers. It is the second massive attack in the past two months to turn powerful U.S. exploits against the IT infrastructure that supports national governments and corporations.

    The onslaught of ransomware attacks may be the "new normal," said Mark Graff, the chief executive of Tellagraff, a cybersecurity company.

    "The emergence of Petya and WannaCry really points out the need for a response plan and a policy on what companies are going to do about ransomware," he said. WannaCry was the ransomware used in the May attack. "You won't want to make that decision at a time of panic, in a cloud of emotion."

    The attack mainly targeted Eastern Europe but also hit companies in Spain, Denmark, Norway and Britain. Victims included the British advertising and marketing multinational WPP. India's biggest container port was also crippled when a Maersk-run terminal in Mumbai was hit.

    But the damage was worst in Ukraine.

    Researchers at Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team, in Russia, estimated that 60 percent of infected computers were in Ukraine and 30 percent in Russia.

    The hacks targeted government ministries, banks, utilities and other important infrastructure and companies nationwide, demanding ransoms from government employees in the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

    The hacks' scale and the use of ransomware recalled the massive cyberattack in May in which hackers possibly linked to North Korea disabled computers in more than 150 nations using a flaw that was once incorporated into the National Security Agency's surveillance tool kit.

    Cyber researchers have tied the vulnerability exploited by Petya to the one used by WannaCry - a weakness discovered by the NSA years ago that the agency turned into a hacking tool dubbed EternalBlue. Petya, like WannaCry, is a worm that spreads quickly to vulnerable systems, said Bill Wright, senior policy counsel for Symantec, the world's largest cybersecurity firm. But that makes it difficult to control - or to aim at anyone in particular, he said.

    "Once you unleash something that propagates in this manner, it's impossible to control," he said.

    Although Microsoft in March made available a patch for the Windows flaw that EternalBlue exploited, Petya uses other techniques to infect systems, said Jeff Greene, Symantec government affairs director. "It's a worm that has multiple ways to spread," he said, which could explain why there are victims who applied the EternalBlue patch and still were affected.

    The initial infection was in Ukraine and spread to Europe, said Paul Burbage, a malware researcher with Flashpoint, a cyberthreat analysis firm. Petya differs from WannaCry in that it does not appear to reach out to the Internet and scan for vulnerable systems, he said. It limits itself to the computers linked to the same router.

    The ransomware used in the attacks is a variant of Petya called GoldenEye, which was sold on underground forums used mainly by Russian-speaking criminal hackers, he said.

    The ransomware hit Europe in the early afternoon. Ground zero was Ukraine. Breaches were reported at computers governing the municipal energy company and airport in the capital, Kiev, the state telecommunications company Ukrtelecom, the Ukrainian postal service and the State Savings Bank of Ukraine.

    Grocery store checkout machines broke down, ATMs demanded ransom payments, and the turnstile system in the Kiev metro reportedly stopped working.

    The mayhem reached high into the government. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday tweeted a picture of a computer screen warning in English that "one of your disks contains errors," then adding in all capital letters: "DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR PC! IF YOU ABORT THIS PROCESS, YOU COULD DESTROY ALL YOUR DATA!"

    "Ta-Dam!" he wrote. "It seems the computers at the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine have been 'knocked out.' The network is down." His spokeswoman published a photograph showing demands for a ransom in bitcoin to release data encrypted by the virus.

    Suspicions in Ukraine quickly fell on Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and has been blamed for several large-scale cyberattacks on Ukraine's power infrastructure. But no proof of the attack was presented, and Russian companies, like the oil giant Rosneft, also complained of being hit by a "powerful hacking attack." Photographs leaked to the news media from a Rosneft-owned regional oil company showed computers displaying ransomware demands similar to those in Ukraine.

Angry Over Onion Crop Not Getting Sold, Madhya Pradesh Farmers Block Highway
  • Upset over the delay in purchase of onions on the MSP announced by the Madhya Pradesh government, farmers in Sehore blocked the Indore-Bhopal road in protest on Wednesday.

    Vehicle movement was disrupted for around two hours due to the blockade, leading to long queues stretching for kilometers on both sides.

    The farmers dispersed after police assurance.

    "The farmers were extremely upset over the delay in purchase of onions on the MSP in the mandi. They called off their protest after assurance that their grievances would be addressed," said Ashta Police Station Incharge BD Beera.

    The Madhya Pradesh government had announced a Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs. 8 per kilo for onion after a farmer protest turned violent in Mandsaur on June 6 in which six persons were killed in police firing.

    However, there are complaints from many places that onion is not being bought from the farmers at the MSP announced.

    For several days, farmers have been waiting patiently in the mandi to sell the onion crop, with several juge bags of the vegetable getting spoiled due to heavy rain.

Centre Won't Hike PDS Foodgrain Prices For Another Year: Minister Ram Vilas Paswan
  • The government today decided not to hike prices of foodgrains sold under the Food Law via ration shops for one more year. Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), which was passed in 2013 during the previous UPA regime, there is a provision for revision of the issue prices of foodgrains every three years.

    At present, the government supplies highly subsidised foodgrains at Rs. 1-3/kg to over 81 crore people in the country, costing the exchequer about Rs. 1.4 lakh crore annually.

    "Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a historic decision to not to increase the issue prices of foodgrains under NFSA for one more year," Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan tweeted.

    By not raising the issue price under the NFSA, the government has shown commitment towards well-being of depressed class, he said.

    The government supplies 5 kg of subsidised foodgrains to each person per month via 5 lakh ration shops, known as Public Distribution System (PDS). Rice is supplied at Rs. 3/kg, wheat at Rs. 2/kg and coarse grains at Rs. 1/kg.

    The NFSA has been rolled out across the country since November 2016.

    Mr Paswan had said recently that going forward, the government's focus would be on ensuring "nutritional security" of the poor people registered with PDS.

    The ministry has chalked out plans for supplying fortified wheat and rice flour via PDS, and is deliberating with stakeholders on supplying nutritious food in a cost effective manner.

Venkaiah Naidu Files 4th Set Of Nomination Papers For Ram Nath Kovind
  • Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu today filed another set of nomination papers on behalf of the NDA's presidential nominee Ram Nath Kovind.

    While Mr Naidu was the proposer, YSR Congress Party's Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy seconded Mr Kovind's fourth set of nomination papers.

    Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ananth Kumar and a few other BJP leaders, including party general secretary Bhupinder Yadav, were also present there.

    "We are confident that our nominee, who is widely acceptable to one and all as he is the most suitable candidate, will get elected by a comfortable margin," Mr Naidu said after filing the papers before the Lok Sabha secretary general, who is the returning officer for the July 17 presidential election.

    He said important political parties like JD(U), BJD, TRS and both the factions of the AIADMK have come forward to support the NDA nominee.

    Mr Kovind is currently campaigning in various parts of the country, and meeting MPs and MLAs to garner support.

    He had on June 23 filed three sets of nomination papers.

ISRO's GSAT-17 Satellite Preps For Launch From French Guiana
  • GSAT-17, the Indian Space Research Organisation's or ISRO's communication satellite, will take off on-board the Ariane-5 launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center at French Guiana tomorrow. The launch will take place at 2:29 am IST. The 3,477-kg GSAT 17, with a mission life of 15 years, is latest in the line of ISRO's communication satellite to be put in the geostationary orbit. Apart from communication services, it will relay metereological and satellite-based data and help with rescue services, earlier provided by geo-stationary satellites called Indian National Satellite System or INSAT. 
    This is the Indian space agency's third satellite launch within a span of three months, the previous two being - the earth observation Cartosat 2 series satellite on-board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) - C38 and the heavyweight Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III.  GSAT-17 carries payloads in Normal C-band, Extended C-band, S-band, Ku and Ka-band to provide various communication services, informed ISRO in a statement. Once inducted in the geostationary transfer orbit or GTO by Ariane-5 launch vehicle, ISRO's Master Control Facility at Hassan in Karnataka and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh will take over and place it in the geostationary orbit. 

    Apart from GSAT 17, the Ariane-5 will also launch another communications satellite - Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN. A part of satellite launch agency Arianespace, this is the fourth Ariane-5 mission in 2017. After the successful launch of PSLV-C38, ISRO Chairman A S Kiran told the Press Trust of India, "GSAT-17 is getting launched on June 28. We will be working on the replacement satellite for IRNSS-1. Our plan is to have two Mark-II and two Mark-III launches apart from eight to ten PSLV launches per year."

Business Affairs 

    GST sales: Discounts on cosmetics, lifestyle products at Shoppers Stop, Body Shop
    • The world cannot blame you if you have been smitten by the shopping bug ahed of the GST roll out . You must have been getting SMS messages from various brands announcing their special sale offers till June 30.

      The monsoon sale bonanza usually begins in June-end, but this year the upcoming roll out of the revolutionary Goods and Services Tax  (GST) on July 1 has resulted in brands kicking off the discount season a bit early.

      Electronics and apparel brands are offering huge discounts in both online and retail stores. And, the cosmetic industry is not far behind.

      "Brands are giving huge discounts because after the GST implementation, the cost of these stocks would increase by 3-12 %.  Good lifestyle brands in India are selling their product above Rs 1000 and as the cost crosses the 1000 slab, the tax liability also increases and the case is same for raw material purchasing also. So, to save the tax, many brands are doing this effective marketing", said Manu Shrikant Yadav, director of a premium lifestyle brand, Solzo group. Buyers still have a couple of days left to avail these offers. After July 1, companies could decide to soon wrap up the schemes and start selling fresh stock with revised price tags.
      Many major brands are offering discounts, including Shoppers Stop, which sells products from multiple brands and the Body Shop.

      Shoppers Stop has been offering discounts between 25 per cent to 50 per cent on selected brands. There are Buy 2 Get 2, Flat 40-50% off and many other discounts on top clothing, footwear companies including top brands such as Nike, Adidas, Levi's.
      Perfumes and cosmetics under 28% tax slab

      The Body Shop is offering flat 50 per cent discount on a wide variety of products. From lip shades to other make up products, women can buy anything in half the price.

      But once the GST gets implemented, the prices of personal care items could go up as most beauty products fall in the 28 per cent tax basket.

      Due to the uncertainty over the impact on prices after the GST, the ongoing sales is therefore the perfect time for customers to shop.

    7th Pay Commission: New allowances to benefit 48 lakh employees; HRA to be revised based on DA
    • The Union Cabinet finally approved the reformed allowance structure under the Seventh Central Pay Commission with 34 modifications on Wednesday evening. The modifications will be effective from July 1, 2017, confirmed Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, and will affect 34 lakh civilian employees and and 14 lakh defence employees.

      House Rent Allowance
      Much has been expected by the central government employees on House Rent Allowance (HRA) which constitutes the bulk of their salaries. The Cabinet approved HRA at 24 per cent, 16 per cent and 8 per cent of basic pay for Class X, Y and Z cities respectively. It will not be less than Rs 5,400, Rs 3,600 and Rs 1,800 every month calculated at 30 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent of minimum pay of Rs 18,000.
      This will be first time ever that HRA has been brought down. The previous pay panel had pegged HRA rates at 30 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent of the basic pay.
      The HRA rates will be revised when Dearness Allowance (DA) crosses 25 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. The new rates will benefit more than 7.5 lakh employees.
      Allowances for defence personnel
      Allowances paid under Siachen Allowance have been increased to Rs 30,000 per month for soldiers and Rs 42,500 per month for Army officers for extreme risk and hardship. Earlier Rs 14,000 were paid to soldiers and Rs 21,000 to officers every month under this head.
      Allowance to pensioners
      The Union Cabinet increased Fixed Medical Allowance for pensioners to Rs 1,000 per month from Rs 500 per month that was paid earlier. Constant Attendance Allowance on 100 per cent disablement has also been increased from Rs 4,500 to Rs 6,750 per month.
      Allowances to nurses and ministerial staff in hospitals
      Nursing Allowance has been increased to Rs 7,200 per month from Rs 4,800 per month, whereas Operation Theatre Allowance has been hiked to Rs 540 per month. Hospital Patient Care Allowance/Patient Care Allowance (HPCA/PCA) will now be Rs 4,100 to Rs 5,300 per month.
      With the new allowance structure, the 7th Pay Commission had predicted the combined additional financial implication at Rs 30,748.23 crore per annum. The Justice AK Mathur-led pay panel had also recommended revised allowance rates proportionate to DA paid to central government employees.
      However, there has been no word whether arrears will be paid to government staff on modified allowance rates or not.

    Air India sale: Cabinet gives 'in-principle approval' for disinvestment, says Arun Jaitley
    • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said the Union Cabinet has given in-principle approval for disinvestment of Air India. Last week, union minister Jayant Sinha informed that inter-ministerial consultations on the future course of action for Air India had been completed and the Cabinet would decide on how best to move forward. Staying afloat on little over Rs 30,000 crore bailout package extended by the previous UPA regime, Air India is working on ways to improve its financial position amid stiff competition. The Civil Aviation Ministry is already looking into the recommendations made by NITI Aayog for the national carriers revival.
      Talks about privatising Air India have been going on for a month. It all started with an interview that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave to DD News where he said that if private airlines could handle 86 per cent passengers then they could also handle 100 per cent.
      While Air India's market share is just around 14 per cent, its debt burden has piled up to reach Rs 50,000 crore. Of the total debt, Rs 20,000-25,000 crore is related to aircraft valuation.
      Days after Jaitley's comments, the National Institution for Transforming India or NITI Aayog also rooted for its disinvestment. But a few days later, Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju admitted that finding a scapegoat - in the form of a strategic investor - might not be easy. And it was felt that even as the government machinery was pulling out all the stops to find a suitor, the sell-off could be tricky.
      However, last week it was reported that Tata Group was considering buying debt-ridden national carrier from the government in partnership with Singapore Airlines. Air India was founded by JRD Tata as Tata Airlines in 1932 which was nationalised in 1953.
      It is the third serious attempt by the Indian government to sell off Air India. In 1999, when Jaitley was the Disinvestment Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, he came up with a similar proposal, but it did not materialise.

    Scamsters trading tips via SMSes: Sebi seeks RBI, TRAI help
    • Seeking to capitalise on the stock market rally, fraudsters are flooding gullible investors with unsolicited offers promising huge gains, prompting regulator Sebi to consider a closer coordination with banking and telecom regulators to check this menace. These offers are mostly being made through SMSes, WhatsApp and various social media platforms, wherein names of some established brokerage houses and exchanges are also being misused.
      While the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has already taken action in several such cases so far, it is investigating a number of others involving similar activities, a senior official said.
      To check the menace, the regulator is also looking at a closer coordination with its peers from the banking and telecom sectors -- namely the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), they added.
      Typically, Sebi depends on the call data records from the telecom companies and the financial transaction statements from the banks in its probe against such cases of frauds, where investors are lured into depositing money into designated bank accounts with promise of huge returns.
      Generally, the gullible investors are first lured by these scamsters through SMSes, WhatsApp messages and posts on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, after which they are given certain bank account numbers to deposit money.
      The mobile numbers and URLs, as also the bank account numbers, become the mainstay for the investigation by Sebi, ownership details of which help the regulator reach the perpetrators of such manipulative activities.
      Sebi has already taken action against several entities for providing investment advice without registration. These included MCX Biz Solutions, Moneyworld Research and Advisory, Global Mount Money Research and Advisory, Orange Rich Financials, GoCapital, CapitalVia Global Research and one Imtiyaz Hanif Khanda and his maternal uncle Vali Mamad Habib Ghaniwala.
      Besides tightening its noose on the scamsters, Sebi enhanced its investor awareness campaign on these issues.
      In several latest public notices, the capital markets regulator cautioned the investors against trading on the basis of unsolicited tips received through SMSes, social media, websites and other public media platforms.
      It also asked the public to deal with only Sebi- registered investment advisers and research analysts and warned the unregistered entities of strict action. Last year, Sebi had floated a consultation paper to ban unauthorised trading tips through SMSes, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, as also games, competitions and leagues relating to securities market.
      It also proposed to curb unsolicited investment advice and promotion of investment products through electronic and broadcasting media platforms and has sought greater checks and balances for online investment advisory services and use of automation or robotic tools. However, the regulator has yet to put in place a final regulation in this regard. 

    GST rollout: TMC opts out of midnight GST launch event as Didi names it 'epic blunder'
    • West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today said her party TMC will not attend the GST roll-out programme on June 30 midnight as she flayed the "unnecessary hurry" to roll it out.
      The TMC supremo termed the GST roll-out as another "epic blunder" by the Centre.
      "Our Parliamentary Party has decided not to attend the June 30, 2017 midnight programme at Parliament House to celebrate GST, as a mark of protest," she said.
      "We are deeply concerned about GST implementation. After demonetisation, this unnecessary disastrous hurry is another epic blunder of the Centre", she said on Facebook.
      "We have been for GST from the beginning but are very worried now with the way the Central Government is going ahead with the implementation", she said.
      "Our repeated suggestions to take some more time to properly implement GST have fallen on deaf ears. The entire business community, especially the small and medium ones, are scared and confused.
      "Only 60 hours are left before this ill-planned launch and no one knows for sure what's happening!", she said.
      "Essential commodities such as medicines are not available in many places and prices of various commodities are rising for lack of clarity and mismanagement", she said.
      Banerjee said, "We have always been fighting for maintaining the federal structure of the country, even if Bengal at times was the lone voice and conscience of the GST Council".
      She said, "There are almost 20 different taxes in the present tax regime and we felt that one single tax and integration of all markets across the country will provide big relief to all".
      Having a dig at the BJP, she said, "The current ruling party at the Centre had initially strongly opposed GST for over 7 years and suddenly did a somersault on coming to office as a champion of GST".
      Banejee said that the economy is not yet ready to face the GST from July 1. The 3-day strike declared by the textile industries in the country was the evidence of "our deep concerns on the lack of preparedness".
      "Small business entities are not yet ready with basic requirements like invoice, accounting system, IT system, etc. Another piece of evidence of unpreparedness comes from the fact that the 'Return Form' had to be simplified for the first 6 months as all systems are not in place.
      "It is shocking that the e-Way bill System is not yet designed and states are being asked to run their own systems as a stopgap arrangement", she said.
      "We feel, at least six months will further be necessary to notify all rules and procedures and give enough time to the stakeholders, particularly the small and medium enterprises to successfully implement the GST.
      "Otherwise, a chaotic situation may arise in our vast economy for which the Government of India will be primarily responsible", she said.
      The West Bengal chief minister expressed hope that the voices of the people and businesses will be heard by the Centre. West Bengal has been one of the best performing states in terms of GST migration .

    General Awareness

    114-year-old Taj Palace becomes first Indian building to get trademark

    • 114-year old Taj Palace (also referred to as Taj Mahal Palace) in Mumbai has become first Indian building to get itself trademarked, thereby joining the elite and small club of trademarked properties in the world which includes the Empire State Building in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Sydney Opera House.
      • Taj Palace getting a trademark is a unique instance as the registration of an architectural design has never been attempted since the Trademark Act came into force in 1999.
      Implications of Trademark:
      Now nobody can now use Taj Palace’s images for commercial purposes without paying licensing fee to the company.
      • Currently a couple of stores sell merchandise like photo frames and cufflinks with the hotel’s pictures on them.
      • Earlier, in the recent past, the trademarked Empire State Building dragged a New York resident to court for using its image as a beer logo. Thus using Taj Mahal Palace’s images for commercial purposes without paying the company a licensing fee may have similar repercussions.
      About Taj Palace:
      Taj Palace is located in Colabaarea of MumbaiMaharashtra.It is owned by Indian Hotels Company Limited(IHCL), which was incorporated by the founder of the Tata Group, Jamsetji Tata.
      • It first commenced operations in year 1903.
      • It is the flagship property of the company contributing a significant portion to its Rs 2391 crore revenues.
      • Ever since its formation, Taj Mahal Palace has been regarded as symbol of Indian wealth and progress. Due to that reason it was one of the main targets of terrorist attacks in 2008.
      • Currently, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel has 560 rooms and over 40 suites along with spas and restaurants.

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