FBI Joins Australian Hunt for Data Hackers

Australia has asked the American FBI to help catch computer hackers responsible for one of Australia’s biggest data breaches. Personal details, including home addresses, driver license and passport numbers, of more than 10 million customers of the Singapore-owned telecom giant Optus were stolen.

A massive amount of personal information about Optus customers in Australia was stolen and an extortion threat made to the company. But then there was an apparent twist. An apology was issued on an online forum by an account that investigators believe belonged to the alleged hacker, who had been unnerved by the attention the case had generated.

“Too many eyes,” it read. “We will not sale (sic) data to anyone. Sorry to 10.2m Australians whose data was leaked. Ransom not paid but we don’t care anymore.”

The Australian government has blamed Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the country, for the breach. Australia’s cybersecurity minister, Clare O’Neil, said the company had made it easy for hackers to get in.

“What is of concern for us is how what is quite a basic hack was undertaken on Optus,” she said. “We should not have a telecommunications provider in this country which has effectively left the window open for data of this nature to be stolen.”

But Optus Chief Executive Officer Kelly Bayer Rosmarin denied the company’s cyber defenses were inadequate. She said the data was encrypted and there were multiple layers of protection. But for many Optus customers, there is deep anxiety that their personal information has been compromised.

The FBI has joined the hunt for the Optus data thieves.

Frank Montoya Jr, a former FBI special agent, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that a foreign government could be involved.

“We try to determine if it is a nation state or if it is a criminal enterprise,” he said. “Now, that can be a challenge, too, because sometimes the nation state is the criminal enterprise, and I think of North Korea, for instance, and how they go after these databases for various reasons. But sometimes it is just about selling it on the dark web so they can get access to hard currency.”

Australian cyber security experts have warned that unless companies do more to protect their customers’ personal information, a data breach like the Optus theft could happen again.

your ad here

Challenges and Hope as India Makes Home for African Cheetahs

Eight cheetahs have been brought from Africa to India this month to conserve a species that became extinct in the South Asian country seven decades ago. While the project is hugely challenging, conservationists say the benefits go beyond conserving the world’s fastest land animal – if successful, it could help save neglected ecosystems such as grasslands. Anjana Pasricha report from New Delhi.

your ad here

New Asteroid Strike Images Show Impact Much Bigger Than Expected

The James Webb and Hubble telescopes on Thursday revealed their first images of a spacecraft deliberately smashing into an asteroid, as astronomers indicated that the impact looks to have been much greater than expected.

The world’s telescopes turned their gaze toward the space rock Dimorphos earlier this week for a historic test of Earth’s ability to defend itself against a potential life-threatening asteroid in the future.

Astronomers rejoiced as NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor slammed into its pyramid-sized, rugby ball-shaped target 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) from Earth on Monday night.

Images taken by Earth-bound telescopes showed a vast cloud of dust expanding out of Dimorphos — and its big brother Didymos, which it orbits — after the spaceship hit.

While those images showed matter spraying out over thousands of kilometers, the James Webb and Hubble images “zoom in much closer,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast involved in observations with the ATLAS project.

James Webb and Hubble can offer a view “within just a few kilometers of the asteroids and you can really clearly see how the material is flying out from that explosive impact by DART,” Fitzsimmons told AFP.

“It really is quite spectacular,” he said.

An image taken by James Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) four hours after impact shows “plumes of material appearing as wisps streaming away from the center of where the impact took place,” according to a joint statement from the European Space Agency, James Webb and Hubble.

Hubble images from 22 minutes, five hours and eight hours after impact show the expanding spray of matter from where DART hit.

‘Worried there was nothing left’ 

Ian Carnelli of the European Space Agency (ESA) said that the “really impressive” Webb and Hubble images were remarkably similar to those taken by the toaster-sized satellite LICIACube, which was just 50 kilometers from the asteroid after separating from the DART spacecraft a few weeks ago.

The images depict an impact that looks “a lot bigger than we expected,” said Carnelli, the manager of the ESA’s Hera mission, which intends to inspect the damage in four years.

“I was really worried there was nothing left of Dimorphos” at first, Carnelli told AFP.

The Hera mission, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026, had expected to survey a crater around 10 meters (33 feet) in diameter.

It now looks like it will be far bigger, Carnelli said, “if there is a crater at all; maybe a piece of Dimorphos was just chunked off.”

The true measure of DART’s success will be exactly how much it diverted the asteroid’s trajectory, so the world can start preparing to defend itself against bigger asteroids that could head our way in the future.

It will likely take Earth-bound telescopes and radars at least a week for a first estimate of how much the asteroid’s orbit has been altered, and three or four weeks before there is a precise measurement, Carnelli said.

‘Huge implications’

“I am expecting a much bigger deflection than we had planned,” he said.

That would have “huge implications in planetary defense because it means that this technique could be used for much larger asteroids,” Carnelli added.

“Until today, we thought that the only deflection technique would be to send a nuclear device.”

Fitzsimmons said that even if no material had been “flung off” Dimorphos, DART still would have slightly affected its orbit.

“But the more material and the faster it’s moving, the more of a deflection there will have been,” he said.

The observations from James Webb and Hubble will help reveal how much — and how quickly — matter sprayed from the asteroid, as well as the nature of its surface.

The asteroid impact marked the first time the two space telescopes observed the same celestial body.

Since launching in December and releasing its first images in July, James Webb has taken the title of most powerful space telescope from Hubble.

Fitzsimmons said the images were “a beautiful demonstration of the extra science you can get by using more than one telescope simultaneously.” 

your ad here

UN: Food Loss, Waste Exacerbate Global Hunger, Climate Change

U.N. agencies are calling for an end to food loss and waste as the United Nations marks the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Thursday.

A U.N. Environment Program report says over 930 million tons of food waste were generated in 2019. The chief of UNEP’s energy and climate branch, Mark Radka, said that represents about 20% of available food.

“There is evidence that household food waste is generated at a similar per capita level in all countries, regardless of country income level,” he said. “So, households, on average generate about 74 kilograms per person, per year in food waste.”  

It has serious implications, given the U.N.’s latest estimates that 828 million people globally are going hungry. Food and Agriculture Organization findings indicate 14% of the world’s food is lost after harvest. An estimated 17% is wasted in retail and at the consumption stage.

FAO Senior Enterprise Development Officer Rosa Rolle calls food loss and waste a global problem that has significant impact on climate, food security, and the sustainability of agri-food systems.

“Over the past two years, agri-food systems across the globe have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the war in Ukraine, pushing millions of people into food insecurity, with hunger and malnutrition on the rise,” she said.

The FAO says food waste and loss accelerate climate change and harm the environment. It says about 31% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming, are attributable to the agri-food system.  

The UNEP says reducing food loss and waste could decrease methane emissions by 15% by 2030.  It notes methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. It says at least 25% of today’s global warming by methane is caused by human action.

your ad here

Uganda Fights Deadly Ebola Outbreak as President Assures It’s Under Control

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has assured the country that an Ebola outbreak is under control and that no restrictions on movement are needed. The country’s health officials confirmed cases of a deadly Sudan ebolavirus with six reported deaths out of 31 confirmed cases. Uganda’s medical association says some of its members are critically ill and has threatened to join a strike by medical interns over what they say is inadequate personal protective equipment. 

In an address to the nation Wednesday night, President Yoweri Museveni urged Ugandans to avoid coming in contact with body fluids such as blood, feces and vomit from infected people.

Even though the source for the Sudan ebolavirus, a strain for which the World Health Organization says cross-protection of vaccine for other Ebola strains has not been established, Museveni warned Ugandans against eating meat from monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas.

“I want to reassure Ugandans and all residents that the government has the capacity to control this outbreak as we have done before. Therefore, there’s no need for anxiety, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places like schools, markets, places of worship etc. as of now,” he said.

The 31 Ebola cases confirmed so far include six health care workers, including four doctors, one anesthesiologist and one medical student who was exposed to the first case in the district of Mubende, Kyegegwa and Kassanda.

Museveni who cautioned Ugandans against shaking hands also says Uganda is still discussing a vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus that was first reported on August 6. Uganda only has a stock of the Zaire ebolavirus that was reported in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. There is currently no approved vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus.

“One of the issues we were debating the other day was, why not use the vaccine of Ebola Zaire. Even though it’s not specific for Ebola Sudan, but it’s Ebola,” he said. “They share some of the characteristics. And it is safe. And we have used it on our soldiers. So, is there any harm in trying it?”

The government has now set up an Ebola treatment unit with a 51-bed capacity for confirmed cases and 80 beds for suspected cases.

To shorten the turnaround time of sampling, processing and improving patient care, two mobile diagnostic laboratories will be deployed in the Mubende district by Friday.

Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng also allayed fears among health workers especially those infected with the virus.

“We want to appreciate the work that they are doing. But also reassure them that they will be taken care of and given the necessary supportive care and treatment so that we ensure that we don’t lose them,” she said.

President of the Uganda Medical Association Dr. Sam Oledo, however, describes a different situation in the affected districts for health workers.

“When we start losing health workers, I don’t think it can be under control. It’s painful that this morning the intern and the SHO [Senior Health Officer] are on oxygen, and they are not doing well. What we are trying to mobilize now is ICU management. We cannot afford to have the corpse of a medic at such a time. And I assure you, if the worst happens, we shall withdraw services in Mubende,” he said.

The Sudan ebolavirus is less common than the Zaire ebolavirus and has no current, effective vaccine. Sudan ebolavirus was first reported in Southern Sudan in 1976. Although several outbreaks have been reported since then in both Uganda and Sudan, the deadliest outbreak in Uganda was in 2000 claiming over 200 lives.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak, in 2019, was confirmed to be the Zaire ebolavirus. It last reported a Sudan ebolavirus outbreak in 2012.

your ad here

Report Calls Switzerland, US, Sweden World’s Most Innovative Economies

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) cites top-ranked Switzerland, followed by the United States and Sweden, as the world’s most innovative economies. 

WIPO uses some 80 indicators to rank the innovative performance of 132 economies. These include measures on the political environment, education, infrastructure, business sophistication and knowledge creation of each economy.

The latest annual report shows some interesting moves in the rankings and the emergence of new powerhouses. Switzerland, once again, comes out on top. The United States moves up one position in the rankings to second place, followed by Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

A co-editor of the Global Index, Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, said 11th-ranked China is the only middle-income country to have made it this far. He said other emerging economies, such as Turkey and India, have put in strong performances, and countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have made some significant upward moves.

“Several developing countries are performing above expectations relative to their level of development,” Wunsch-Vincent said. “So, these are, of course, countries which have GDP capita which are lower. Eight of [the] innovation over-performers, and that is good news, are from sub-Saharan Africa, with Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique in the lead.”

The Global Index also focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on innovation. The report shows that research and development, as well as other investments that drive worldwide innovative activity, continued to boom in 2021. This despite the pandemic.

WIPO Director General Daren Tang said this result defied expectations. He noted that after the dot-com bust in 2001, the 2008 global financial crisis, the matrix for innovation dropped, but that was not the case for the last two years.

“In fact, the report shows that investments in global research and development in 2020, two years ago, grew at a rate of 3.3 percent,” he said. “Top corporate R&D spenders — in other words, the most innovative firms worldwide — increased their R&D spending by nearly 10 percent last year, in 2021, which is higher than pre-pandemic growth.”

On a more sobering note, Tang warned that conditions may take a turn for the worse as the pandemic recedes, as high inflation and geopolitical tensions pose new economic and social challenges. He said innovative approaches will have to be developed to help people worldwide navigate through tough times ahead.

your ad here

Nations Must Work Together to Fight Online Fraud, UN Official Says

A top U.N. official last week said the syndicates running Asia’s massive online fraud industry will rotate operations among lawless areas of Southeast Asia unless governments cooperate to bring them down, after Cambodia said it was cracking down on cybercrime compounds.

The networks have swindled hundreds of millions of dollars, regional police have told VOA, setting up fake profiles offering romance, moonshot investment schemes with huge returns or posing as police officers to solicit payoffs. They target residents of countries from China to Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, the United States and Australia.

“The response needs to be strategic and regional, because today it might be a location in Cambodia but tomorrow a group uproots under pressure and shifts to Myanmar, Laos or the Philippines,” Jeremy Douglas, the Bangkok-based regional representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told VOA.

“Until governments across the region address, disrupt and police the places organized crime groups are using to run online casinos, scams and other illicit businesses, and in particular special economic zones and autonomous regions, the situation won’t fundamentally change,” he said.

Compounds for industrial-scale scamming in are operated in converted casinos in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, as well as special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos by Chinese gangsters who dominate regional gambling but lost their main income source during the pandemic, according to Douglas and victims who spoke to VOA.

The foot soldiers of the operations are young Chinese and Southeast Asians. Some joined willingly, many others thought they had obtained high-paying overseas work in call centers or online sales.

Malaysian, Taiwanese and Thai officials have said hundreds of their citizens remain trapped in a Myanmar border zone tied to scam operations, run by ethnic militias and beyond the law, despite its location a few hundred meters from Thailand.

Chou Bun Eng, vice chair of Cambodia’s National Committee for Counter Trafficking in persons, said Cambodia is a victim of sophisticated criminal gangs and is doing everything it can to put the syndicates out of business.

“We began an operation on August 22 throughout the kingdom,” she told VOA by phone.

“We are aware that there are victims all over the kingdom in what is a new form of crime committed by foreigners. … Cambodia does not serve criminals,” she said.

Social media videos since the crackdown have shown thousands of people apparently leaving several Sihanoukville megacompounds, in images shared by Douglas.

State media in China, the source of most of the workers and the biggest target, said the country is barring its citizens from traveling to Cambodia without good reason and warned telecommunications companies that they could be held responsible for scams carried out over their networks.

On Sept. 23, however, Cambodian authorities said at least one person had died after a boat carrying dozens of Chinese people sank on its way to Sihanoukville. Cambodian  state media Fresh News said they had traveled from, Guangdong, hundreds of kilometers away. The incident is suspected of being tied to scam operations and now under investigation.

Ransoms and beatings

Disturbing testimony has emerged from scam agents who tried to leave the compounds, including reports of routine torture, sale to other networks and ransom payments required to gain freedom.

A 26-year-old Thai mother of three, told VOA she asked to quit her job in Manila after six days when she was forced to swindle women online.

She said she took an online sales job in early August, desperate for the $1,000 salary plus commissions. She said she soon realized her real job was to steal the identity of wealthy Thai men and persuade women looking for love to transfer money.

When she refused to work, she was taken to a room with others who had also refused.

“One by one, they took us out to kick, punch, claw our hair and zap us with electric wire,” she said, asking that her name not be used, out of fear of reprisal.

“They forced the head of one of the older women underwater in the bathroom and then beat her some more.”

It took another 14 days for her to get free with a $3,000 payment to break her verbal agreement and she returned to Bangkok on Aug. 27.

Once back, her boyfriend had to sell the equipment for his T-shirt business, sinking them further into money troubles, which had led to her leave Thailand in the first place.

your ad here

Rohingya Seek Reparations from Facebook for Role in Massacre

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook.

“We were good with most of the people there. But some very narrow minded and very nationalist types escalated hate against Rohingya on Facebook,” he said. “And the people who were good, in close communication with Rohingya. changed their mind against Rohingya and it turned to hate.”

For years, Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., pushed the narrative that it was a neutral platform in Myanmar that was misused by malicious people, and that despite its efforts to remove violent and hateful material, it unfortunately fell short. That narrative echoes its response to the role it has played in other conflicts around the world, whether the 2020 election in the U.S. or hate speech in India.

But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012.

Despite years of warnings, Amnesty found, the company not only failed to remove violent hate speech and disinformation against the Rohingya, it actively spread and amplified it until it culminated in the 2017 massacre. The timing coincided with the rising popularity of Facebook in Myanmar, where for many people it served as their only connection to the online world. That effectively made Facebook the internet for a vast number of Myanmar’s population.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh that year. Myanmar security forces were accused of mass rapes, killings and torching thousands of homes owned by Rohingya.

“Meta — through its dangerous algorithms and its relentless pursuit of profit — substantially contributed to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya,” the report says.

A spokesperson for Meta declined to answer questions about the Amnesty report. In a statement, the company said it “stands in solidarity with the international community and supports efforts to hold the Tatmadaw accountable for its crimes against the Rohingya people.”

“Our safety and integrity work in Myanmar remains guided by feedback from local civil society organizations and international institutions, including the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar; the Human Rights Impact Assessment we commissioned in 2018; as well as our ongoing human rights risk management,” Rafael Frankel, director of public policy for emerging markets, Meta Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.

Like Sawyeddollah, who is quoted in the Amnesty report and spoke with the AP on Tuesday, most of the people who fled Myanmar — about 80% of the Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine at the time — are still staying in refugee camps. And they are asking Meta to pay reparations for its role in the violent repression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, which the U.S. declared a genocide earlier this year.

Amnesty’s report, out Wednesday, is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees, former Meta staff, academics, activists and others. It also relied on documents disclosed to Congress last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist. It notes that digital rights activists say Meta has improved its civil society engagement and some aspects of its content moderation practices in Myanmar in recent years. In January 2021, after a violent coup overthrew the government, it banned the country’s military from its platform.

But critics, including some of Facebook’s own employees, have long maintained such an approach will never truly work. It means Meta is playing whack-a-mole trying to remove harmful material while its algorithms designed to push “engaging” content that’s more likely to get people riled up essentially work against it.

“These algorithms are really dangerous to our human rights. And what happened to the Rohingya and Facebook’s role in that specific conflict risks happening again, in many different contexts across the world,” said Pat de Brún, researcher and adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights at Amnesty.

“The company has shown itself completely unwilling or incapable of resolving the root causes of its human rights impact.”

After the U.N.’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the “significant” role Facebook played in the atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya, Meta admitted in 2018 that “we weren’t doing enough to help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”

In the following years, the company “touted certain improvements in its community engagement and content moderation practices in Myanmar,” Amnesty said, adding that its report “finds that these measures have proven wholly inadequate.”

In 2020, for instance, three years after the violence in Myanmar killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims and displaced 700,000 more, Facebook investigated how a video by a leading anti-Rohingya hate figure, U Wirathu, was circulating on its site.

The probe revealed that over 70% of the video’s views came from “chaining” — that is, it was suggested to people who played a different video, showing what’s “up next.” Facebook users were not seeking out or searching for the video, but had it fed to them by the platform’s algorithms.

Wirathu had been banned from Facebook since 2018.

“Even a well-resourced approach to content moderation, in isolation, would likely not have sufficed to prevent and mitigate these algorithmic harms. This is because content moderation fails to address the root cause of Meta’s algorithmic amplification of harmful content,” Amnesty’s report says.

The Rohingya refugees are seeking unspecified reparations from the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant for its role in perpetuating genocide. Meta, which is the subject of twin lawsuits in the U.S. and the U.K. seeking $150 billion for Rohingya refugees, has so far refused.

“We believe that the genocide against Rohingya was possible only because of Facebook,” Sawyeddollah said. “They communicated with each other to spread hate, they organized campaigns through Facebook. But Facebook was silent.”

your ad here

Biden Convenes First White House Hunger Conference in Decades

One in 10 US households is food insecure — and that has been the case for decades. On Wednesday, in the first conference of its kind in 50 years, the White House convened experts to discuss how the world’s largest provider of international food assistance can better feed its own. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington.

your ad here

Oregon Town Hosts 1st Wind-Solar-Battery ‘Hybrid’ Plant

A renewable energy plant being commissioned in Oregon on Wednesday that combines solar power, wind power and massive batteries to store the energy generated there is the first utility-scale plant of its kind in North America.

The project, which will generate enough electricity to power a small city at maximum output, addresses a key challenge facing the utility industry as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and increasingly turns to solar and wind farms for power. Wind and solar are clean sources of power, but utilities have been forced to fill in gaps when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.

At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries will store up to 120 megawatt-hours of power generated by the 300-megawatt wind farms and 50-megawatt solar farm so it can be released to the electric grid on demand. At maximum output, the facility will produce more than half of the power that was generated by Oregon’s last coal plant, which was demolished earlier this month.

On-site battery storage isn’t new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has soared in the U.S. in recent years due to robust tax credits and incentives and the falling price of batteries. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Oregon, however, is the first in the U.S. to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output without relying on fossil fuels to fill in the gaps.

The project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of being what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the clean power industry.

“If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”

The plant located in a remote expanse three hours east of Portland is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a public utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 under an Oregon climate law passed last year, one of the most ambitious in the nation.

PGE’s customers are also demanding green power — nearly a quarter-million customers receive only renewable energy — and the Wheatridge project is “key to that decarbonization strategy,” said Kristen Sheeran, PGE’s director of sustainability strategy and resource planning.

Under the partnership, PGE owns one-third of the wind output and purchases all the facility’s power for its renewable energy portfolio. NextEra, which developed the site and operates it, owns two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage.

“The mere fact that many other customers are looking at these types of facilities gives you a hint at what we think could be possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest. “Definitely customers want firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”

Large-scale energy storage is critical as the U.S. shifts to more variable power sources like wind and solar, and Americans can expect to see similar projects across the country as that trend accelerates. National Renewable Energy Laboratory models show U.S. storage capacity may rise fivefold by 2050, yet experts say even this won’t be enough to prevent extremely disruptive climate change.

Batteries aren’t the only solution that the clean energy industry is trying out. Pumped storage generates power by sending huge volumes of water downhill through turbines and others are experimenting with forcing water underground and holding it there before releasing it to power turbines.

But interest in batteries for clean energy storage has grown dramatically in recent years at the same time that the cost of batteries is falling and the technology itself is improving, boosting interest in hybrid plants, experts say.

Generating capacity from hybrid plants increased 133% between 2020 and 2021 and by the end of last year, there were nearly 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation connected to storage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is managed by the University of California.

The vast majority of such projects are solar power with battery storage, largely because of tax credits, but projects in the pipeline include offshore wind-plus-battery, hydroelectric-plus-battery and at least nine facilities like the one in Oregon that will combine solar, wind and storage. Projects in the pipeline between 2023 and 2025 include ones in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, according to Berkeley Lab.

Many researchers and pilots are working on alternatives to lithium ion batteries, however, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and a longer duration would be more useful.

“There is no silver bullet. There’s no model or prototype that’s going to meet that entire need … but wind and solar will certainly be in the mix,” said PGE’s Sheeran.

“This model can become a tool for decarbonization across the West as the whole country is driving toward very ambitious climate reduction goals.”

your ad here

Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug Said to Succeed in Slowing Cognitive Decline

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug developed by Eisai and Biogen significantly slowed cognitive and functional decline in a large trial of patients in the early stages of the disease, the companies said Tuesday. 

The injected drug, lecanemab, slowed progress of the brain-wasting disease by 27% compared with a placebo, meeting the study’s main goal and offering an apparent win for the companies and potentially for patients and their families desperate for an effective treatment. 

Eisai said the results from the 1,800-patient trial prove the longstanding theory that removal of sticky deposits of a protein called amyloid beta from the brains of people with early Alzheimer’s can delay advance of the debilitating disease. 

“It’s not a huge effect, but it’s a positive effect,” said Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, adding that the results were extremely important for Alzheimer’s research. 

“This means that treating amyloid is a step in the right direction,” he said. 

Results considered a “win”

Wall Street analysts, such as Salim Syed at Mizuho Securities, have said the results would be considered a “win” if lecanemab slowed the rate of decline by about 25%, and that shares of both companies could jump on the news. 

Shares of Biogen and Eisai were halted, but shares of Eli Lilly, which is also developing an Alzheimer’s drug, were up 6.7% in after-hours trading. 

Lecanemab, like the companies’ previous drug Aduhelm, is an antibody designed to remove those amyloid deposits. Unlike Aduhelm, lecanemab targets forms of amyloid that have not yet clumped together. 

The so-called amyloid hypothesis has been challenged by some scientists, particularly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s controversial approval of Aduhelm in 2021 based on its plaque-clearing ability rather than proof that it helped slow cognitive decline. The decision came after the FDA’s own panel of outside experts had advised against approval. 

Aduhelm was the first new Alzheimer’s drug approved in 20 years after a long list of high-profile failures for the industry. 

Eisai, leader of the 50-50 partnership’s lecanemab program, is seeking FDA approval under the same accelerated pathway as Aduhelm, with a decision expected in early January. But on Tuesday, the Japanese drugmaker said it would use the new efficacy results to submit lecanemab for traditional FDA review. 

The company said it will also seek authorization in Japan and Europe during its current fiscal year, ending March 31. 

The Phase III trial evaluated the drug’s ability to reduce cognitive and functional decline based on the Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB), a numerical scale used to quantify the severity of dementia in patients in areas such as memory, orientation, judgment and problem-solving and personal care. 

Brain swelling 

The rate of ARIA-E, a brain swelling side effect associated with anti-amyloid treatments, was 12.5% in the lecanemab group, versus 1.7% in the placebo group. 

While the side effect showed up on imaging, many of these cases were not symptomatic, the companies said. Symptomatic brain swelling was seen in 2.8% of those in the lecanemab group and none of the placebo group, they said. 

The trial also tracked the rate of micro hemorrhages in the brain, which occurred at a rate of 17% in the lecanemab group, and 8.7% in the placebo group. 

The total incidence of both conditions was 21.3% in the lecanemab group and 9.3% in the placebo group, rates that fell within an expected range, the companies said. 

Petersen said the side effect was present, but much less than with Aduhelm, and “certainly tolerable.” 

Aduhelm’s approval was a rare bright spot for Alzheimer’s patients, but critics have called for more evidence that amyloid-targeting drugs are worth the cost. 

The controversy and reluctance by some payers to cover Aduhelm led Biogen to slash the drug’s price to $28,000 per year from an initial $56,000. 

But Medicare, the U.S. government health plan for people 65 and older, this year said it would only pay for Aduhelm if patients were enrolled in a valid clinical trial, which sharply curtailed the medication’s use. Since Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging, an estimated 85% of patients eligible for the drug are covered by the government plan. 

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to rise to about 13 million by 2050 from more than 6 million currently, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Globally, that figure could rise to 139 million by 2050 without an effective treatment, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. 

your ad here

As Ebola Spreads, Ugandan Medical Interns Strike Over Safety

As Uganda reports more deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, medical interns at the hospital handling most of the cases have gone on strike. The interns say they are not being provided with adequate personal protective equipment against the deadly virus, which causes a hemorrhagic fever. Uganda’s health ministry has so far confirmed five deaths and 18 probable fatalities out of 36 cases.

Ugandan Health officials say they are holding talks with striking interns at central Mubende district’s hospital, which is handling most of the country’s spreading Ebola outbreak.

President for the Federation for Uganda Medical Interns, Dr. Musa Lumumba, says there is not enough personal protective gear for the interns at the hospital.

Speaking to VOA by phone, he called on Uganda’s Ministry of Health to urgently address the issue to protect doctors-in-training. 

“The issue of not having accommodation, so they stay in communities, which communities have got cases of Ebola,” Lumumba said. Protection of those at the frontline. And those at the frontline are the health care workers.”

Uganda Medical Association President, Dr. Samuel Oledo, told VOA one intern, three staff, and a medical student have been confirmed for exposure to the virus and at least three senior health officers (SHO) are showing symptoms.  

“We have 34 interns in Mubende.  And we have less than 12 doctors employed on the ground,” Oledo said. “If you have interns and they are pulling out at once, it’s catastrophic.  And the justifications are clear, honestly.  Results have come out today and one of the SHOs who actually performed surgeries with one of the interns on one case has become positive of Ebola.”

Oledo said they suspect as many as 104 medical students in Mubende hospital have been exposed to the virus.   

Uganda’s Ministry of Health has yet to confirm the exposures and infections of students and staff at the hospital.   

Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona denied there is a lack of protective equipment there to guard against Ebola.  

“All the protective gear to safeguard their life is available,” Ainebyoona said. “But like [with] any other infectious disease, fear will be expected. But we are working to ensure that we engage and counsel.  And ensure that there are teams to respond.”

Despite the spreading virus, Uganda’s Health Ministry said the situation is under control but acknowledged that three people suspected of being infected with the virus fled Mubende’s isolation unit on Monday.

Officials say security has been beefed up since to avoid a repeat. 

Uganda’s Ebola outbreak was first detected last week in Mubende, a central district, but has since spread to neighboring districts Kyegegwa and Kasanda.  

Some schools in Kyegegwa have shut down for two weeks to protect students.

First reports of a possible Ebola outbreak came from Kyegegwa’s Kyaka 11 refugee camp, raising alarm bells of a possible quick spread in the packed camp.  

But testing ruled out an outbreak in the camp.  

After Mubende’s cases were confirmed, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency UNHCR said it added controlled entry measures at refugee settlements.

“We are stepping up some assistance programs that had been curtailed due to lack of funding since July,” said Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Uganda representative. “That is procurement of soap. You would agree with me, this is fundamental in curbing the spread of Ebola.”

Uganda has yet to identify the source of the Ebola outbreak, which is the Sudan strain of the virus.  

The Sudan strain is less common than the Zaire strain and has no current, effective vaccine.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak in 2019 was the Zaire strain.  It last reported a Sudan strain outbreak in 2012.

your ad here

Counter-drone Technology Stopping Malicious Drones from Doing Harm

As military and civilian drones become increasingly popular, there are growing concerns about the threats some of them may pose over places like airports, prisons, and electrical grids. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports on a company that has developed counter-drone technology that can identify and mitigate threats from malicious drones.
VIdeographer: Adam Greenbaum Produced by: Julie Taboh, Adam Greenbaum

your ad here

Ebola Cases, Fatalities Rise in Uganda

A highly contagious strain of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda is causing a quick and significant rise in the number of cases and fatalities, the World Health Organization said.

Uganda health officials declared an outbreak of Ebola a week ago. Five days later, on September 25, they confirmed the disease had infected 36 people, killing 23.

It is the first Ebola disease outbreak caused by the Sudan virus in Uganda since 2012. A vaccine is available to protect adults from becoming infected with the more common Zaire strain of Ebola. However, a similar vaccine does not exist for the Sudan virus.

Ana Marie Henao-Restrepo, WHO co-lead R & D Blueprint for epidemics in the Health Emergency Program, said several possible vaccines are under development.

“We have identified there are three candidate vaccines that have … clinical data, data from humans on safety and homogenicity. It is specifically designed to protect against the Sudan virus and that could be tested in a randomized trial in Uganda, if the Ugandan authorities decide to do so,” she said.

The Ebola virus is spread by contact with an infected patient’s blood or bodily fluids. The WHO reports the median age of cases in Uganda is 26, with 62 percent female and 38 percent male. The disease has a fatality rate of 41 percent.

WHO spokeswoman Carla Drysdale said WHO experts are working with Uganda’s experienced Ebola control teams to reinforce diagnosis, treatment and preventive measures.

“While there is no vaccine to treat Sudan Ebola virus, other health measures such as swift detection, community engagement, isolation of patients, and early supportive care have proven to save lives in similar outbreaks,” Drysdale said. “We must raise awareness in the community that seeking treatment early significantly increases chances of survival.”

While Uganda is struggling to prevent Ebola from spreading, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared on Tuesday the end of an Ebola outbreak, which emerged in North Kivu Province six weeks ago. North Kivu, which has a vaccine against the Zaire virus, experienced only one confirmed case of Ebola and no deaths.

your ad here

Meta Disables Russian Propaganda Network Targeting Europe

A sprawling disinformation network originating in Russia sought to use hundreds of fake social media accounts and dozens of sham news websites to spread Kremlin talking points about the invasion of Ukraine, Meta revealed Tuesday.

The company, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said it identified and disabled the operation before it was able to gain a large audience. Nonetheless, Facebook said it was the largest and most complex Russian propaganda effort that it has found since the invasion began.

The operation involved more than 60 websites created to mimic legitimate news sites including The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom and Germany’s Der Spiegel. Instead of the actual news reported by those outlets, however, the fake sites contained links to Russian propaganda and disinformation about Ukraine. More than 1,600 fake Facebook accounts were used to spread the propaganda to audiences in Germany, Italy, France, the U.K. and Ukraine.

The findings highlighted both the promise of social media companies to police their sites and the peril that disinformation continues to pose.

“Video: False Staging in Bucha Revealed!” claimed one of the fake news stories, which blamed Ukraine for the slaughter of hundreds of Ukrainians in a town occupied by the Russians.

The fake social media accounts were then used to spread links to the fake news stories and other pro-Russian posts and videos on Facebook and Instagram, as well as platforms including Telegram and Twitter. The network was active throughout the summer.

“On a few occasions, the operation’s content was amplified by the official Facebook pages of Russian embassies in Europe and Asia,” said David Agranovich, Meta’s director of threat disruption. “I think this is probably the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that we’ve disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine earlier this year.”

The network’s activities were first noticed by investigative reporters in Germany. When Meta began its investigation it found that many of the fake accounts had already been removed by Facebook’s automated systems. Thousands of people were following the network’s Facebook pages when they were deactivated earlier this year.

Researchers said they couldn’t directly attribute the network to the Russian government. But Agranovich noted the role played by Russian diplomats and said the operation relied on some sophisticated tactics, including the use of multiple languages and carefully constructed imposter websites.

Since the war began in February, the Kremlin has used online disinformation and conspiracy theories in an effort to weaken international support for Ukraine. Groups linked to the Russian government have accused Ukraine of staging attacks, blamed the war on baseless allegations of U.S. bioweapon development and portrayed Ukrainian refugees as criminals and rapists.

Social media platforms and European governments have tried to stifle the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation, only to see Russia shift tactics.

A message sent to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., asking for a response to Meta’s recent actions was not immediately returned.

Researchers at Meta Platforms Inc., which is based in Menlo Park, California, also exposed a much smaller network that originated in China and attempted to spread divisive political content in the U.S.

The operation reached only a tiny U.S. audience, with some posts receiving just a single engagement. The posts also made some amateurish moves that showed they weren’t American, including some clumsy English language mistakes and a habit of posting during Chinese working hours.

Despite its ineffectiveness, the network is notable because it’s the first identified by Meta that targeted Americans with political messages ahead of this year’s midterm elections. The Chinese posts didn’t support one party or the other but seemed intent on stirring up polarization.

“While it failed, it’s important because it’s a new direction” for Chinese disinformation operations, said Ben Nimmo, who directs global threat intelligence for Meta.

your ad here

Australia Played Role in NASA Asteroid Defense Test

NASA successfully crashed its DART spacecraft into a faraway asteroid Monday, in a test of the world’s first planetary defense system. The experiment, designed to avert a potentially catastrophic meteorite collision with Earth, was supported by Australia’s national science agency.

The aim was to crash the spacecraft directly into the moonlet hard enough to shift its orbital track around a second, larger asteroid.

It will, however, take days or even weeks to establish how much the smaller asteroid’s path has changed.

Rebecca Allen, from Australia’s Swinburne University’s Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the mission was a great success.

“It was incredible just because it was, you know, a full bullseye, if we can call it that,” she said. “You know, we were expecting maybe it could glance off the side. Is it going to hit exactly where they wanted to and once again NASA does not disappoint with the precision of the impact of the DART spacecraft.”

The DART mission has been supported by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

It manages the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, one of three stations around the world that make up NASA’s Deep Space Network and was to receive the final signals from the spacecraft as it approached and hit the asteroid known as Dimorphos.

Planetary defense experts have said that altering the course of a menacing asteroid or comet is preferable to blowing it up and creating multiple pieces that could rain down on Earth.

Australian astrophysicist Kirsten Banks said NASA’s DART mission will test our planetary defenses.

“It is going to change the orbit of that asteroid a little bit around the bigger one,” she said. “We will be able to see a slight change in the periods, how it takes that little moonlet to orbit around the asteroid and quantitatively measure the effectiveness of this particular method of planetary defense.”

The two asteroids that were part of NASA’s DART mission are both very small compared with the asteroid that hit Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out about 75% of the world’s plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

your ad here