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30th July – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. A quest for order amid cyber insecurity
  2. A home for tiger
  3. Perseverance: NASA’s mission explained
  4. Aerial seeding in Aravalli regions
  5. Cryptocurrency poses a threat to govt’s monopoly

A QUEST FOR ORDER AMID CYBER INSECURITY

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

In one week reportedly, there were over 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19 monitored by a single email provider, in addition to more than 240 million COVID-19-related daily spam messages.

State Role

  • There is rising concern about concern about the role of states – when Australia mentioned of attacks by a state actor and China has been accused of hacking health-care institutions in the United States working on novel coronavirus treatment.
  • The United Kingdom has warned of hackers backed by the Russian state targeting pharmaceutical companies conducting COVID-19 vaccine research.
  • The ban on specified Chinese Apps, on grounds that they are “engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India” adds another layer of complexity to the contestation in cyberspace.

No global commons

  • Borderless cyberspace, as a part of the “global commons” does not exist.
  • The Internet depends on physical infrastructure that is under national control, and hence is subject to border controls too.
  • Each state applies its laws to national networks, consistent with its international commitments.
  • States are responsible for cybersecurity, enforcement of laws and protection of public good.
  • States are responsible for their actions, as well as for actions taken from within their sovereign territory.
  • Many networks are private, with objectives differing from those of states. Nevertheless, states alone have the rights of oversight.

Gaps in current processes

  • It was in 1998 that Russia inscribed the issue of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in international security on the UN agenda.
  • Since then six Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) with two-year terms and limited membership have functioned — the most on any issue at the United Nations. In addition, an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) began in 2019 with a similar mandate.
  • While terrorism and crime are acknowledged as important, discussion on issues such as Internet governance, development, espionage, and digital privacy has not been focused on, as ostensibly best done in other UN bodies.

More engagement needed

  • Generally, the growth of technology, including cyberspace, is way ahead of the development of associated norms and institutions.
  • Despite the digital divide, the next billion smart phone users will include a significant number from India.
  • As India’s cyber footprint expands, so will space for conflicts and crimes.

India’s footprint

  • India is a very active nodal agency for cybersecurity in the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • India has had representatives on five of the six GGEs. India also participates actively at the OEWG.

Way Forward

  • The next phase in an increasingly contested and fragmenting domain requires better arrangements and more intense partnerships, but with more safeguards.
  • Domestically, we need the clarity that adoption of a data protection legislation will bring. Globally, we need to partake in shaping cybernorms.
  • Acceding to the Budapest Convention, or Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe (CETS No.185), which started as a European initiative but has attracted others, is an option that India can examine.
  • India needs to encourage our private sector to get involved more in industry-focused processes.
  • In preparation for the larger role that cyberspace will inevitably play in Indian lives, we need a deeper public understanding of its various dimensions.

-Source: The Hindu


A HOME FOR TIGER

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Introduction

  • India’s tiger census revealed that the country is home to nearly 3,000 of these big cats.
  • That was rightly considered a significant achievement given that India’s tiger population had come down to around 1,400 in 2006 and the animal had been completely wiped out of reserves such as Sariska.

Then what is the issue?

  • Seventeen of India’s 50 tiger reserves are approaching their peak carrying capacity.
  • Nearly a third of the country’s tigers today live outside protected areas (PA). As these carnivores spill out of the national parks, they come into proximity with human settlements.
  • This is a major reason for the rise in human-animal conflicts in the past five years.

Understanding the situation

  • Male tigers require a range of 70-150 square km and females need about 20-60 sq km.
  • The animal is highly territorial and does not like sharing space with even its siblings or cubs.
  • When it is about a year-and-a-half old, a tiger begins its search for territory.
  • When it cannot find space in a PA, the adolescent either moves out or forces an ageing tiger out of the reserve.
  • The itinerant animal is confronted with a shortage of prey and the big cat is forced to shed its natural reticence towards humans and stalks farms and villages for livestock.
  • Tigers do not have a natural propensity to attack humans.

Way forward

  • Experts suggest that the problem of plenty can be solved by relocating some tigers from places whose carrying capacity is challenged to ones that have scope to host more animals.
  • As the country celebrates its conservation success, policymakers and scientists will have to put their heads together to devise more creative solutions and find homes for the increasing number of tigers.

Click Here to read more about the Tiger Census and Tiger Reserves

-Source: Indian Express


PERSEVERANCE: NASA’S MISSION EXPLAINED

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Introduction

  • NASA’s incredible journey of driving on Mars started about 23 years ago, in 1997: when the Mars Pathfinder Mission with the Sojourner rover egressed on the Martian soil.
  • NASA went on to send the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to Mars in 2003, followed by Curiosity in 2012, followed by Perseverance which scheduled to launch soon.

Why rovers?

  • Rovers provide a way to study the local area in much higher resolution than is possible from an orbiting spacecraft.
  • In addition, rovers have a suite of instruments from drills to spectrometers to microscopic imagers: these instruments help understand the local geology much like a field geologist would study rocks on Earth.
  • In addition, starting with Spirit and Opportunity, rovers have acted as mobile weather stations on Mars that monitor changes in the Martian atmosphere continuously over multiple years.

What is new with Perseverance?

  • First, Perseverance will carry a unique instrument, MOXIE or Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment: which for the first time will manufacture molecular oxygen on Mars using carbon dioxide from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere.
  • There is the new push for ISRU at NASA: in NASA jargon, ISRU means In Situ Resource Utilization: or the use of local resources to meet human needs or requirements of the spacecraft.
  • Perseverance will carry Ingenuity, the first ever helicopter to fly on Mars.
  • Ingenuity is a technology demonstration: the challenge, of course, is to fly the helicopter in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
  • Mars helicopter can help in rover drive planning and in fetching samples from locations that the rover cannot safely drive to.
  • Perseverance is the planned first step to bring back rock samples from Mars for analysis in sophisticated laboratories on Earth: with the goal of looking for biosignatures: or signatures of present or past life.

Why oxygen extraction is important?

  • If astronauts have to carry oxygen or water or rocket fuel for their journey for a two-year journey to Mars and back, the cost will be understandably excessive.
  • If oxygen can be successfully extracted on Mars in some significant scale, this can have two direct advantages:
  • The oxygen can be used for human visitors to Mars.
  • The oxygen can be used to manufacture rocket fuel for the return journey.

What is the reason for the near-term interest in Mars?

  • Mars, the Red Planet, has several Earth-like features– such as clouds, polar ice caps, canyons, volcanoes, and seasonal weather patterns.
  • For ages, scientists have wondered whether Mars can support life.
  • In the past few years, Mars missions have been able to discover the possible presence of liquid water on the planet, either in the subsurface today or at some point in its past.
  • Another significant point is: exploration of Mars will pave the way for other missions to planets farther away and hence are very important for the future missions.
  • In the near term, the increase in interest related to Mars is because of Elon Musk’s plans for commercial travel.
  • A human mission to Mars has always been an aspiration for different space agencies including NASA.
  • Though technologically possible, the cost was known to be prohibitive, hence, NASA’s plans to send astronauts to Mars have been, in large part, aspirational: in other words, without adequate funding.

-Source: Indian Express


AERIAL SEEDING IN ARAVALLI REGIONS

Focus: GS-III Agriculture

Introduction

  • The Haryana Forest Department has started aerial seeding across the state on a pilot basis, with the drive touching the Aravalli region.
  • This technique will allow plantation in sections of the Aravallis that are either difficult to access or inaccessible altogether, and the pilot project will help determine the effectiveness of the technology and the dispersal mechanism.

What is aerial seeding?

Aerial seeding is a technique of plantation wherein seed balls – seeds covered with a mixture of clay, compost, char and other components – are sprayed on the ground using aerial devices, including planes, helicopters or drones.

How does this technique work?

  • Seeds balls or seed pellets are dispersed in a targeted area by the low-flying drones, falling to the ground with the help of the coating of clay, compost, char and other material, that provides the required weight for seeds to drop on a predetermined location rather than disperse in the wind.
  • These pellets will then sprout when there is enough rain, with the nutrients present within them helping in the initial growth.

What are the advantages of this technique?

  • Areas that are inaccessible, have steep slopes, are fragmented or disconnected with no forest routes, making conventional plantation difficult, can be targeted with aerial seeding.
  • Furthermore, the process of the seed’s germination and growth is such that it requires no attention after it is dispersed – the reason why seed pellets are known as the “fire and forget” way of plantation.
  • They eliminate the need for ploughing and digging holes in the soil and the seeds do not need to be planted, since they are already surrounded by soil, nutrients, and microorganisms.
  • The clay shell of these pellets along with the other items in the mixture also protects them from birds, ants and rats.

What kind of species can be dispersed using aerial seeding?

The species selected have to be native to the area and hardy, with seeds that are of an appropriate size for preparing seedballs, and have to have a higher survival percentage.

-Source: Indian Express


CRYPTOCURRENCY POSES A THREAT TO GOVT’S MONOPOLY

Focus: GS-III Indian Economy, Science and Technology

Introduction

There has been growing interest in cryptocurrencies since Bitcoin captured the imagination of people.

How do you define cryptocurrencies?

  • Cryptocurrencies are e-currencies that are based on decentralized technology and operate on a distributed public ledger called the blockchain.
  • Blockchain records all transactions updated and held by currency holders.
  • The technology allows people to make payments and store money digitally without having to use their names or a financial intermediary such as banks.
  • Cryptocurrency units such as Bitcoin are created through a ‘mining’ process which involves using a computer to solve numerical problems that generate coins.
  • Bitcoin was one of the first cryptocurrencies to be launched and was created in 2009.

How are they different from actual currency?

  • The Main difference is that unlike actual currencies cryptocurrencies are not issued by Governments.
  • Actual money is created or printed by the government which has a monopoly in terms of issuing currency. Central banks across the world issue paper notes and therefore create money and assign paper notes their value.
  • Money created through this process derives its value via government fiat, which is why the paper currency is also called fiat currency.
  • In the case of cryptocurrencies, the process of creating the currency is not monopolized as anyone can create it through the mining process.

How do cryptocurrencies derive their value?

  • Any currency has its value if it can be exchanged for goods or services and if it is a store of value (it can maintain purchasing power over time).
  • Cryptocurrencies, in contrast to fiat currencies, derive their value from exchanges.
  • The extent of involvement of the community in terms of demand and supply of cryptocurrencies helps determine their value.

What is behind the cryptocurrency ban?

  • While some governments have recognized the potential of the technology underlying cryptocurrencies, most remain sceptical and several have banned them.
  • Regulators fear that Bitcoin and the others could be used to circumvent capital controls or launder money.
  • They can be used for illegal purchases or for other criminal activity. Several regulators have discussed their systemic concerns—they could destabilize or undermine the control of central banks on their respective economies.

Will the Govt. control of money end as a result?

  • The present structure of the global financial system puts central banks at its center, making them an integral part of economies. This happens through the sovereign’s monopoly on issuing fiat currency.
  • Governments, central banks are unlikely to let go of the state’s monopoly to issue currency while they use regulation to ban or discourage cryptocurrency use.

-Source: Livemint

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