Topic 1: Commercial spyware
Why in news: A former Egyptian politician was targeted with Cytrox’s Predator spyware sent via links on SMS and WhatsApp.
What is spyware?
- Spyware is loosely defined as malicious software designed to enter a device, gather sensitive data, and forward it to a third party without the user’s consent.
- While spyware may be used for commercial purposes like advertising, malicious spyware is used to profit from data stolen from a victim’s device.
- Spyware is broadly categorised as:
- trojan spyware,
- tracking cookie, and
- system monitors.
- While each type of spyware gathers data for the author, system monitors and adware are more harmful as they may make modifications to a device’s software and expose the device to further threats.
What is commercial spyware?
- Opportunities for governments and law enforcement agencies to use spyware as part of legal investigations led to the development of commercial spyware.
- Commercial spyware mainly targets mobile platforms and can legitimately be used against criminals and terrorists.
- However, the lack of global regulations for companies developing spyware has led to their use by authoritarian governments to spy on political opponents.
- Commercial spyware, such as the Pegasus spyware from the NSO group, can reportedly not only mop up information from mobile devices but also turn on the camera and microphone without the owner’s knowledge, effectively turning handsets into a spying device.
Topic 2: Project Udbhav
Why in news: The Indian Army has started an initiative, named Project Udbhav.
- The project was started to rediscover the profound Indic heritage of statecraft and strategic thoughts derived from ancient Indian texts of statecraft, warcraft, diplomacy and grand strategy.
- This project is in collaboration with the United Service Institution of India (USI), a defence think-tank.
- The aim of Project Udbhav is not limited to just rediscovering these narratives, but also to develop an indigenous strategic vocabulary, which is deeply rooted in India’s multifaceted philosophical and cultural tapestry.
- The overall aim is to integrate age-old wisdom with modern military pedagogy.
- Project Udbhav began in the year 2021 and has already yielded a book listing seventy-five aphorisms selected from ancient texts offering valuable insights into India’s Strategic heritage.
Topic 3: Nobel Prize in Medicine 2023
Why in news: The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, whose work enabled the development of mRNA vaccines against Covid-19.
What is mRNA?
- RNA as a therapeutic was first promoted in 1989 after the development of a broadly applicable in vitro transfection technique.
- A couple of years later, mRNA was advocated as a vaccine platform.
- Once in the body, the mRNA instructs cells that take up the vaccine to produce proteins that may stimulate an immune response against these same proteins when they are present in intact viruses or tumour cells.
- When injected into a patient, the patient’s cells act as a manufacturing plant, producing perfect copies of the mutations for the immune system to recognise and destroy.
- Having been exposed to the mutations without the virus, the body learns to fight off the infection.
Contribution of Kariko and Weissman
- Karikó and Weissman realised that the problem with lab-grown genetically engineered mRNA is that the body’s dendritic cells recognise them as a foreign substance, and release inflammatory signaling molecules against them.
- The dendritic cells have important functions in immune surveillance and the activation of vaccine-induced immune response
- Karikó and Weissman knew that bases in RNA from mammalian cells are frequently chemically modified, while in vitro transcribed [or lab-created] mRNA is not.
- They wondered if the absence of altered bases in the in vitro transcribed RNA could explain the unwanted inflammatory reaction.
- To investigate this, they produced different variants of mRNA, each with unique chemical alterations in their bases, which they delivered to dendritic cells.
- The inflammatory response was almost abolished when base modifications were included in the mRNA.
Topic 4: Bihar caste survey
Why in news: The Bihar government has released the results of its survey of castes in the state.
- It puts the share of Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) cumulatively at more than 63%.
- The “unreserved” category of so-called “forward” castes is about 15.5%.
- Nationwide data on caste numbers were last released after the census of 1931.
Key findings of the Bihar caste survey
- Caste-wise distribution:
- The EBCs are the biggest social group comprising 36.01% of the state’s population.
- The OBCs comprised 27.12% and the Scheduled Castes (SCs) 19.65%.
- Scheduled Tribes (STs) comprised only 1.68%, the bulk of the tribal population having become part of Jharkhand after the bifurcation of the state in 2000.
- The “unreserved” category comprises 15.52%.
- Religion-wise distribution:
- Hindus comprise 81.99% of the population
- Muslims comprise 17.72%.
- The populations of Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and other religious denominations are minuscule.
When and how was the survey undertaken?
- It was announced on June 1, 2022 that all nine parties, had unanimously decided to go ahead with the “caste census”.
- The government subsequently allocated Rs 500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise.
- In the first phase of the survey, the number of households was counted.
- The second phase, was intended to collect data on castes, religions, and economic backgrounds, as well as on aspects such as the number of family members living in the state and outside.
- More than 3 lakh people, mainly teachers, went from door to door with a 17-question form on caste, religion, and economic status.
- An app was used to collect the data for tabulation and processing.
Significance of the Bihar caste survey findings
- The survey results will amplify the clamour for increasing the OBC quota beyond 27%, and for a quota within quota for the EBCs.
- The Bihar survey may well push other states to carry out similar exercises.
- The survey data will also reopen the longstanding debate over the 50% ceiling on reservation imposed by the Supreme Court in its landmark ruling in Indra Sawhney v Union of India (1992).
- The ceiling was imposed to ensure “efficiency” in administration, and courts have since blocked several attempts by states to breach it.
What kind of caste data is published in the Census?
- Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes.
- Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste.
- However, in 1941, caste-based data was collected but not published.
- In the absence of such a census, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, various groups within the OBCs, and others.
- The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%, some other estimates have been based on National Sample Survey data.
Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC)
- With an approved cost of Rs 4,893.60 crore, the SECC was conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development in rural areas and the Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation in urban areas.
- The SECC data excluding caste data was finalised and published by the two ministries in 2016.
- The raw caste data was handed over to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which formed an Expert Group for classification and categorisation of data.
- It is not clear whether it submitted its report; no such report has been made public.