Friday December 14, 2018

Assamese want recognition for their script in computer coding

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Guwahati: The rich history of Assam from the times of Brahmi script in Guptan times to the rock inscriptions and copper plates of fourth and fifth centuries has the ability to convince the US-based Unicode Consortium to give it a sperate slot for its script and remove computational intricacies in using it in the digital age.

The Unicode Consortium, that gives languages a set of universal characters for use in computers, identifies Assamese as another form of Bengali script, making its use difficult in the digital world.

The Assam government recently submitted to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that it is a historically evolved script with its own set of characters and symbols representing written texts. But the non-inclusion of this in Unicode and ISO standards has triggered problems in using the language in computers.

During the initial days of digital standards for the Indian Languages in the first Indian Script Code for Information Interchange (ISCII) released by BIS in December 1991, a clear mention was made of the Assamese script. The ISCII document released by BIS clearly mentioned that the northern scripts are Devnagari, Punjabi, Gujarati, Oriya, Bengali, and Assamese, while the southern scripts are Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tamil, an official said.

“However, in all subsequent standards like ISO and Unicode, Assamese script has not been included,” said the official, who is on the panel constituted by the Assam government to push its case for a separate slot on the Unicode, but who did not wish to be identified.

Literary bodies, academicians, and researchers in Assam had objected to the Unicode Consortium move and written to the union government. The Assam government was then asked to submit a detailed proposal that would subsequently be referred to the US body.

While literary bodies such as Asom Sahitya Sabha (ASS) had maintained that the Assamese language was being neglected, Satyakam Phukan, a surgeon who has researched the origin of the Assamese script, said it could be due to lack of knowledge of the US-body about the uniqueness of the script.

“The Assamese alphabets were not separately encoded by Unicode. Following their policy of unification, the Assamese script was eclipsed into Bengali. The uniqueness of the Assamese script was perhaps unknown to the mainly American experts of Unicode,” Phukan told IANS.

The Assam government’s proposal to BIS went deeper into the origin of the script to push for a separate slot for the local language.

“The Assamese script is one of the important scripts of Eastern India. Assamese script is originated from the Brahmi script of the Gupta age. Studies of the rock inscriptions and copper plate inscriptions of the 4th, 5th and later centuries, discovered in different parts of Assam, clearly indicate that the Assamese script is the evolutionary resultant of the scripts used in rock and copper plate inscriptions and other objects like coins and clay seals of Nalanda,” the Assam government’s proposal to the BIS said.

“The evolution of this Assamese script can be divided into three different stages: Old Assamese script or the Kamrupi script (4th/5th to 13th century); Medieval Assamese script (13th to early part of 19th century) and Modern script from the early part of the nineteenth century,” the proposal said.

It further said that the Assamese script started to take its modern form in the early part of the 13th century as evident from the Kanai-Barashibowa rock inscriptions in north Guwahati.

The script received its modern form when the missionaries started printed books and magazines in the early 19th century. The first printed book in Assamese was “Dharmapustak”, a translation of the Bible by Atmaram Sarma from Kaliabar in Assam, published in 1813.

“In the digital world, to use a language as the medium of information, we must have all the characters and symbols with proper codes. The Assamese script has got its own set of characters and symbols, and these are required to have assigned codes for proper usage in terms of computational tasks, application development etc. The language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

The Assamese language, a major Indian language recognized in the eighth schedule of the Constitution of India, has got its own script, the Assamese Script, having its own historical evolution,” the proposal mentioned.

Ranjan Kumar Baruah, a Guwahati-based social entrepreneur, said a separate slot for its script was necessary for promoting the language in the digital age.

“This is necessary at a time when our state government asked all business establishments, government and non-government organizations to use the local language in hoardings and banners and for other official purposes,” Baruah said.(IANS)

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The Secrets Of The North Korean Hacker Army

The last component would be for governments to codify what measures would be employed as proportional responses, should additional cyberattacks

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Hacking (representational Image), VOA

North Korean hackers continue to circumvent protections and compromise computer systems around the globe. Pyongyang’s cyber operatives, like the Lazarus Group, have been linked to computer system infiltrations like the 2014 Sony Pictures Studios hack prior to the release of the U.S. film “The Interview” and the attempted theft of close to $1 billion from the central Bangladesh bank using the SWIFT banking network in 2016.

But how did Pyongyang become so adept at hacking while not possessing rich resources and being under tough International sanctions?

Seungjoo Kim, a professor at Korea University’s Graduate School of Information Security says the answer, in part, is because North Korea’s computer hackers operate in China and Europe with easy access to the internet.

“North Korea practices their craft under real conditions, like hacking cryptocurrency sites or stealing information,” he said, “These repeated exercises help to improve their skills.”

As an instructor, Seungjoo Kim teaches his students how hackers invade other systems using traditional textbooks instruction. But without real-world trials, he says they can’t obtain the knowledge needed to test systems or prevent hostile attacks.

“Basically, you should teach basic computer knowledge, and then try to solve some hacking problems,” he said, adding that the best way to improve one’s computer infiltration skills is with real-time and real-world practice.

“North Korea acquires [their] knowledge by invading other systems,” said Kim.

He added that because North Korea can directly attack other countries, that effort has enabled Pyongyang to quickly develop their world-renowned hacking skills.

North Korea’s cyber army

Experts assert there are between 6,000 and 7,500 members of North Korea’s cyber army, split into a number of divisions to carry out cyberterrorism against state infrastructure, financial institutions, and the latest hijacking of defense technology.

Sony Pictures, North Korean, Computer
Pedestrians walk past an exterior wall of Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles, California, Dec. 4, 2014. That year, Sony became the victim of a cyber hack by North Korean operatives from the Lazarus Group. VOA

“North Korea was inspired by the Chinese cyberwar units and learned from them,” said NK Intellectuals Solidarity director Heung Kwan Kim, “Recognizing their power, North Korea set up the first unit within the central government in 1993.”

While Pyongyang’s Reconnaissance General Bureau is comprised of six divisions and overseas operations in South Korea, the United States, and Japan, it’s another bureau that is responsible for the bulk of North Korea’s cyber warfare.

“Unit 121 oversees Unit 180, Unit 91, and lab 110,” Heung Kwan Kim told VOA.

A 500-person strong Unit 121 was created in 1998, and in 2009 the group successfully carried out 77 attacks by overwhelming computer networks through unleashing an onslaught of Internet traffic.

This led Pyongyang to conclude that cyber-warfare was “the most suitable form of war” for North Korea in the modern era, according to Heung Kwan Kim.

Attacks continued throughout 2014, and in 2015. When North Korea reorganized their divisions, Unit 121 was given the mission of attacking a foreign nation’s infrastructure, such as transportation networks, telecommunications, gas, electric power, nuclear power, and aviation systems.

Bitcoin Price, Cryptocurrency surge, Computer
Bitcoins placed on dollar banknotes are seen in this illustration photo taken Nov. 6, 2017. Cryptocurrencies are attractive for North Korean hackers because they are difficult to trace back to their original owner. VOA

Unit 91’s focus was shifted to acquiring “advanced technologies needed for nuclear development and long-range missiles from developed countries.”

Finally, the role of Unit 180 was changed for it to target financial systems and to focus on block chain technology.

Cryptocurrency and blockchains

With international sanctions crippling Pyongyang’s coffers, Heung Kwan Kim said North Korea shifted their cyberattacks to private systems, rather than government networks, because the smaller entities weren’t as well protected.

“It’s a problem of North Korea’s high ability and low security,” he said.

The numerous attacks on small and private companies have led to allegations that Pyongyang is hacking into cryptocurrency exchanges to steal virtual money, like Bitcoin, said Seungjoo Kim. Stolen cryptocurrencies are attractive because they are difficult to trace back to their original owner.

In 2017, the North Korean hacking group Lazarus was accused of attacking South Korea cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb. The cyber thieves made off with nearly $7 million in digital currencies.

Bitcoin Price, Cryptocurrency surge, Computer
Experts: Cyber attacks Growing Increasingly Sophisticated. Pixabay

The hackers also obtained personal information of users stored on the compromised servers. The BBC reports North Korea was later able to ransom additional funds from the owners in exchange for deleting the data.

“Cryptocurrency is easy to steal because it moves in cyberspace,” said Seungjoo Kim.

He added, “To earn cryptocurrency in a legitimate way, cutting-edge computers are required, but North Korea doesn’t have them, so they attack computers abroad and hack mining programs.”

The hacked computers then send any virtual coins it uncovers to North Korean digital wallets they can convert to hard currency.

Also Read: $571 Mn In Cryptocurrency Stolen By North Korean Hacker Group

To curtail North Korea’s cyberattacks, he advocates a detente in the virtual world that’s similar to the easing of tensions taking place on the peninsula. However, that may be difficult, as it would require Pyongyang to admit it committed acts of cyberwarfare.

In addition, it would require “Russia and China not only participating in current real-world sanctions, cyber sanctions at the same time,” said Seungjoo Kim.

The last component, he said, would be for governments to codify what measures would be employed as proportional responses, should additional cyberattacks take place and prepare for those events. (VOA)