Pakistan mulls WhatsApp alternative to thwart data breach

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In this file photo, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan chairs meeting of the Federal Cabinet at Islamabad on Nov. 5, 2019. (PID)
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Pakistan is planning to introduce intranet in government offices and develop a local alternative to WhatsApp to protect the official data from being hacked. (Shutterstock)
Updated 22 November 2019

Pakistan mulls WhatsApp alternative to thwart data breach

  • All government functionaries, including president and prime minister, will use a local app from next June
  • Government in the process of banning senior government, military officials from using WhatsApp to share any classified information

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Pakistan is trying to develop a local instant messaging application to protect official data and sensitive information from hackers and hostile intelligence agencies, senior government officials said on Thursday, as the government of the South Asian nation considers banning senior government and military officials from using WhatsApp at official premises.
Last month, officials at Whatsapp told media senior government officials in multiple US-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp to take over users’ phones. Victims belonged to the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mexico, Pakistan, India and other nations.
“We have been working to improve our cyber security and develop a messaging application like WhatsApp for government officials,” Dr. Arslan Khalid, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News. “This local application will help us protect sensitive government data and other classified information from hostile spying agencies and hackers.”
Pakistan is ranked among the top seven countries for inadequate cyber security, with 25 percent of its mobile phones and 14.8 percent of computers infected with malware, according to a study conducted by technology site Comparitech.
Authorities have proposed introducing intranet in government offices and developing a local alternative to WhatsApp after NSO – an Israeli spyware firm – was sued by WhatsApp/Facebook on October 29 for “violating both the US and California laws as well as the WhatsApp terms of service.”
A special type of malware named “Pegasus” was employed, reportedly between 28 April and 10 May 2019, which affected approximately 1400 senior government and military officials in twenty countries including Pakistan.
“The malware is capable of infecting any mobile phone [iOS and Android] only by generating a missed call on the targeted WhatsApp number,” a special advisory issued by the Ministry of Information Technology earlier this month said.
The advisory, a copy of which is available with Arab News, directed senior government officials holding “sensitive portfolios and dealing with national security matters” to consider that “no official/classified information be shared on WhatsApp or similar applications” for security reasons.

In order to minimize the possibility of any infections by Pegasus malware, the ministry also directed government functionaries to immediately replace all mobile phones purchased prior to 10 May 2019.
Against this backdrop, the government has started developing an intra-communication system, a WhatsApp-like service, to ensure “no data leaves GoP [Government of Pakistan] data centers.”
“It will be an official channel of communication which will provide an interlink to all federal ministries to share official documents,” Ali Khan Jadoon, a ruling party lawmaker and chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology, told Arab News.
Under the new system, any government official using the local area network would not be able to use WhatsApp, Facebook messenger and other social media platforms.
“This network will have the ministry of defense, interior and others on it since we don’t want any sensitive information to be leaked,” Jadoon added, saying each government official would have a unique ID to use the system and anyone trying to leak information would be identifiable with their ID.
He said the application, which costs round Rs1.3 billion ($8.37 million), would be launched by June 2020: “Everyone will be on this [application] including the president and the prime minister.”
The National Information Technology Board (NITB) is also implementing an e-government program in all federal ministries to protect official data and sensitive information from leaking to hackers or hostile intelligence agencies.
“We have so far completed our work in 28 ministries out of 42, and the remaining will also be converted to an e-government program by June next year,” Faisal Iqbal, director-general NITB, told Arab News.
Asked about rumors that the government may curb freedom of speech and freedom of expression by expanding the local instant messaging app to the public, just as it happened in China, Dr. Arslan Khalid said the government wanted to protect official data only.
“We are not planning to restrict the public use of social media or curtail freedom of expression. All these rumors are baseless,” he said. “Even government employees can use WhatsApp and any other social media platforms for personal interaction once they are outside of their public offices.”


Pakistan court ends controversy, rules senate polls to be held through secret ballot 

Updated 17 min 51 sec ago

Pakistan court ends controversy, rules senate polls to be held through secret ballot 

  • Supreme court asks election commission to use technology to check for corruption in elections
  • Senate elections for 48 seats are scheduled to be held on March 3 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled on Monday that upcoming senate elections would continue to be held through a secret ballot as per the constitution, but directed the election commission to use technology to check against corrupt practices in the polls.
The court’s 4:1 verdict came in response to a presidential reference filed on December 23, 2020 seeking the court’s opinion on whether voting in senate elections could be held through an open ballot.
“It is the duty of the Election Commission of Pakistan [...] to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly, and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against,” the court said in its order.
Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan said it was now up to the election commission to select what method to use in the upcoming elections to check corruption.
“The ECP is bound to investigate and trace the ballot to see whether any corrupt practice occurred,” he said in a statement after the verdict, adding that the election commission was “constitutionally bound” to follow the opinion of the Supreme Court and implement it without any amendments to existing rules or legislation.
Senate elections are scheduled to be held on March 3 for 48 seats. Each member of the Upper House of the Parliament is elected for a six-year term. Half of the senate members retire after every three years and new one are elected. The house has equal representation from all four provinces.
The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has argued that open balloting would introduce transparency into a voting process that has long been plagued by irregularities, with national and provincial lawmakers accused of selling their votes.
Leaders of an 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), have opposed the government’s move to try to hold senate elections through an open ballot, and one of the major parties in the alliance, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the Election Amendment Ordinance 2021.
Opposition parties on Monday hailed Monday’s verdict as a victory for law and justice.
“The Supreme Court’s judgment has established the supremacy of the constitution,” Pakistan Peoples Party, a major opposition party, said in a statement.


Pakistan’s schools resume regular classes after drop in COVID-19 cases 

Updated 01 March 2021

Pakistan’s schools resume regular classes after drop in COVID-19 cases 

  • Use of face masks, social distancing and other anti-virus measures still applicable, officials say
  • Nearly 1,400 new cases reported on Monday compared to a peak of over 6,800 cases in June last year 

ISLAMABAD: Schools across Pakistan resumed regular classes for five days a week starting from Monday after the country of 220 million witnessed a decline in COVID-19 infections and deaths in recent weeks.
Announcing the move in a tweet on Feb. 26, the education ministry said: “All schools will go back to regular classes from 1st March.”
It also reiterated that the use of face masks, social distancing measures and hand washing techniques would continue to be applicable.


In March last year, Pakistan had shut down all educational institutions to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
However, citing a drop in the daily cases of coronavirus, authorities decided to reopen the schools in a phased manner a few months later.
Pakistan has reported a similar trend in recent weeks, with 1,392 new infections recorded on Monday compared to a peak of more than 6,800 daily cases in June last year.
As of Monday, the total tally stood at 581,365 cases of the coronavirus, with 12,896 deaths recorded.
Last week, Pakistan relaxed its time limits for amusement parks and commercial activities and allowed offices to resume work with 50 percent staff capacity.
Meanwhile, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, said last week that cinemas and shrines would be allowed to reopen from March 15 as well, as long the anti-coronavirus checks are in place.
“Wearing of mask, social distancing, smart lockdowns will continue and will be ensured,” the NCOC said on Feb. 24.


In another winning chase, Afridi, Wiese lead Lahore to victory

Updated 19 min 21 sec ago

In another winning chase, Afridi, Wiese lead Lahore to victory

  • Karachi had a sniff of victory when Lahore required 30 off the last two overs 
  • The win pushed Lahore to the top of the points table alongside Peshawar Zalmi 

KARACHI: Shaheen Afridi’s ferocious pace and David Wiese’s late charge spurred Lahore Qalandars to a six-wicket win over defending champion Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League on Sunday.
Afridi returned figures of 3-27, with his bowling reaching speeds of 94 mph (around 150 kph). That helped to restrict Karachi to 186-9 despite half centuries by Sharjeel Khan (64) and Afghanistan’s Mohammad Nabi (57).
Wiese’s blistering 31 not out off nine balls carried Lahore to 189-4 in 19.2 overs in reply as the tall South African clubbed two successive sixes against Australian fast bowler Daniel Christian to finish off the game.
Karachi had a sniff of victory when Lahore required 30 off the last two overs. But Mohammad Amir’s 19th over went for 20 with Wiese getting two fortunate edges to the boundary and then lofting the fast bowler over long off for a six.
“To be honest, I always felt we were in with a shout in that situation,” Wiese said.
“Sometimes you smash it straight to the fielder, so those little nicks count. We’ve seen toward the back end it’s difficult to defend here with one short boundary.”
Fakhar Zaman scored a brilliant 83 off 54 balls and Ben Dunk remained unbeaten on 57 after Lahore had slipped to 0-2 in the first over and then also lost key batsman Mohammad Hafeez for 15 inside the batting powerplay.
Both left-handers shared a 119-run stand before Zaman holed out in the deep in the 18th over. But Wiese’s late onslaught carried the team home.
Afridi could have picked up five wickets but Lahore skipper Sohail Akhtar, who won the toss and didn’t hesitate to field, dropped a sitter from Khan in the first over.
Babar Azam (5) was clean bowled by Afridi in his second over but only after Zaman failed to hold onto a sharp chance offered by Pakistan’s premier batsman, who went to cut Afridi’s short-of-length delivery.
Afridi pegged back Karachi’s hopes of going closer to 200 runs when he clean bowled Waqas Maqsood and Amir off vicious yorkers in the last over.
“They shouldn’t have chased it down, but credit goes to Fakhar and David Wiese how they played,” said Karachi captain Imad Wasim, who surprisingly did not bowl. “At the end, we should have scored 40 or 50 off the last four overs but we couldn’t because of some bad shots and runouts.”
It was the 11th straight successful chase in this season’s PSL with no team yet to defend the total after being put into bat by the opposition.
The win pushed Lahore to the top of the points table alongside Peshawar Zalmi with both teams on six points after four games. Karachi has four points. 


Pakistan keeps petrol prices unchanged despite global rate hike

Updated 28 February 2021

Pakistan keeps petrol prices unchanged despite global rate hike

  • Oil regulatory body recommended prices of petroleum products be increased to between Rs6 and Rs7 per liter
  • Suggestion rejected by Prime Minister Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday turned down a proposal by the country’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) to increase prices of petroleum products, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill said in a tweet.
According to a document, also shared by Gill on his Twitter, the OGRA had recommended that the prices of petrol, high speed diesel, kerosene and light diesel be increased by various amounts between Rs6 and Rs7 per liter.
“...Prime Minister Imran Khan did not accept this proposal. There has been no increase in the prices of petroleum products. Despite the continuous rise in the prices of petroleum products in the world market, the prime minister did not allow it,” Gill tweeted.
The new prices would have been effective from March 1. Prices are generally revised every 15 days.
Earlier this month too, the regulatory authority had proposed an increase in petroleum prices but Khan turned the suggestion down. This was a break from continuous price hikes for the last five consecutive fortnights and came despite an increase in global oil prices over the last two weeks.


Malala dreams of a 'true friendship' between Pakistan and India

Updated 28 February 2021

Malala dreams of a 'true friendship' between Pakistan and India

  • Malala was speaking on the last day of during the Jaipur Literature Festival
  • For the first time in six years, the event welcomed Pakistani participants

ISLAMABAD: Nobel Prize winning activist Malala Yousafzai on Sunday said her dream was to see India and Pakistan become "true, good friends."
Ties between Pakistan and India have been shaped by a bitter rivalry and armed conflict since the partition of British-ruled India into Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India in 1947.
Malala was speaking during a session on her latest book, "We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World," on the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which was held online this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Malala Yousafzai speaks to editor and writer Pragya Tiwari during a Jaipur Literature Festival (JIF) on Sunday, February 28, 2021. (Photo courtesy: JIF)

For the first time in six years, the literary event known as the "greatest literary show on Earth" welcomed Pakistani participants, who for its earlier editions faced difficulties in obtaining Indian visas.
"It is my dream to see India and Pakistan become true good friends," Malala said in a session moderated by New Delhi-based editor and writer Pragya Tiwari.
"You are Indian and I am Pakistani and we are completely fine, then why is this hatred created between us?"
"This old philosophy of borders, divisions and divide and conquer ... they just don’t work anymore," she said. "As humans, we all want to live in peace."
The 14th edition of the Indian literary event that normally attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to its venue in the 19th-century Diggi Palace Hotel in Jaipur, had among its speakers Douglas Stuart, the winner the 2020 Booker Prize, and prominent American social scientist and linguist Noam Chomsky.
From Pakistan, besides Malala, the JLF sessions also welcomed novelists Moni Mohsin, H.M. Naqvi, and political scientist Ishtiaq Ahmed.