AFP developing encryption capability for classified comms

MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday said it is now in the process of developing its “end-to-end encryption” capability as part of the efforts to ensure that its classified communications are protected from interference.

“Right now we are developing the ‘end-to-end encryption’ capability because we are now also developing our cyber-capability, we have just activated AFP Cyber Group and the Major Services, the Army, Air Force, Navy have also activated their own cyber units and all of these are geared towards enhancing beefing up our cyber communications’ defense and security capability,” AFP chief-of-staff, Gen. Gilbert Gapay said in an online forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).

This is in response to questions on whether the AFP sees the presence of Dito Telecommunity towers and equipment in military camps as security risks.

End-to-end encryption refers to a form of communication where only the communicating users can read the messages and prevent eavesdroppers from intercepting or decoding the information.

“We made some risk assessment as far as security is concerned and based on our studies the (setting up) of Dito, of some of their communication facilit(ies), towers in camps and installations of the AFP pose no security threat,” Gapay said.

Also, he added jamming, eavesdropping, and disruption of data can be done anywhere in the globe.

“One advantage of having (these) facilit(ies) by Dito inside camps is we could monitor them closely, because once they are here inside for example in Camp Aguinaldo, we could inspect them anytime, we could check what equipment they’re (going to) put up, we can enlist third party (firm or audit team) to see what kind of equipment, software, hardware, they are (installing),” Gapay said.

This includes personnel tasked to man these facilities, he added.

Gapay said the same security process was adopted when Globe and Smart made a similar agreement with the AFP.

“We adopted the same criteria when we allowed Globe and Smart to also locate some of their towers and facilities inside (our) camps,” he added.

Also, Gapay said the AFP is only using commercial communications systems when passing unclassified information, adding a more secure platform is in use when communicating classified information.

Also, he added Dito is proposing to co-locate in 22 military camps and installations and that their applications would have to undergo a thorough evaluation.

“So there are still, two, three steps before finally they could put up facilities inside camp(s), just like the process we adopted when we allowed Globe and Smart to (co-locate) inside military bases,” Gapay said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said all Dito Telecommunity equipment and facilities will be placed in locations where local carriers, Smart and Globe, are also located, based on a similar Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed by these telecommunication firms.

Dito was conferred with the status of New Major Player in the telecommunications industry by the National Telecommunications Commission on Nov. 19, 2018.

The AFP and Dito Telecommunity signed the co-location MOA in September 2019.

Based on the agreement, the AFP will determine specific locations with its rental value for use of Dito Telecommunity in the installation and management of its communications sites without undermining the operations of affected AFP units.

The telecommunication firm is also required to “furnish all equipment, labor, and materials necessary to effect the co-location of its facilities and shoulders all expenses in connection with or incidental to the co-location” and payment of all taxes, permits, licenses, and other charges. (PNA)

DOST chief cites practical uses of science & technology

DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña (Photo courtesy of DOST)

MANILA — The National Science and Technology Week (NSTW) will be observed virtually in November, and Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Fortunato de la Peña is hoping the public would still see S&T’s practical uses via online activities the agency would prepare.

“It is a big challenge for us in DOST to continue the annual NSTW celebration because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite not having the traditional in person celebration for this year, we are very optimistic that by conducting it in a virtual mode, still, many Filipinos across the country would learn and understand the crucial roles of science, technology, and innovation in improving our lives, especially during this time of pandemic,” he told the Philippine News Agency on Friday.

Through webinars and virtual exhibits, he said many people would see the practical uses or benefits of various products and services developed by Filipino scientists and researchers, particularly in providing timely and appropriate solutions to existing challenges.

“We have designed the virtual exhibit similar to what we have done before. We will have a convention-type lobby where an information guide is provided so that visitors will be able to navigate around the virtual exhibits.” de la Peña said.

The exhibit area would have four clusters, featuring technologies anchored on the four Ks: Kalusugan (health), Kaayusan (order), Kabuhayan (livelihood), and Kinabukasan (future). Five technologies will be featured per theme, according to de la Peña.

For each technology, pictures of products will be digitally presented through videos and 360-degree presentations. The technology developers will also be available to answer questions, he said.

Aside from exhibits, there will be interactive games and photo booths to make the visit more interesting to viewers.

As for the webinars, the DOST chief said the four Ks will also be the highlighted topics. There will be different topics or activities via webinars organized by different DOST agencies and regional offices. Among these topics are remote learning experiences, Covid-19 mitigation, and other DOST programs and services, including those that involve livelihood and business, safety, health, education, and community development.

The webinars can be viewed on the DOST’s website, as well as its Facebook page during the event proper from November 23-29.

“I am inviting the public, especially the students, to participate in the NSTW celebration. We have prepared many things to help them understand and feel the role of S&T in everyday life, especially during this pandemic,” he said.

De la Peña is also encouraging everyone to visit the event’s website, to get more details. (PNA)

PLDT assures stable internet connection during maintenance works

MANILA – Telecommunications firm PLDT has assured its subscribers that internet connection would be stable during the emergency maintenance works of the Asia-America Gateway (AAG), one of its international cable systems.

“We’re keeping you connected to ensure that you and your family continue to enjoy the strongest connections at home,” PLDT said in an advisory on its Facebook page Thursday night.

It said it has put in place initiatives to reroute affected internet traffic to PLDT’s other international cable systems.

“Rest assured, PLDT and Smart have enough capacity to serve the internet needs of the Philippines,” it said. Its customers can still do video and voice calls for work and school, the telecoms firm added.

In an updated advisory, it said the AAG would conduct maintenance activities from September 26 at 9 a.m. to Sept. 30 at 5 a.m. (PNA)

AFP, Facebook PH meet to counter online terrorism

MANILA – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff, Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, and Facebook Head of Public Policy in the Philippines, Claire Amador on Wednesday met virtually to discuss a possible partnership in preventing terrorists’ exploitation of the internet.

Amador and her team reached out to Gapay in August to set the virtual courtesy call and share Facebook’s global efforts to counter terrorism and deal with harmful content on the platform.

Facebook is a member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) established in 2017 and is now a consortium of companies dedicated to eliminate terrorist abuse of members’ digital platforms.

“We laud and express gratitude to the members of the GIFCT, including Facebook, for stepping up in its self-regulation initiatives that target the dissemination of extremist propaganda, including photos and videos of terrorist violence. We likewise in the security sector shall extend any assistance as needed and our lines of cooperation shall always be open,” Gapay said in a statement.

According to the AFP, there have been many documented cases of social media being used by terror groups as tools to advance their campaigns. It cited the war against the Daesh in the Middle East and the country’s own experience in fighting terrorists in Marawi City proved the potential of social networks as a conduit for the fast spread of violent extremism and terrorist propaganda.

Meanwhile, the Facebook team shared the nine-point plan being implemented by the GIFCT to prevent terrorist exploitation of the internet while respecting human rights and freedom of speech.

“We seek an open and above-board partnership with social networking sites to prevent and counter the spread of violent extremism, without curtailing the rights of users to free expression and information,” Gapay added.

Facebook Philippines currently has partnerships with other government agencies for its endeavors on child safety, education, human rights, elections, and law enforcement. It recently met with representatives from the Department of National Defense and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency to discuss matters on counterterrorism. (PNA) (IA/DS)

Discovery of a druggable pocket in the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein could stop virus in its tracks

By University of Bristol

A druggable pocket in the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein that could be used to stop the virus from infecting human cells has been discovered by an international team of scientists led by the University of Bristol. The researchers say their findings, published today in the journal Science, are a potential ‘game changer’ in defeating the current pandemic and add that small molecule anti-viral drugs developed to target the pocket they discovered could help eliminate COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 is decorated by multiple copies of a glycoprotein, known as the ‘Spike protein’, which plays an essential role in viral infectivity. Spike binds to the human cell surface, allowing the virus to penetrate the cells and start replicating, causing widespread damage.

Prof. Imre Berger | Video credit: University of Bristol
Prof. Imre Berger | Credit: University of Bristol

In this ground-breaking study, the team headed by Professor Christiane Schaffitzel from Bristol’s School of Biochemistry and Professor Imre Berger from the Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology, used a powerful imaging technique, electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM), to analyse SARS-CoV-2 Spike at near atomic resolution. Enabled by Oracle high-performance cloud computing, a 3-D structure of SARS CoV-2 Spike protein was generated allowing the researchers to peer deep inside the Spike identifying its molecular composition.

A new drug target in the fight against COVID-19. Credit: University of Bristol

Unexpectedly, the research team’s analysis revealed the presence of a small molecule, linoleic acid (LA), buried in a tailor-made pocket within the Spike protein. LA is a free fatty acid, which is indispensable for many cellular functions. The human body cannot produce LA. Instead, the body absorbs this essential molecule through diet. Intriguingly, LA plays a vital role in inflammation and immune modulation, which are both key elements of COVID-19 disease progression. LA is also needed to maintain cell membranes in the lungs so that we can breathe properly.

Prof. Christiane Schaffitzel | Video credit: University of Bristol
Prof. Christiane Schaffitzel | Credit: University of Bristol

Professor Berger said: “We were truly puzzled by our discovery, and its implications. So here we have LA, a molecule which is at the centre of those functions that go haywire in COVID-19 patients, with terrible consequences. And the virus that is causing all this chaos, according to our data, grabs and holds on to exactly this molecule—basically disarming much of the body’s defences.”

SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Video credit: University of Bristol
SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Credit: University of Bristol

Professor Schaffitzel explained: “From other diseases we know that tinkering with LA metabolic pathways can trigger systemic inflammation, acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. These pathologies are all observed in patients suffering from severe COVID-19. A recent study of COVID-19 patients showed markedly reduced LA levels in their sera.”

Professor Berger adds: “Our discovery provides the first direct link between LA, COVID-19 pathological manifestations and the virus itself. The question now is how to turn this new knowledge against the virus itself and defeat the pandemic.”

SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Video credit: University of Bristol
SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Credit: University of Bristol

There is reason for hope. In rhinovirus, a virus causing the common cold, a similar pocket was exploited to develop potent small molecules that bound tightly to the pocket distorting the structure of the rhinovirus, stopping its infectivity. These small molecules were successfully used as anti-viral drugs in human trials, defeating rhinovirus in the clinic. The Bristol team, based on their data, is optimistic that a similar strategy can now be pursued to develop small molecule anti-viral drugs against SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Video credit: University of Bristol
SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Credit: University of Bristol

Professor Schaffitzel said: “COVID-19 continues to cause widespread devastation and in the absence of a proven vaccine, it is vital that we also look at other ways to combat the disease. If we look at HIV, after 30 years of research what worked in the end is a cocktail of small molecule anti-viral drugs that keeps the virus at bay. Our discovery of a druggable pocket within the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein could lead to new anti-viral drugs to shut down and eliminate the virus before it entered human cells, stopping it firmly in its tracks.”

Alison Derbenwick Miller, Vice President, Oracle for Research, added: “Oracle for Research unites researchers and cloud computing to help bring about beneficial change for our planet and its people. SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 are causing global devastation, and research efforts to find vaccines and treatments cannot move quickly enough. We are so pleased that Oracle’s high-performance cloud infrastructure enabled Professors Berger and Schaffitzel to examine the molecular structures of the coronavirus spike protein and make this powerful and unexpected new discovery that could help curb the pandemic and save lives.”

Featured photo: SARS-CoV-2 Spike | Credit: University of Bristol