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North Korean hackers, not nukes, threaten UK the most

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The UK faces a greater threat form a North Korean cyberattack than a nuclear missile, according to a Defence Committee report.

MPs have asked whether North Korea is “rash or rational” as part of their inquiry into the country’s nuclear capabilities and its cyber arsenal.

They reported that the UK is unlikely to be targeted by a missile strike from the country – although Pyongyang may soon develop this capability. Instead, the UK is far more likely to suffer from “reckless cyberattacks.

North Korea has been conducting its nuclear weapons programme for over a quarter of a century, the MPs said, and was capable of reprocessing weapons-grade plutonium by the early 1990s.

NHS computer systems were crippled last year after being infected by the WannaCry ransomware worm that had been developed by North Korea.

The cyber attack crippled NHS computer systems
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North Korea developed the WannaCry malware which crippled NHS computer systems

The MPs said that North Korea rapidly developed its cyber capability since the early 1990s and that this capability had “crept up” on the UK following a high-profile attack on Sony in 2014.

North Korea currently has sophisticated organisations conducting cyber operations on its behalf, with an estimated 6,800 staff involved in its hacking teams.

Nigel Inkster, the former director of operations and intelligence for MI6, told the committee that one of the North Korean cyber units had an operational base in a hotel in China.

Mr Inkster said that “its activities must be known to the Chinese, given the bandwidth required and the close monitoring of web usage by the Chinese government”, according to the committee.

The MPs added that the UK might be able to provide significant offensive cyber capability in response to North Korea, but as such tools had never yet been tested it wasn’t clear what effect it would have.

Additional investment in the UK’s cyber defences was required, said the MPs, and this needed to be sourced from outside of the existing defence budget.

They added that the lack of skilled staff is a concern for the UK’s cyber capability development – echoing a worry the UK cyber security community has voiced for years.


Wanna cry cyber attack



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WannaCry hack

Last October, Security Minister Ben Wallace said: “We can be as sure as possible – I can’t obviously go into the detailed intelligence but it is widely believed in the community and across a number of countries that North Korea had taken this role.”

The minister commented after the National Audit Office (NAO) warned the Government and NHS to “get their act together” to prevent future attacks.

An NAO report found computers at one third of health trusts across England were infected, along with computers at almost 600 GP surgeries.

The Defence Committee chairman Julian Lewis said the threats posed by North Korea were “typical of the new and intensifying dangers confronting the UK”.

He added: “There is cross-party consensus that we need to invest much more than the NATO minimum of 2% of GDP.

“A target nearer 3% is essential to fill existing holes in the defence budget and counter re-emerging state-based threats from Russia and North Korea.”

The report – called Rash Or Rational? North Korea And The Threat It Poses – has been published ahead of a possible summit in May between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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Israeli ground forces launch attacks on Gaza as fighting worsens | World News

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Israeli ground forces began launching attacks on Gaza in a widening of hostilities as Israel braced for more internal strife between its Arab and Jewish citizens following Friday prayers.

The Israeli military said air and ground forces were firing at the Hamas-run enclave, though it does not appear to mean the start of a ground invasion, with Sky News witnessing troops launching artillery and tank rounds from Israel’s side of the border.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted many of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Thousands of Israeli forces along with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery are massing along the frontier with Gaza, preparing to push inside if given the order, in what would be a hugely significant escalation.

Unperturbed, Palestinian militants continued to launch rockets from the strip towards Israel into Friday morning.

At least 109 Palestinians have died since the exchanges began on Monday, including 28 children and 15 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Palestinian militants have said 20 of their fighters are among the dead, though Israeli officials said this figure is much higher.

Almost half of the deaths happened on Thursday – the deadliest day so far.

On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including two children and a soldier.

But this is a crisis on many fronts, as decades of Israeli-Palestinian trauma erupt into clashes on the streets of many towns and cities inside Israel – with Arabs and Jews, who had lived together peacefully, turning on each other, prompting warnings of a risk of civil war.

Synagogues have been attacked, cars torched and individuals beaten up by mobs in the worst internal violence in decades.

New protests could erupt following Friday prayers, with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City a potential flashpoint.

It was at this walled compound – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews and Christians – that violence between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Monday sparked the first volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel that ignited the wider crisis.

A Palestinian boy looks at ruins of buildings which were destroyed in Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Pic:  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
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The blockaded strip is home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee. Pic: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

There is of course a regional dimension as well.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanon. They landed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea in what appears to have been a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of a separate offensive.

With so much at stake, frantic diplomatic efforts are underway to try to broker a ceasefire.

Egyptian officials have been speaking with both sides as have officials from the United Nations. The US has dispatched a senior diplomat to the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to those calling for both sides to de-escalate.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction”.

He said the goal is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centres”, and called the effort “a work in progress”.

The UN Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation on Sunday after the US objected to an open session on Friday, apparently wanting to give diplomacy a little longer to have an effect.

However, with bombardments between the two sides – unprecedented in their intensity – entering their fifth day, there is no obvious sign that diplomacy is cooling heads.

The Israel Defence Forces has hit close to 1,000 targets in Gaza, including multi-storey buildings, rocket launch sites and individual Hamas military commanders. But this blockaded strip of territory is also home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee.

Overnight, masses of red flames illuminated the skies as deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several miles away, could be heard screaming in fear, according to the AP news agency.

At the same time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow Palestinian militant group, have fired close to 2,000 rockets towards Israel. Many were shot down by the country’s air defence system but some have penetrated deep into Israeli territory, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv, sending families racing into shelters.

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Fresh uncertainty for UK tourists as Portugal extends ‘state of calamity’ until 30 May | UK News

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Britons hoping for a holiday in Portugal when travel restrictions lift next week are facing fresh uncertainty after the country extended its “state of calamity”.

The second-highest level of alert is going to remain in place until 30 May at the earliest, almost two weeks after the country is added to a “green list” of destinations where holidaymakers can go without having to isolate on their return.

Portugal would have been one of the few options for travellers seeking a quick sunny break, as many of the other countries on the “green list” are either closed to tourists, too cold, or too remote.

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Portugal would have been one of the few options for sun-seeking British tourists

Other popular hotspots such as Greece, Italy, Spain and France are on the amber list, requiring 10 days of isolation and two COVID-19 tests on return to the UK.

The new restrictions cast a shadow over the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea that is due to take place in Porto on 29 May – an event that has already been moved from Turkey, which is on the red list.

When asked whether restrictions on travel from the UK would be lifted, Portuguese Cabinet office minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said she had “no information to give yet”.

In comments reported by the BBC, she said: “Work is going on and as soon as there is a decision it will be announced, but no decision was taken in this cabinet meeting.”

She said British fans could still come to see the football game but they would need to fly on charter planes, arriving and leaving on the same day.

On Thursday, the world’s largest travel firm warned it may be forced to cancel holiday flights to Portugal, just as the UK allows them again, because of a continuing EU ban on non-essential travel from countries outside the bloc.

TUI, which told Sky News earlier this week that people were giving up on booking a break abroad because of a lack of clarity on the rules, said holidays could not happen unless “borders are open”.

The “state of calamity” means non-residents of Portugal can only enter if their travel is essential, a COVID test is required within 72 hours of departure, and even those with a negative result can still be refused permission to board a flight or be made to quarantine in government-approved accommodation on arrival.

It is understood the UK government has been speaking with Portuguese representatives this week about unlocking travel between the two countries.

The government is also talking to the European Commission about how to safely reopen travel on the continent, the PA news agency understands.

Portugal has reported 840,929 cases of COVID-19, with 16,999 deaths.

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COVID-19: Doubt cast over Tokyo 2021 as Japanese towns ditch plans to host Olympic athletes | World News

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Japanese towns have dropped plans to host Olympic athletes – in what is a further indication of the disruption that could affect the Games.

Over 500 towns are registered to host international Olympians for training camps and cultural exchanges before Tokyo 2020 starts.

However, 40 towns have abandoned plans, concerned they will overburden medical resources amid a fourth wave.

There have been calls in Japan for the games to be put off or cancelled
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There have been calls in Japan for the Games to be delayed or cancelled

The reluctance of towns on the outskirts of Tokyo is the latest signal of the unease among people in Japan over scheduling the Games during a pandemic.

Tokyo 2020 was postponed last year and is scheduled to start on 23 July, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and a state of emergency in the capital.

Regions scheduled to host athletes have been hard hit, including the eastern region of Chiba, where the US track and field team had been due to have a training camp.

Chiba cancelled plans to welcome the American athletes on Wednesday and governor Toshihito Kumagai said hospital beds cannot be guaranteed for athletes as they should not be given preferential treatment.

Okuizumo was going to host India’s hockey team for a training camp but it has also ditched these plans.

Seiko Hashimoto
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Politician and former Olympic athlete, Seiko Hashimoto, wants the Games to go ahead

The International Olympic Committee said on Wednesday that it is confident the Olympics would be a “historic event”.

But public opposition to the Games is growing as Japan struggles to cope with the latest surge in infections.

According to the latest figures, there were 7,521 new cases on Wednesday, including 969 infections in host-city Tokyo.

The country is in the midst of a fourth wave, with the games set to begin in July
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The country is in the midst of a fourth wave, with the games set to begin in July
Hokkaido has been running test events for the Olympic marathon but recorded over 1,000 cases on Wednesday
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Hokkaido has been running test events for the Olympic marathon but recorded over 1,000 cases on Wednesday

Hokkaido, which is hosting test events for the Olympic marathon, reported 1,029 cases on Wednesday.

Some athletes are also questioning whether the Games should go ahead, with tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka raising their concerns.

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Anti-Olympics protest in Tokyo

Nadal said he was unsure what his calendar will look like this summer, while Williams’s doubts stem from the possibility of not being able to travel with her three-year-old daughter Olympia.

Japan’s world number two Osaka said on Tuesday that rising COVID-19 levels in Tokyo are a “big cause of concern” and said she was not sure if the Games should go ahead.

One of Japan’s most prominent executives and SoftBank’s chief executive Masayoshi Son has also voiced his concerns – saying he is “afraid” of hosting the Olympics during a pandemic.

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