Chinese cyber power not a match for the US’s, according to experts – dpa international

Near the entrance of a hospital in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  — Despite long-running allegations of Chinese hacking of Western governments and businesses, Beijing’s “cyber power” is “clearly inferior” to that of its chief rival, the US, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). China is “unlikely to match US cyber capabilities for the next decade at least,” according to the IISS, which regularly stages conferences involving some of the world’s most powerful defence ministries. The US is out on its own as the world’s leading cyber power, the IISS said, in a new 174-page report looking at the “cyber capabilities” of 15 countries.

Listening to Mozart could curb epilepsy, Czech neurologists say

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DUBLIN — Listening to Mozart could prevent epileptic seizures, according to research being presented over the weekend to the European Academy of Neurology. A Czech-led team, from St. Anne’s University Hospital and Masaryk University in Brno, found a 32 per cent reduction in seizure-inducing epileptiform discharges (EDs) among patients who listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos K448. Exposure to Mozart “may be a possible treatment to prevent epileptic seizures,” the team suggested, after using “intracerebral electrodes” that were “implanted in the brains of epilepsy patients prior to surgery” to measure the effects of music.

‘Pervasive’ privacy breaches found on mobile phone health apps – dpa international

Jogger in Dublin's Phoenix Park in early June 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Thousands of health-related mobile phone applications have “serious problems with privacy,” according to analysis by Macquarie University in Australia. Published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the Sydney-based team’s research into more than 20,000 apps found “collection of personal user information” to be “pervasive.” Of the almost 5 million apps available on platforms operated by Apple and Google, around 100,000 are health-related, including increasingly-popular fitness monitors. However “inadequate privacy disclosures” often hinder users “from making informed choices,” said the Macquarie researchers, who compared 15,000 health apps with a sample of 8,000 others. While the health apps gathered less user data the others examined, around two-thirds of them still “could collect advert identifiers or cookies” and a quarter could “identify the mobile phone tower to which a user’s device is connected.”

Getting more sun could help against opioid “scourge,” US medics say – dpa international

Vitamin D has been touted as beneficial in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN –A lack of Vitamin D “strongly exaggerates the craving for and effects of opioids,” according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. The vitamin, which has been touted for potentially reducing the effects of coronavirus, is produced naturally in the human body after exposure to sunlight. So not getting outdoors enough means “potentially increasing the risk for [opioid] dependence and addiction,” according to the research, which was published on Friday by the journal Science Advances. For those living in cloudier regions, Vitamin D supplements could help address “the ongoing scourge of opioid addiction.”

Scientists claim quantum leap for secure communications – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left usually-busy city landmarks quiet as people work from home and conduct meetings online.(Simon Roughneen

DUBLIN — After more than a year of easy-to-hack pandemic-induced Zoom meetings, the world could be “one step closer to ultimately secure conference calls,” according to a British-led team of scientists. The group, which includes academics from Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, claim in the journal Science Advances to have discovered how to facilitate hack-proof “quantum-secure conversation” between four parties. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, what the team calls the “global reliance on remote collaborative working, including conference calls,” has led to a “significant escalation of cyberattacks on popular teleconferencing platforms in the last year.” The team said their newly published research is “a timely advance” that “could lead to conference calls with inherent unhackable security measures, underpinned by the principles of quantum physics.”

Excess TV in middle age could cause brain decline in later life, US scientists say – dpa international

With millions of people told to stay at home as part of pandemic lockdowns, TV viewing numbers have increased (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Too much television is bad for you” is more than just an adage parroted by exasperated parents at heedless, homework-shirking teenagers, going by research carried out by US-based scientists. Using information gleaned from three surveys and studies involving more than 17,000 people, academics from Columbia University, the University of Alabama and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) said they believe “moderate-to-high TV viewing in midlife” contributes to “later cognitive and brain health decline.” Watching films, shows and other TV content, the researchers warned, “is a type of sedentary behaviour that is cognitively passive or does not require much thought.”

Ireland’s hospitals hit by ‘sophisticated’ cyberattack – dpa international

Sign for a coronavirus vaccination centre in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A cyberattack on Ireland’s Health Service Executive is “having a severe impact on our health and social care services today,” according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, with hospitals across the country battling disruptions. The University of Limerick Hospitals Group warned of “long delays” at its six facilities, while the Ireland East group said staff at its 11 hospitals were asking for “the public’s patience at this time.” Although emergency departments remain open, “delays should be expected while hospitals move to manual, offline processes,” the HSE said later on Friday. The National Maternity Hospital said “a major IT issue” would mean “significant disruption,” while Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital, said the attack forced staff to “revert back to old-fashioned based record-keeping.”

Online retail booms during pandemic but taxi and travel apps struggle – dpa international

DUBLIN — Online retail has boomed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with worldwide e-commerce sales last year topping 26 trillion dollars, according to estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Online retail jumped from 16 per cent to 19 per cent of total retail last year, according to UNCTAD calculations published on Monday, while global e-commerce increased by 4 per cent for sales of 26.7 trillion dollars, more than the gross domestic product of the United States, the world’s biggest economy. Ten of the top 13 e-commerce firms are from China or the United States, with Alibaba topping the list ahead of Amazon, and Canada’s Shopify the highest-ranked from a third country at five. While share of online sales across the world’s major economies grew, as on-off lockdowns forced people to spend large chunks of time indoors, UNCTAD said there had been a “notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride hailing and travel.”

Sunlight a factor in glaring differences between Covid death tolls – dpa international

Sunny outdoors during the first pandemic lockdown in Malaysia, which has reported 1,313 deaths linked to Covid-19 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Data from hard-hit countries such as Britain, Italy and the United States suggest sunnier areas “are associated with fewer deaths from Covid-19,” according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh. Published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the study said “higher ambient UVA [ultraviolet A radiation] exposure” is “associated with lower Covid-19 specific mortality.” The team compared deaths linked to Covid-19 in the US from January to April 2020 with UV levels for almost 2,500 US counties, before replicating the methodology for Britain and Italy. The three countries have reported some of the world’s highest pandemic-related death numbers, both per capita and absolute, though fatalities dropped significantly during the summer months.

Tests show common cold virus stopping coronavirus infection – dpa international

DUBLIN — The humble common cold virus blocks or displaces its deadlier Sars-Cov-2 counterpart from the human respiratory system, according to new research by a British-based team of scientists. In article published on Tuesday by the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the team said the cold virus also “triggers an innate immune response that blocks Sars-Cov-2 replication within the human respiratory epithelium.” Such “interference,” according to the researchers, who are mostly from the University of Glasgow, “might cause a population-wide reduction in the number of new Covid-19 infections.” Rhinoviruses that cause the common cold are “the most prevalent respiratory viruses of humans,” according to the paper.