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ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Pakistan capital is leading the country in vaccinating its population against COVID-19, with health ministry data up to Sept. 30 showing more than 85 percent of people in Islamabad had received a first dose and 47 percent were fully vaccinated. This compared to only 15 percent of the target group in the country’s…

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Pakistan capital is leading the country in vaccinating its population against COVID-19, with health ministry data up to Sept. 30 showing more than 85 percent of people in Islamabad had received a first dose and 47 percent were fully vaccinated.

This compared to only 15 percent of the target group in the country’s least populous province of Balochistan having been administered one jab, the data showed.

The government launched a national vaccination drive in February this year, prioritizing health care workers and elderly citizens before broadening the campaign. Now in the fourth wave of the pandemic, Pakistani officials say that a ramped-up vaccination campaign has helped to push down daily infection rates from a peak of more than 9 percent in August to less than 2 percent currently.

About 125 million of Pakistan’s 220 million total population is eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. Among the eligible population, about 90 million have received at least one dose since February, health ministry data shows.

As of Monday this week, fully vaccinated Pakistanis constituted 26 percent of the target population, with all federating units saying that they were ramping up efforts to boost daily vaccination rates by launching door-to-door campaigns and forbidding unjabbed people from using public transportation, air travel, buying fuel at petrol stations and using other essential services.  

“The COVID-19 vaccination has helped us reduce the severity of disease and hospitalization rates among those infected with the virus in Islamabad,” Dr. Hasan Orooj, director general of health services in Islamabad told Arab News, saying the administration was vaccinating eligible people at public transport stands, weekly bazaars and public and private offices.

“We (Islamabad) are well ahead of our (vaccination) target, but still people should continue to follow health guidelines to prevent the next wave,” Orooj cautioned, adding that his teams were also working to bridge a vaccination gap between rural and urban areas of the capital.

“The vaccination numbers in Islamabad’s rural areas are comparatively low, and we are mobilizing our special teams to bring it on a par with urban areas,” he said.

According to official data collected by Arab News from all four provinces and Islamabad, the impoverished Balochistan province has the lowest vaccination rates, with only 7 percent of the province fully vaccinated and 15 percent partially jabbed. The province is Pakistan’s largest — it makes up more than 40 percent of the total land area of Pakistan — but it is also the least populous.

Statistics show a total of 1.25 million individuals — including people from other cities — had received at least one dose of a vaccine in Islamabad as of last week, though only 686,905 people had been fully vaccinated.

Islamabad’s eligible population for the COVID-19 vaccination is about 1.46 million, of which 47 percent are fully vaccinated, health department data showed.

PUNJABIn Punjab, 45 percent people are partially vaccinated, followed by 39 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 35.53 percent in Sindh and 15 percent in Balochistan.

Punjab Health Secretary Imran Sikandar Baloch said that about 233 million people in the province had been administered a first dose, while a second dose had been administered to more than 10 million people.

“Punjab is leading the national vaccination drive both in numbers and percentages,” Baloch said.

Sharing the vaccination data of major cities in the province, the secretary said that 58 precent of Rawalpindi’s population had been administered the first dose, 53 percent of Multan’s, 51 percent of Lahore’s, 52 precent of Gujranwala’s and 41 percent of Faisalabad’s.

The districts of Jhelum and Mandi Bahauddin had partially vaccinated 69 percent and 62 percent of eligible individuals respectively, the secretary said.  

To boost inoculation numbers, Baloch said that the provincial government had devised door-to-door campaigns, especially in rural and hard-to-reach areas.

“We have also decided to target small populated units with mobile vaccination centers,” he added.

SINDHIn Sindh province, 35.53 percent of 34.8 million eligible individuals had been partially vaccinated, according to the health department. The number of those who had received at least one dose in the province stood at 12.4 million while 5.4 million were fully vaccinated, according to official data compiled up to Thursday.

Data from the different divisions of Sindh showed Karachi division was 42.81 percent partially vaccinated, Hyderabad division 29.68 percent, Sukkur division 26.03 percent, Mirpur Khas division 48.94 percent, Shaheed Benazir Abad division 34.06 percent and Larkana division 24.54 percent.

Sindh had administered 150,000 vaccines a day on average in the past two weeks in Sindh province, said Mehar Khursheed, a spokesperson for the Sindh Health Department.

Sindh is home to Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, the nation’s financial hub, where the vaccine rate is higher than other parts of the province.

Khursheed said that the vaccination rate was high in urban districts due to high awareness among people, while the district administration was strictly implementing an obligatory vaccine regime to improve vaccination numbers in low-performing districts.

“Sindh is the first province that has taken bold steps in terms of the obligatory regime to increase its vaccination coverage, like blocking mobile phone SIMs, banning commercial activities and travel by unvaccinated people,” Khursheed told Arab News.

KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWAIn Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, authorities have partially vaccinated about 39 percent of its target population. Overall, more than 9 million people from the northwestern province had received a first dose while 3.2 million were fully vaccinated, according to the provincial health department.

Dr. Niaz Muhammad, director general, KP health, said that some districts such as Abbottabad, Haripur, Mansehra, Chitral, Orakzai, Peshawar and Kurram had good vaccination results but poor awareness continued to fuel vaccine hesitancy and low immunization rates in other areas.

“We are sending outreach teams in view of the reluctance among some people and carrying out mass door-to-door vaccination,” Muhammad told Arab News. “People had some concerns due to some media reports coupled with poor awareness but we’re working to improve our communication strategy.”

In addition, he said that the government had already announced an obligatory vaccine regime under which the transport sector and school children would need to have received one COVID-19 vaccination dose by Oct. 15.

BALOCHISTANIn Balochistan, official data showed that about 1,482,791 people had been vaccinated in 33 districts of the province between February and September.

Dr. Naqeeb Niazi, deputy in-charge, operation cell, primary and secondary health department in Balochistan, said that the first dose coverage in the province had reached up to 15 percent while only 7 percent were fully vaccinated — the lowest vaccination rate in the country.

“We have been implementing an obligatory regime of vaccination from Oct. 1, and hope the vaccination number will increase in districts with low numbers by Oct. 31,” Niazi told Arab News.

A senior official at the National Command and Operation Center, Pakistan’s federal pandemic response body, said that vaccination rates varied “because of the peculiar environment and population of every province.”

“Punjab is leading the vaccination drive among provinces because it is the most populated territory in the country,” he said, declining to be named. “Similarly, the low turnout in Balochistan is due to its geographic location, not because of less government motivation to vaccinate the provincial population.”

He said that people in the remote, sparsely populated Balochistan province had to travel long distances to reach vaccination centers, while lack of awareness and misinformation also continued to fuel low rates in the region.

“Vaccination numbers are usually low in rural areas of the country for different reasons, including low motivation and the luxury to avoid government-imposed restrictions because they don’t need to travel by air or go to restaurants for which it is mandatory to get vaccinated now,” the official said.

Additional reporting by Naimat Khan in Karachi, Rehmat Mehsud in Peshawar and Saadullah Akhter in Quetta

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Middle East faced wave of cybersecurity threats since start of pandemic

GAZA CITY: Some hope has returned to Gaza resident Ayman Dahman upon learning that his apartment building, completely destroyed during Israeli airstrikes last May, would be reconstructed. Dahman has despaired over the past months, but Egyptian and Qatari statements regarding the acceleration of the reconstruction process have restored optimism. Dahman and his family of six lived…

GAZA CITY: Some hope has returned to Gaza resident Ayman Dahman upon learning that his apartment building, completely destroyed during Israeli airstrikes last May, would be reconstructed.

Dahman has despaired over the past months, but Egyptian and Qatari statements regarding the acceleration of the reconstruction process have restored optimism.

Dahman and his family of six lived in a five-story residential building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

After its destruction, he moved to live with his son in a small two-room apartment. Once the war ended, he relocated to a rented house, which was paid for by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

UNRWA provided $1,500 in rent allowance and $500 for the purchase of basic home furnishings for each victim who lost his or her home during the war.

Dahman said that the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Hamas-run Gaza contacted him a few days ago to prepare the engineering plans for the building in preparation for reconstruction.

On Oct. 19, the Egyptian Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip announced the launch of its first development project in Gaza: the construction of Al-Rasheed Street in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza.

At the same time, head of the Qatari Reconstruction Committee Mohammed Al-Emadi, currently in Gaza, announced that the coming days would witness an acceleration in the reconstruction process.

Hamas had received Egyptian promises during its leadership’s visit to Cairo earlier this month to speed up the pace of reconstruction and to provide trade and economic facilities at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

After the war, Egypt pledged a grant of $500 million as a contribution to reconstruction and sent engineering delegations to remove rubble in preparation.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing Naji Sarhan, said that the Egyptian grant projects include the construction of three residential cities in Beit Lahia; Jabalia, north of Gaza; and the Al-Zahra area, south of Gaza City.

According to the agreement, these three cities will include 2,000 housing units, giving priority to poor and low-income people. The construction of bridges and roads also will be supported.

Sarhan said that Egyptian officials promised — during meetings in Cairo with an official delegation from Gaza about two weeks ago — to start the reconstruction of the residential high-rises soon.

Egyptian crews had contributed to removing the rubble of damaged high-rises, as well as the construction of the first residential city in northern Gaza, he added.

The talks with the Egyptians, according to Sarhan, resulted in an agreement to operate the largest number of local contracting companies.

It was also agreed to import all the materials needed for reconstruction from the Rafah crossing to ensure the operation of local factories and to provide facilities for the movement of contractors and businessmen through the crossing.

The local authorities estimated the direct losses in the Gaza Strip during the war at $479 million.

Sarhan said that the direct losses are related to the destruction that afflicted the housing and infrastructure sector, as 1,500 housing units were destroyed, and 880 units were severely damaged. Hundreds of units were moderately and slightly damaged, with the value of reconstruction estimated at $145 million.

A great deal of damage was also caused to the infrastructure, including public buildings, roads, energy, communications and sanitation, with reconstruction estimated at $293 million.

Losses were also incurred in the sectors of economy, trade, health, education and agriculture, apart from indirect losses caused by the war.

Sarhan estimates that Gaza needs $2 billion in order to revive it after many years of wars and siege.

Palestinians see the latest Egyptian move as coming within a context of coordination with the US administration, which hopes to establish stability in Gaza.

A few days before the Hamas meetings in Cairo, Gaza reconstruction was discussed during talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Hamas-affiliated columnist Majed Al-Zibda believes that the recent Egyptian meeting with Hamas is consistent with the vision of the US administration, which desires to contain Gaza and ensure stability there so to avoid any deterioration that could lead to new confrontations.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported earlier that Egypt and the US were pressuring Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to work on forming a new unity government with the aim of pushing forward long-term stability and the reconstruction of Gaza.

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Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration

RIYADH: Since the start of the pandemic, a wave of advanced threat campaigns targeting the Middle East have been discovered by Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity firm. An APT is an attack campaign in which intruders establish an illicit, long-term presence on a network to mine highly sensitive data. The targets, which are carefully chosen and researched,…

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration

RIYADH: Since the start of the pandemic, a wave of advanced threat campaigns targeting the Middle East have been discovered by Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity firm.

An APT is an attack campaign in which intruders establish an illicit, long-term presence on a network to mine highly sensitive data. The targets, which are carefully chosen and researched, typically include large enterprises or government networks.

The region has always been a hotbed for such attacks due to geopolitical factors.

Kaspersky researchers, keeping a close eye on the region for APTs, worked on 68 investigative reports related to 29 cyber gangs actively targeting the Middle East since the start of the pandemic.

The researchers issued 49 threat intelligence reports due to investigations associated with cyberattacks on the UAE, which endured the highest number of reports for all Middle Eastern countries.

The second highest was Saudi Arabia with 39 reports, followed by Egypt with 30. Kuwait and Oman had 21 each, while Jordan had 20. Iraq, Qatar and Bahrain had fewer than 20 reports each.

APT attacks primarily targeted government agencies, followed by diplomatic institutions, the education sector, and telecommunication institutions. Other targeted sectors included finance, IT, healthcare, legal, military, and defense.

Some of the APT groups investigated were Oilrig, WIRTE, Lazarus, and Sofacy.

Fatemah Alharbi, a cybersecurity expert and assistant professor at Taibah University, told Arab News: “PowerShell-based malware are utilized by advanced cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructures in Saudi Arabia.”

She said these cybercriminals were sending phishing emails that contained malicious Microsoft Office files impersonating legitimate entities.

To pass the firewall and the email protection techniques, she explained, these rigged files were protected by passwords and compressed as zip files.

“This approach facilitates the mission of these cybercriminals to take full control of the file system and to compromise every single file there. This means they would be able to control the operating system, applications, and data. Assuming the attack is detected, an in-depth analysis and investigation on the file system is highly recommended as a quick response to recover the system and stop the attack.”

Referring to a report by Bitdefender, a cybersecurity technology company, Alharbi said: “Researchers shed light on a well-known APT cyber espionage campaign that targets mainly critical infrastructures in Saudi Arabia.This threat group is called Chafer APT (also known as APT39 or Remix Kitten). The report shows that these cybercriminals rely on social engineering to compromise victims in Saudi Arabia.

“Technically, the attack tricked victims to run a remote administration tool located in the downloads folder, similar to the RAT components used against Turkey and Kuwait back in 2014 and 2018, respectively.”

Despite these threats, Alharbi said the Kingdom’s cybersecurity resources had proven their ability to face such dangers.

“Saudi Arabia is ranked No.1 in the MENA region and Asia and No.2 globally according to the Global Cybersecurity Index issued by the UN’s specialized agency in information and communications technology, the International Telecommunication Union in 2021.”

This indexing evaluates countries periodically based on five main axes: Legal, technical, regulatory, capacity-building, and cooperation. The Kingdom scored advanced points in all of these axes, she said.

Amin Hasbini, head of the global research and analysis team for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa at Kaspersky, said: “Our cybersecurity experts have always been at the forefront of detecting and reporting the latest APT threats. Our reports are the product of their visibility into the cybersecurity landscape and promptly identify what poses a threat.

“We use these insights to, of course, alert the concerned organizations on time and provide them with the protection as well as intelligence needed against both known and unknown threats. As companies move towards digitization, especially due to the pandemic, it is more important now than ever before to know about the threats that are constantly evolving.”

According to a recent report from Kaspersky and VMWare, working remotely during the pandemic made Saudi employees vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In the VMWare report, a survey of 252 Saudis showed 84 percent of them said that cyberattacks had increased due to working from home.

Alharbi talked about methods to protect users from social engineering threats. “Recently, we see a rise in the number of cyberattacks that are based on social engineering. According to a recent report by PurpleSec, 98 percent of cyberattacks rely on social engineering. Cyber criminals prefer to use social engineering techniques that can expose a victim’s natural inclination to trust easily compared to implementing malwares or any other tools to hack systems.

“For that, organizations must strengthen and diversify their cybersecurity awareness tactics, such as publishing cybersecurity awareness content, in-class training, videos, simulations and tests,” she said.

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Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others, Erdogan says

RIYADH: Since the start of the pandemic, a wave of advanced threat campaigns targeting the Middle East have been discovered by Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity firm. An APT is an attack campaign in which intruders establish an illicit, long-term presence on a network to mine highly sensitive data. The targets, which are carefully chosen and researched,…

Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others, Erdogan says

RIYADH: Since the start of the pandemic, a wave of advanced threat campaigns targeting the Middle East have been discovered by Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity firm.

An APT is an attack campaign in which intruders establish an illicit, long-term presence on a network to mine highly sensitive data. The targets, which are carefully chosen and researched, typically include large enterprises or government networks.

The region has always been a hotbed for such attacks due to geopolitical factors.

Kaspersky researchers, keeping a close eye on the region for APTs, worked on 68 investigative reports related to 29 cyber gangs actively targeting the Middle East since the start of the pandemic.

The researchers issued 49 threat intelligence reports due to investigations associated with cyberattacks on the UAE, which endured the highest number of reports for all Middle Eastern countries.

The second highest was Saudi Arabia with 39 reports, followed by Egypt with 30. Kuwait and Oman had 21 each, while Jordan had 20. Iraq, Qatar and Bahrain had fewer than 20 reports each.

APT attacks primarily targeted government agencies, followed by diplomatic institutions, the education sector, and telecommunication institutions. Other targeted sectors included finance, IT, healthcare, legal, military, and defense.

Some of the APT groups investigated were Oilrig, WIRTE, Lazarus, and Sofacy.

Fatemah Alharbi, a cybersecurity expert and assistant professor at Taibah University, told Arab News: “PowerShell-based malware are utilized by advanced cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructures in Saudi Arabia.”

She said these cybercriminals were sending phishing emails that contained malicious Microsoft Office files impersonating legitimate entities.

To pass the firewall and the email protection techniques, she explained, these rigged files were protected by passwords and compressed as zip files.

“This approach facilitates the mission of these cybercriminals to take full control of the file system and to compromise every single file there. This means they would be able to control the operating system, applications, and data. Assuming the attack is detected, an in-depth analysis and investigation on the file system is highly recommended as a quick response to recover the system and stop the attack.”

Referring to a report by Bitdefender, a cybersecurity technology company, Alharbi said: “Researchers shed light on a well-known APT cyber espionage campaign that targets mainly critical infrastructures in Saudi Arabia.This threat group is called Chafer APT (also known as APT39 or Remix Kitten). The report shows that these cybercriminals rely on social engineering to compromise victims in Saudi Arabia.

“Technically, the attack tricked victims to run a remote administration tool located in the downloads folder, similar to the RAT components used against Turkey and Kuwait back in 2014 and 2018, respectively.”

Despite these threats, Alharbi said the Kingdom’s cybersecurity resources had proven their ability to face such dangers.

“Saudi Arabia is ranked No.1 in the MENA region and Asia and No.2 globally according to the Global Cybersecurity Index issued by the UN’s specialized agency in information and communications technology, the International Telecommunication Union in 2021.”

This indexing evaluates countries periodically based on five main axes: Legal, technical, regulatory, capacity-building, and cooperation. The Kingdom scored advanced points in all of these axes, she said.

Amin Hasbini, head of the global research and analysis team for the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa at Kaspersky, said: “Our cybersecurity experts have always been at the forefront of detecting and reporting the latest APT threats. Our reports are the product of their visibility into the cybersecurity landscape and promptly identify what poses a threat.

“We use these insights to, of course, alert the concerned organizations on time and provide them with the protection as well as intelligence needed against both known and unknown threats. As companies move towards digitization, especially due to the pandemic, it is more important now than ever before to know about the threats that are constantly evolving.”

According to a recent report from Kaspersky and VMWare, working remotely during the pandemic made Saudi employees vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In the VMWare report, a survey of 252 Saudis showed 84 percent of them said that cyberattacks had increased due to working from home.

Alharbi talked about methods to protect users from social engineering threats. “Recently, we see a rise in the number of cyberattacks that are based on social engineering. According to a recent report by PurpleSec, 98 percent of cyberattacks rely on social engineering. Cyber criminals prefer to use social engineering techniques that can expose a victim’s natural inclination to trust easily compared to implementing malwares or any other tools to hack systems.

“For that, organizations must strengthen and diversify their cybersecurity awareness tactics, such as publishing cybersecurity awareness content, in-class training, videos, simulations and tests,” she said.

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