Tuesday 28 August 2012

Look who's watching our fetish for gold

It’s not just we, Indians observing each other how much jewels we are wearing or if we are wearing anything at all. Now China joins our league and they are observing us, what jewels we are wearing, how much we are wearing. And you should not miss my previous post on the yellow metal and how it keeps attracting me like a magnet and I'm not ashamed to accept the fact that I have this fetish for gold, gold jewels. No need to get any weird ideas, all I mean is I love to invest in gold, to be more precise.

Let me come back to the point. Yes, “without gold nose ring, Indian women won’t go out,” says an article published on a Chinese daily. Ah, little too much, I don’t even have a nose ring, not just me many of us don’t even wear nose ring, but whatever be it, the Chinese are observing us very closely ;) 

People's Daily Online in its article “Indian beauties wearing gold jewelry” says, “In India it will be considered impolite if women go out without any jewellery.” Hmm, maybe times are changing and yes, I remember my mom often telling me that without some piece of gold on her body, woman looks incomplete. Maybe that’s the reason, even a worker at least adorns herself with as tiny as a gold nose ring.     

The article which features Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai wearing jewels says, “Recently Indian government plans to issue “paper gold” that is to encourage people to purchase gold reserved in banks. Though buying “paper gold” doesn’t mean you can really take physical gold in hand, many Indian still scramble for this, which reflects Indian affection and reliance for gold.”

It’s not an exaggeration when the article mentions that among all kinds of jewellery, Indians prefer gold ones. “Indians have black skin and wearing gold jewelry can highlight this feature,” it says. I don’t remember myself wearing fake jewels and my family, relatives and many of my friends know that I love gold jewels. 
It’s a fact that Indian women wearing gold earrings and necklaces could be seen everywhere. “Even those little girls who beg along the roadside with an unkempt appearance have a gold nail in the nose,” it says. Yes, who will not love this glittering metal? I don’t think anybody would hate this metal, if not for wearing at least as an asset!   

Who can deny that men don’t wear jewels in India? “It is also very common that men wear jewelry. Many Indian men wear three rings with large pieces of jewels on them,” the article says. And here, I have a man, who hates wearing gold to the extent that he refuses to wear his wedding band and I have to force him to wear it once in a while! The moment he sees a gold commercial on TV, he switches channels, not because he hates gold, but because I love gold and I would put forth my demands in front of him... 

“In wedding ceremony, parents usually choose gold ornaments as daughter’s dowry, which not only set off the beauty of the daughter but can also serve as a kind of property in married life,” the article adds. It’s not rare that friends and relatives presenting gold jewels to show their blessings during weddings and other special occasions. It’s true that one day or the other gold will come to the rescue of the owners and parents want their daughter’s life to be secure, her future to be secure through gold. Not to forget the underlying fact that it has made the dowry system much more stronger in the country, as gold in kilograms is expected from a girl’s family. Maybe it’s one thing which is passed through generations and as it passes generations, it gains its value! While people these days fancy buying antique jewels, some generations have them passed to the present ones and such jewles are just priceless.  
No wonder, there are gold jewellery shops everywhere, from metros to small cities, in the country. And how can anyone miss the number of commercials and ads which are pumped through all media during festive seasons? And it is this craze which often makes a big hole in the pockets of men every year in the name of festivals, special occasions and gifts.     

Apart from all these, ever wondered why is China concentrating on India’s, Indians’ gold jewels? According to "Gold Demand Trends Q2 2012" recently published by the World Gold Council, the gold demand in China has dropped by 7 per cent in the second quarter of 2012. But here, one should not forget that China still ranks sixth in the world with a total gold reserve of 1,054.1 tonnes. Although China’s gold demand has grown slower than last year, the World Gold Council still forecasts the 2012 growth rate of the country’s gold demand at 10 per cent.

Plus, China may overtake India as the world's largest gold jewellery consumer in 2012. So China's gold market will exert significant impact on the global market. China remained the world's largest gold producer for the fifth year in a row in 2011, with the annual output rising by 5.9 per cent to more than 360 tonnes, according to the data from the China Gold Association (CGA).

Moreover, China's demand for gold jewellery currently accounts for over 30 per cent of the world's demand, making it the largest gold jewellery consumer for the third consecutive quarter. In the first quarter, the world's gold consumption dropped 5 per cent year-on-year to 1,097 tonnes, mainly because gold prices have surged 22 per cent from a year ago and because demand in India also fell significantly over the same period, said the WGC report.

Currently China and India account for some 50 per cent of the world's gold demand. But the Indian government has hiked jewellery taxes and raised gold import duties, said the WGC, which resulted in the sharp drop in first-quarter demand.

Attracting the consumers, China also has ATMs dispensing gold bars and coins. The first such ATM was activated in the capital's bustling Wangfujing shopping area in September 2011. Gongmei Gold Trading, which installed the ATM, expected the machine to be a big hit and hoped to have 2,000 similar ATMs in place within the next two years. “The majority will be in private clubs at banks and at landmark buildings in large cities,” the company had said.

And such gold vending machines are not exclusive for China. I have seen them in Burj Khalifa, Dubai, and yes our plans to buy one gold bar at the vending machine didn’t fulfill, as the quoted prices were much higher than the market price!

Such gold vending machines are already in use in countries such as Germany, the United States, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. Sorry, none in India! The touch-screen machines dispense gold bars and coins of various weights based on the market price of the metal, which is updated every 10 minutes.

Sigh, whatever be it, we Indians keep loving this metal and keep buying them, no matter how big hole they make in our family budget!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Drought wreaks havoc on Indian farmers

A punishing drought in western India is hurting livestock farmers as the region experiences water shortages.

She is 11 years old and lives in Bonewadi, a small town in Maharashtra, with her mother, two sisters and one brother. She is in grade six and walks 3km to attend school. In the evening, she walks 7km to feed her cattle at a camp. Meet Asha, a young girl born in a farmer's family that owns 11 acres of land, which is usually sufficient to earn enough money to make a living under normal conditions.

Then there is Digambar Pandurang Atpadkar, a 70-year-old farmer who owns 60 acres of land and four wells in Vartuke Malwade, a small village, also in Maharashtra, India's second most populous state. He and his wife have walked 10km to reach the cattle camp, which offers emergency food and shelter, to save their eight animals.

Asha and Atpadkar are just two among the many who have been hit by drought in India. And surprisingly, majority of the farmers and cattle taking refuge in the cattle camp are from Mann taluk in Satara district - that has 21 cattle camps this year - which is under the parliamentary constituency of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who recently claimed to have spent millions of rupees supporting irrigation facilities in Maharashtra.

Moreover, Mann taluk is also adjacent to the sugar belt - sugarcane is an infamously water-intensive crop - which politicians consider their stronghold, having poured in a lion's share of Maharashtra's development funds here. Yet, the region, popularly known as Manndesh in local folklore, continues to remain at the mercy of whimsical rains.

Triggering concerns of poor farm output and higher inflation, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted less rain from June to September. "We expect 15 per cent shortfall in the seasonal rains," LS Rathore, the director general of the IMD, told reporters.

Read more here.

Married women drink more

Gone are the days when weddings used to draw a line for freedom when it comes to drinks and parties. I have come across women who enjoy drinks and parties even the more after their weddings, thanks to the supporting husband, or rather call a husband who is also indulgent in such things.

And to support my view, today, I came across a report which said that a recent research has found that married women are more likely to drink than their unmarried counterparts -- single, divorced, or widowed.  Men, on the other hand, are less likely to drink when they're married. I doubt if they do, as I have seen women giving company to their husbands while drinking! Maybe a teetotaler wife’s threat might make a man to drink less. 

And yes, Corinne Reczek of the University of Cincinnati, also supports this. "We suspect that men and women may converge in marriage. Wherein women's alcohol use is higher due to the influence of their drinking husbands, while men's declines due to their wives, who tend to drink more moderately."

Reczek and colleagues presented their findings at last weekend's American Sociological Association meeting in Denver. For their research, they studied data from three separate surveys, including one long-term survey that provided information on more than 5,000 Wisconsin residents' alcohol habits, gathered four times during a 47-year period.

Researchers noted that overall, men drink more than women, and that women's increased drinking after marriage might be an attempt to match their husband's habits. Reczek said that she was shocked by the finding that married women drink more than those who are divorced or never married, which "flies in the face of what we thought we knew about marriage and alcohol".

Yes, even I was shocked for the first time to learn the fact that most of my hubby’s friends’ wives join their partners in drinking and I look very odd in their company, or they might be thinking I’m too conservative and out of place, or maybe I’m too rural type for their company! Ah, whatever. My principles remain intact and I know I would be a teetotaler for the rest of my life too.  

Richard Ager, associate professor at New Orleans' Tulane School of Social Work, said he isn't surprised. “People tend to do what others in the same flock do, if you spend more time with individuals that have a higher incidence of doing drugs or alcohol you will develop similar habits. People tend to engage in the behaviors of people they surround themselves with.”

Hmm, I agree that people tend to do what others in the same flock do, but following others can’t be merely blind. I’ve been in the company of people who drink, smoke, consume tea, coffee, milk, and I’m surprised how could they not influence me? Am I so stubborn? Maybe, when it comes to my principles and I would never take a chance of breaking them, and there has never been a need to do so. I never get tempted to drink tea or coffee, let alone alcohol.  

As women drink more to match their men, men in turn tone it down and imbibe less - especially those who are happily married, according to the research. And recently, one of our friends asked me why I don’t drink and when I said I never felt for the need of it, he bluntly said: “You are wasting your life!” And I looked at his wife who was full in smiles and nodded agreeing and she was more than happy to tell me that she gave company to her husband whenever he drinks!

Sorry, my upbringing is different, my culture and tradition is different. Even though I argue for feminist things and women’s freedom, I don’t see any base in arguing for women drinking alcohol and if that would make them equal to men. I have friends and colleagues who drink and smoke, but never ever have I felt that I should follow them.

Moreover, it hurts to see how westerners don’t believe when I say I’m a teetotaler and join them for drinks in parties. After all, they have seen several Indian women taking drinks, smoking cigarettes in parties and westerners are under the impression that we, Indian women, drink regularly at social gatherings!

Women see it as a freedom from the barriers of their own country when they go abroad, or even to other states or cities for higher studies or for work and they simply forget that basic fact that people often generalize things. Because not all people will come to visit our place or country, our behaviour leaves an impression on them and they generalize things, including the behaviour and habits, which is really unfortunate. It’s like after the Slumdog Millionaire, the whole world thinks India is a country of slums!    
Coming back to the research, it also looked at what happens when marriage goes wrong. Divorced men reported drinking far more alcohol than married men, while divorced women drank less than married women. "Men who divorce may cope with stress using alcohol use, wherein women are shown to cope with stress in more internalising ways, including depression," Reczek said. It’s strange, but another fact!

Drought revisits India

She is 11-year-old, lives in Bonewadi, a small town in Maharashtra, with her mother, two sisters and one brother. She is in Class 6 and walks 3km to reach her school. In the evening, she walks 7km to feed the cattle at a cattle camp. Her day starts at 7am and goes on till 10 pm. Meet Asha, a young girl born in a farmer’s family that owns 11 acres of land, the land which is usually sufficient to earn enough money to make a living under normal conditions.
Then, there’s Digambar Pandurang Atpadkar, a 70-year-old farmer who owns 60 acres of land and four wells in Vartuke Malwade, a small village, also in Maharashtra. He and his wife have walked 10 km to reach the cattle camp to save their eight animals.
Asha and Atpadkar are just two among the many who have been hit by drought in India. And surprisingly, majority of the farmers and cattle taking refuge in the cattle camp are from Mann taluk in Satara district, which is under the parliamentary constituency of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who had recently claimed to have spent millions of rupees supporting irrigation facilities in Maharashtra.
Moreover, it is also adjacent to the sugar belt - not to forget the fact that sugarcane is infamously a water-intensive crop - which politicians consider their stronghold, having poured in a lion’s share of Maharashtra’s development funds here. Yet, the region, popularly known as Manndesh in Marthi folklore, continues to remain at the mercy of whimsical rains.
Triggering concerns of poor farm output and higher inflation, India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted less rain in June-to-September, which would be 15 per cent below the seasonal average.  "We expect 15 per cent shortfall in the seasonal rains," LS Rathore, director general, IMD, told reporters.
Agricultural sector output which accounts for 20 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), would be hit considerably due to the deficient rainfall. “The prevailing drought conditions could affect the crop prospects and may have its impact on the prices of essential commodities, such as shortfall in domestic supplies relative to demand,” Food Minister KV Thomas had said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
Cattle camp
Four states - Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra - are facing drought-like situation and Between June 1 and August 5, the monsoon rain has been 17 per cent lower, according to the IMD. Satara district in western Maharashtra has 21 cattle camps, including the biggest Mann Deshi Cattle Camp, a makeshift camp set up at Mhaswad, 190km west of Pune, this year; the last such camps were in 2003 and 2009 when drought was severe in this sugar belt.
“We are here because there is no water in our village. Neither for the animals, nor for us. Our cattle get sugarcane, corn, fodder, dry fodder, green fodder. We get rice and pulses,” said Atpadkar who has left behind his house and land to save the lives of his cattle, the invaluable assets he owns.
The Mann Deshi Camp has rescued over 11,000 animals from going to butcher shops. People are migrating to other places in search of not occupation, but in search of water for their animals. In 2003, there was water, but this year, there’s no water. “Farmers here are ready to buy fodder, pledging their gold, but ask us how and where to buy water?” Chetna Gala-Sinha, the founder-president of the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, the only women’s bank in rural Maharashtra, which has set up the cattle camp, said.  
Women walk 5-10km every day to fetch drinking water. When men migrate in search of better opportunities for their animals, women turn to the cattle camps and now the camp also gives shelter to more than 3,500 families. Looking like a small township in itself, the cattle camp, which is spread across the five acres of land, originally meant for the housing colony for villagers, provides nearly 3.5-4 lakh litres of water and 140 tonnes of fodder to the animals every day.
“Each big animal gets 15kg of dry grass, sugarcane and corn every day and three kg of processed cattle feed every week. People carry water stored in the big tanks, in buckets, around the camp and four water tankers make five trips a day to a pipeline 11km away to fetch the required four lakh litres of water daily,” said Sinha. 
All the wells in the region have dried up due to the “mismanagement of water”. The lake in Dhakani has water, but is not suitable for drinking. When asked Atpadkar why he left behind such a vast land and his house and took shelter in the camp, he says: “Why? What do we eat there? Soil? There’s no food, no water… There’s no option. We take this as our home. Death is inevitable, here or there. No food, no water… If our animals die, what are we left with?”
Crops hit
The drought, India's first since 2009, will not bring a shortage of staples as the nation's grain stores are overflowing with rice and wheat, and sugar output is set to exceed demand for a third straight year. (If the rainfall records below 90 percent of the 50-year average, it is considered deficient or "drought" in layman's parlance.) But it will deal a devastating blow to grain crops used for animal feed. That would badly hit the vast majority of the country's farmers who - with cattle and small landholdings their only assets - struggle to survive at the best of times.
The cattle population would be adversely affected due to marginal availability of green fodders. Due to the damage of khariff crops, food grain production would be affected. But the food grains will be supplied through the Public distribution systems to the families below poverty lines, which would help the families living in poverty to cope with the situation,” said Amar Nayak, Knowledge Hub Leader, Land and Livelihood, Action Aid.
According to the data placed before Parliament, retail prices of some pulses, sugar, edible oil and tomato have risen in the last three months and prices of rice, wheat and atta have remained stable. In New Delhi, the retail price of gram dal has increased to Rs 67 per kg from Rs 53 per kg, tur dal from Rs 70 to Rs 74 per kg and masoor dal by Rs 8 to Rs 61/kg and sugar to Rs 39 per kg from Rs 35 per kg three months back.       
Drought prone
India is naturally drought prone. “Particularly in the areas removed from the core monsoon - that is in the Northwest of the country, the average recurrence time of droughts is 8 to 10 years. Severe droughts occur about every 30 years. The 2009 drought was not a major event,” Upmanu Lall, the director of Columbia Water Centre at Columbia University's Earth Institute, said.
And women like Sheelabai Digambar  Atpadkar, 60, has no other go but to find some source to save her family assets, who walked 16km with her animals to reach the camp. When asked about the situation in her village, she said: “The water tanker comes to our village once in 15 days. My six cows need more than 200 litres of water every day. Where can we store this? If I sell my cattle, I will lose my lifetime savings.”
Meanwhile, there are also reports putting the blame on IMD for not alerting the public about the failure of monsoon in advance. Even though in recent years, the IMD’s greater computer modelling capacity  has improved its ability to make seasonal forecasts of rainfall and help authorities and people with early drought warnings, “it is very difficult for climatologists to develop an accurate seasonal forecast, the one with a high degree of certainty,” Andrew Robertson, scientist, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University, said.
Moreover, predicting the time and intensity of the rainfall accurately is not that easy. It involves significant uncertainties - looking decades into the future or even a few months. “It’s very tricky,” Andrew Robertson, scientist, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University, Robertson said. "It’s not an easy task to predict in May whether the monsoon will be weak in a given year."
There is a correlation between monsoon strength and El Nino, generally. If sea surface temperatures rise due to an El Nino in the Pacific, monsoon rains may be weaker in that year and the weak El Nino this year may be playing a role in the current drought, according to Robertson.
Chances of recovery
Not all such episodes of severe drought correlate with El Nino-Southern Oscillation events, although there have been instances of El Nino-related droughts implicated in periodic declines in Indian agricultural output in the past.
Why is there such a scarcity of water in the country then? The general scarcity of water in the country - apart separate from the drought this year - is very closely related to the mismanagement of water in the country, most grievously in the agricultural sector. “The irrigation technologies employed do not promote conservation. Much canal water is wasted or lost to unaccountable use. The situation is quite tragic,” says Lall, adding: “The investments in agricultural improvements for the Green revolution lifted the country out of the problems... However, the cost of the complacency that set in subsequently, and the inability to continue to assess the implications of the trajectories that were put in place has led to the resulting problems today."
Not everything looks so bleak. “Still there are chances of recovery in the worst hit regions, monsoon rains may come, but again it’s another prediction, another probability. Everything is unpredictable when it comes to monsoons, especially in a country like India,” Robertson said.
Moreover, farmers have their own robust adaptation to climate variation. “We came across inspiring examples as how farmers used traditional seeds, how they have preserved seeds, adjusting the sowing periods as per the forecast of rain, managing the water harvesting systems,” said Nayak.
Maybe such adaptations, promoted with adequate resource and policy support by the government, can help the future generations like Asha to fulfill her “dream of becoming a doctor”.

Drought wreaks havoc on Indian farmers

A punishing drought in western India is hurting livestock farmers as the region experiences water shortages.

She is 11 years old and lives in Bonewadi, a small town in Maharashtra, with her mother, two sisters and one brother. She is in grade six and walks 3km to attend school. In the evening, she walks 7km to feed her cattle at a camp. Meet Asha, a young girl born in a farmer's family that owns 11 acres of land, which is usually sufficient to earn enough money to make a living under normal conditions.

Then there is Digambar Pandurang Atpadkar, a 70-year-old farmer who owns 60 acres of land and four wells in Vartuke Malwade, a small village, also in Maharashtra, India's second most populous state. He and his wife have walked 10km to reach the cattle camp, which offers emergency food and shelter, to save their eight animals.
Asha and Atpadkar are just two among the many who have been hit by drought in India. And surprisingly, majority of the farmers and cattle taking refuge in the cattle camp are from Mann taluk in Satara district - that has 21 cattle camps this year - which is under the parliamentary constituency of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who recently claimed to have spent millions of rupees supporting irrigation facilities in Maharashtra.
Moreover, Mann taluk is also adjacent to the sugar belt - sugarcane is an infamously water-intensive crop - which politicians consider their stronghold, having poured in a lion's share of Maharashtra's development funds here. Yet, the region, popularly known as Manndesh in local folklore, continues to remain at the mercy of whimsical rains.

Triggering concerns of poor farm output and higher inflation, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted less rain from June to September. "We expect 15 per cent shortfall in the seasonal rains," LS Rathore, the director general of the IMD, told reporters.

Read more here...

Friday 10 August 2012

IVF treatment: Where to draw the line?

After returning home from a holiday with her new husband, Lee Cowden was hit with chest pains - it turned out to be a heart attack due to a high dose of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) drugs.

Facing ovarian problems Cowden, 33, had taken the drugs to improve her chances of conceiving a child. She didn’t think it would end in a heart attack, but she is one of many women who are facing serious side effects from IVF.

“I was diagnosed with poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOs) when I was 15 and was told at that point that I would need to have fertility treatment to have a family. I married at 25 and straight away started to undergo the fertility treatment,” Cowden, a music teacher, said.   

Cowden’s initial attempt to conceive had failed and the clinic in London where she was taking treatment had doubled the dose for the next cycle to stimulate her ovaries, as part of IVF.

“After the heart attack, I was told that I could no longer have conventional IVF. Because of the PCOs, my body is more likely to over stimulate - OHSS,” Cowden said.

Side effects
The treatment which resulted in the world’s first successful birth of test tube baby - Lusie Brown -  in July 1978, has helped so many couples to conceive babies. Every year, more than 3.7 million babies are born across the world with the help of fertility treatments, but today, experts are increasingly wary of side effects associated with the treatment.

In the UK, nearly 60,000 cycles of IVF are carried out per year and a recent inquiry into maternal deaths in the United Kingdom found that Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), following high-dose IVF is now one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in England and Wales.

“In most of the cases, it is possible to predict the complications involved. It’s very necessary to monitor women undergoing treatment for the OHSS, as it gives rise to other related complications,” Dr Sadoon Sadoon, Consultant gynaecologist, Medway NHS Foundation Trust, London, said.

According to the National Institutes of Health, high-dose stimulation leads to OHSS in 10 per cent of IVF patients. The severe form of the condition occurs in about 2 per cent. The ovaries become swollen with the shift of the body fluid (intravascular) to the chest and abdomen.

“If it is not addressed immediately, there is a risk of kidney failure, clotting problems, including pulmonary embolism and liver disorder. It is potentially fatal and women can end up in intensive care unit with long- term consequences,” Dr Geeta Nargund, president of International Society for Mild Approaches in Assisted Reproduction (ISMAAR), and medical director of Create Health Clinics, London, said.
“It can result in poor pregnancy outcome, including miscarriages,” adds Dr Sadoon, who is an expert in infertility management and minimal access surgery.

Birth defects
Besides, a recent study suggested that high-dose IVF contributes to lower birth weights, compared with the babies of women who receive minimal doses of hormonal drugs.

In 2008, an analysis of the data of the National Birth Defects Study in the US found that certain birth defects were significantly more common in babies conceived through IVF, notably septal heart defects, cleft lip with or without cleft palate, esophageal atresia and anorectal atresia.

“… it is still important for parents who are considering using ART [Assisted Reproductive Technology, which includes all fertility treatments such as IVF] to think about all of the potential risks and benefits of this technology,” said Jennita Reefhuis, epidemiologist at CDC’s National Centre on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, and the lead author of the report published in the Human Reproduction journal.
Added to these, a new Australian study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined birth defects associated with different types of assisted reproductive technology.

Researchers compared risk of major birth defects - such as cerebral palsy or heart or gastrointestinal defects - among babies born with help of the most commonly available types of fertility treatments, including IVF, ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and ovulation induction.

"While assisted reproductive technologies are associated with an increased risk of major birth defects overall, we found significant differences in risk between available treatments," said the lead author of the study, Associate Professor Michael Davies from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute and School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health.

And only two years ago, the inventor of ICSI, Dr AndrĂ© van Steirteghem, had warned it was being “overused”. He had told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting at San Diego in 2010 that he believed “ICSI was being used too often” and had warned that it should be “used when absolutely necessary”.

Unaware of complications

Not all the times women are aware of the complications associated with the IVF treatment and the moment they are unable to conceive naturally, they blindly think of IVF. Not many realize that they always end up going for the standard IVF treatment and end up facing several complications associated with it.

“When we offer IVF, we should give women options of having Natural (drug-free) IVF , Mild IVF (small amount of drugs) and conventional IVF (high dose drugs),” Dr Geeta Nargund, who has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers including abstracts and several book chapters in the field of Assisted Reproduction and Advanced Ultrasound in reproductive medicine, said.

The way of stimulation always plays a major role in the IVF treatment. In high-dose IVF, women are first given drugs to suppress ovaries, causing temporary menopausal symptoms. Later, ovaries are stimulated to produce more eggs.

“Women normally produce one egg per cycle, but when they are given high dose drugs to stimulate ovaries, they end up producing many eggs and sometimes 20 to 30 eggs, sometimes even more. Some of them are donated during egg donation programme,” Dr Sadoon said.

Even though more eggs are produced after stimulation, collection also comes with risks.

“The egg collection carries a small risk of bleeding, infection and internal injury,” said Dr Nargund.

Switching to mild IVF 
Many countries, including Holland, Denmark, Sweden, the UK, Japan and South Korea, are switching to mild or soft IVF from aggressive forms of conventional IVF, and other countries are yet to think on those lines.

Even though there are complications in high dose IVF treatment, why do women prefer it? Is it something to do with cost factor? According to Dr Nargund, “it is because of higher number of eggs and embryo obtained in conventional high-dose IVF” and the feeling that chances of getting pregnant are more.

Many patients and doctors believe that high-dose drugs will increase the chances of conceiving in lesser cycles. But contrary to the general opinion, low-dose IVF drugs are less expensive, costing only about a third of standard IVF, according to Cowden.

"Women undergoing IVF treatment forums want 20-30 eggs so that embryos could be freezed. They fail to realise the risks and the sky-high cost of the high-dose drugs. I calculated and realized I could have four cycles of mild IVF for the cost of one standard IVF," Cowden said.
Mild or soft IVF uses very low dose stimulation for a shorter period of time within a woman's own menstrual cycle which can reduce the burden and discomfort of treatment, including the risk of OHSS. “It is also associated with healthier eggs, embryos and the lining of the uterus,” says Dr Nargund.

Women want their own biological baby and will be ready to go through any amount of turmoil - financial and mental. “The ultimate joy I got when I saw the face of my babies, nothing matters, not even the amount of complications I went through during the treatment," 35-year-old Lisa (name changed to protect the identity), who suffered three miscarriages, before giving birth to twins recently, in New York, said.

Overcoming the stigma
Reducing cost and increasing accessibility and safety are the key priorities in fertility treatment. Welfare of the mother and child should be taken into account before the treatment.

Cowden, who was asked to stop standard IVF drugs, started having mild dose of IVF treatment a year later. "I was given small doses of fertility drugs and carefully monitored. I conceived within three months of the treatment with Molly, who is now five,” Cowden, mother of two, said. "I cried my eyes out when the nurse finally said, ‘Test is positive, you are pregnant’. I was more than happy."

“Natural cycle IVF can be more successful in older women and in women with low egg reserve,” says Dr Nargund, adding, “We must do no harm while offering this treatment.”

To some extent, IVF treatment has become commercialized. “It shouldn’t be used for no reason. Both doctors and patients should realize that IVF is not the only way to conceive, there are many other ways. Mild IVF drugs can achieve the same if not better outcome and aggressive use of ovarian stimulation should be avoided," Dr Sadoon said.

Plus, there is a need to overcome the stigma of being infertile and thinking IVF as the only solution for the problems. There’s a need to understand how to deal with the most painful part - infertility - in life. Many women do not even make it public that they are undergoing IVF treatment, let alone discussing the complications.

“Women are very sensitive, they would not want to talk about it,” said Angie (name changed to protect the identity), working as a secretary in a firm in London, who has also faced complications and has given up the IVF treatment altogether and adopted childfree lifestyle, said.

Becoming parents through IVF treatment can be financially - given the fact that insurances do not cover IVF treatments - and emotionally a draining process. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride for me. I have gone through agonizing times, but I’m happy, rather say lucky, I have a happy ending for my story,” Cowden said.

With many women around the world desperate to have children, it seems Cowden and millions like her will continue using the technique, regardless of the risks. 

Women brave IVF complications for children

Women continue to use In Vitro Fertisilation to conceive, despite increasing evidence of dangerous side effects.

After returning home to London from a holiday with her new husband in 2004, Lee Cowden was hit with crippling chest pains. It turned out to be a heart attack that had been caused by a high dose of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) drugs.

Facing ovarian problems, the 33-year-old had taken the drugs to improve her chances of conceiving a child, but has become one of many women who are facing serious side effects from IVF.

Each year, more than 3.7 million babies are born across the world with the help of fertility treatments, but experts are increasingly wary of side effects associated with the treatment.

"I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was 15 and was told at that point that I would need to have fertility treatment to have a family," Cowden, a music teacher, told Al Jazeera. "I married at 25 and straight away started to undergo the fertility treatment."   

Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube baby", was born in July 1978, and the process has since helped many couples conceive. Robert Edwards, who is credited with developing IVF, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work. 

Read more here...

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Do we really need a Mars mission?

Does India really need a mission to Mars when it is facing so many other challenges? It is not even a month since North India suffered an electrical grid failure, which pushed more than 600 million people in the country to darkness for two straight days. Not to forget the fact that it entered the history as the world’s worst power outage!
The ISRO on the other day announced that the officials are waiting for the cabinet approval of the $80 million-mission. Their Mars mission comes when the country is still weighed down under the burden of power shortage, poor sanitation, less monsoon,
When the country is reeling under poverty, unable to provide basic needs to its citizens, don’t we feel this Red Planet mission is kind of a luxury? I agree that the country should compete with the developed countries when it comes to science and technology, but at what cost? Don’t our leaders see that more than half of the children in our country are malnourished, which even our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had agreed, some time ago? It was not long ago, but this January when the PM called the country’s malnutrition levels a “national shame”. Of the age below five years, “42% of children are underweight”, yes, that’s official! Who will deny that half of the families in the country have no access to sanitation?
Is India competing with its neighbor China when it comes to space mission? It’s an open secret that both the countries have had races to launch moon missions and other projects over the last decade. And it’s only last month, in June, that China sent its first female astronaut into space in a mission to dock with the country’s orbiting space laboratory. The 10-day mission will see the crew of three carry out the first manned docking with the Tiangong-1 space lab, a vital step in China’s goal to have a working space station by 2020.
However, what shouldn’t go unmentioned here is the fact that India suffered a setback in 2010, when it tried to launch a communication satellite. It was not the first, but the second launching failure in less than a year. The advanced GSAT-5P communication satellite, launched from the Satish Dhawan space centre at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, had disappeared in plumes of smoke within seconds after blastoff. Ever wondered how much it had cost for the ISRO, rather say country? The rocket had cost nearly Rs 1.75 billion ($38 milion), while the satellite had cost Rs 1.25 billion ($27 million).
And in 2008, ISRO had launched a satellite – Chandrayaan-1 -- to orbit the moon, but was abandoned a year later due to failure in the communication links and scientists had lost control of the satellite. Agreed that the launch has put India in an elite club of countries with moon missions, such as the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China. And since 1960, there have been 44 missions to Mars with just about half of them being successful; attempts have been made by the former USSR and Russia, the US, Europe, Japan and China.
India began its space programme in the 1960s and since 1975, has launched more than 50 remote sensing and communication satellites of its own and 22 for other nations.
And what more, ISRO is planning to send its first manned space flight in 2016. Any idea how much the ISRO has sought for this project? Rs 120 billion, to put two astronauts in space for a week and the government has already provided a pre-project fund of about Rs 4 billion allowing the scientists to do some initial research on the space flight.
When asked if the country should take up such a mission, which costs so much on the exchequer, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had justified it, in 2006. ‘‘We have to walk on two legs to deal with the fundamental problems of development and, at the same time, set our sights sufficiently high so that we can operate on the frontiers of science and technology… In the increasingly globalised world we live in, a base of scientific and technical knowledge has emerged as a critical determinant of the wealth and status of nations and it is that which drives us to programmes of this type.’’
Ironically, ISRO’s homepage highlights a statement by Vikram Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme, in which he hails the technology and says that they are not competing with other nations: “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the comity of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.” But we are not fools to forget the fact that ISRO has projects in all the three areas -- exploration of the moon, the planets and the manned space flight!  

ISRO is also expected to launch a Mars Orbiter as early as November 2013. The mission was boosted five months ago when the national budget set aside Rs 1.25 billion ($22.4 million) in the current financial year. But wait, the project is yet to get the cabinet nod.

The news of this Mars mission generated varied reactions in newspapers and websites. Some mocked the ambitions as a mere waste of resources which could help beat the hunger and poverty in the country, while some others praised the country for competing with the developed nations.

post by Srini (Hyderabad) on The Times of India website said: “Our country cannot take care of people, education, safety, infrastructure (roads, electricity, food) and disasters. However, we are ready to spend loads of money and send a spacecraft to Mars. We cannot conquer India (Ex: Issues in Assam), politicians face is in their rare end, they talk with rear end, cannot control terrorism, poor with discipline... my god the list goes on. Here we are, ready to go to Mars. What a stupid decision ! it is not even buying defensive equipment to protect from evils but something else. Shame on India... Jai Hind.”

Yet another post by Sri (US) asked: “Shall we get access to clean water and toilets in all villages in India before going to mars.”

post by human (earth) said: “this isnt right there are over half a billion indians who dont have enough to eat ,no education and no future.The government shud nt be wasting billions of dollars on this.”

post by Rani (Bangalore) said: “Totally agree. What will this mission proof and how will it benefit these millions who need the basics of life. May send all these corrupt people of India to live on Mars and then India will be best place to live.”

post by Sir Baby De Porky said: “They have caught some materialistic virus from the West , and think that this ” bolts and nuts ” technological chimera is something to waste money on …
When Indians are fools , they are the biggest fools , because they have the real
and highest spiritual knowledge , but are instead bewitched by the glitter of
Western style ” progress ”…
P.S. My Guru ( from India ) would have blasted them for that !!!”

So, do we really need such a mission? Can’t we help eradicate poverty and improve infrastructure?

How not to become Mat Honan: A short primer on online security

By now, you’ve probably read or heard about Wired staff writer Mat Honan’s journey through digital hell, in which hackers social-engineered Apple into giving them the keys to his digital life, allowing them to scrub his laptop, iPhone and iPad, hijack his and Gizmodo’s Twitter accounts and delete eight-years-worth of email from his Gmail account.

Honan admits to making a number of mistakes — such as failing to enable two-factor authentication and not backing up his data — that allowed the hack to escalate to the point from which there was no return.

In the hope of preventing you from experiencing a similar fate, we’ve listed a number of steps you can take to protect your data and your identity online. While nothing is foolproof — if hackers install a keystroke logging Trojan horse on your computer, all bets are off — these steps will help protect you from the tactics that Honan’s hackers used, and other ones out there.

1. Use Two-Factor Authentication with Gmail and Other Accounts

Gmail and other services offer two-factor authentication that help secure your account even if your password is stolen or cracked.

When you set up two-factor authentication, you get verification codes delivered to your phone, which you then enter, in addition to your username and password, when you sign into Gmail. Google also offers an application you can download to your phone to generate the codes locally. See the video above for an explanation.

Amazon web services and Rackspace cloud service, and other sites and services have adopted Google’s two-factor authentication as an option (there’s even a WordPress plug-in), allowing you to use a Google application on your smartphone to generate verification codes to access your accounts with their services as well.

While two-factor and the associated application-specific passwords can be a minor hassle, they mean that even if a hacker gets your password, they’ll have another layer to break through. If you find it annoying to enter the secure code every time you use your computer, you can choose to have Google remember your computer for 30 days or forever, but this means you have to be very sure your computer won’t fall into the wrong hands.

2. Use SSL or a VPN with Public Wifi

When logging into accounts from public WiFis, make sure to use SSL login pages (https). The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s HTTPS Everywhere tool can helpfully do this for you. Even better, use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your data so that your login credentials can’t be sniffed by someone on the network. Basic VPN costs start at $5 a month, and for light usage on a Mac try TunnelBear.

3. Use Unique Passwords

Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. Pick unique passwords for personal e-mail, work e-mail, banking, social networking sites and shopping. If one site gets hacked and your username and password are exposed – as occurred in multiple hacks over the past year – hackers will attempt to use the exposed password with multiple accounts you might have. Don’t help them do one-stop shopping for all your credentials.

4. Use Complex Passwords for Important Accounts

Honan’s accounts weren’t hacked due to weak passwords – so consider strong passwords to be only one part of good online security habits. But nonetheless, we’ve said it before – and so has everyone else – passwords should be longer than eight characters and include letters, numbers and characters – Pn3L!x8@H. And yet, every time another major hack exposes passwords, the top passwords used turn out to be “password” and “abc1234.”

With so many tools available these days to help you generate solid passwords and remember them, there’s no excuse to use poor password hygiene. Wired staff use both LastPass and 1Password. And the old paper-in-wallet trick, loved by security expert Bruce Schneier, works as well. Unique passphrases are also handy – EveryFineBoyDoesGood — but should be used with other characters to avoid easy cracking — Every!Fine@Boy%Does8Good.

Ideally, this kind of complexity isn’t necessary for websites as long as you don’t use a dumb password (e.g., your anniversary, birthdate, “password” or “1234″) that is easily guessed, since sites should be set up to lock out a user after multiple password tries to prevent password crackers from bruteforcing a password. But, since we know that websites don’t always do what they should do, be warned.

5. Don’t Link Accounts

The hackers who hijacked Honan’s Twitter account, were also able to take control of Gizmodo’s Twitter account because Honan, who used to work for Gizmodo, had linked the two accounts so that he could automatically sign into Gizmodo’s account with his personal Twitter account credentials. Keep log-ins separate for different accounts.

6. Get Creative With Security Questions

Skip the standard security questions like “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” or “Where did you go to high school?” since that kind of information is easy to glean about you with a simple Google search (Hello, Sarah Palin!). Or you can answer those common questions in creative, unexpected ways by swapping answers to various questions. “What was the model of your first car?” How about using your first girlfriend’s name for the answer instead, and the name of your first car for your girlfriend’s name? Or simply add characters to the name of the car – Ch!evy Ca27maro.
Feel free to create unique answers for each site that requires a security question and keep them stored in your password manager.

7. Back Up Your System

Honan’s pain was increased tenfold when he discovered the hackers had erased all of the photos from his daughter’s first year of life. Storage is so cheap these days and automated backups are so easy to set up that there’s no excuse not to keep copies of your important data.

8. Encrypt and Password-Protect Devices

To prevent someone from accessing your data and the password storage tool you have on your devices, encrypt the data on your devices and password-protect them.

9. Use Single-Use Credit Cards

One of the ways the hackers got access to Honan’s Apple data was by providing the last four digits of a credit card number he had used at Amazon. Apple had the same card number on file for him. Aside from the fact that Apple should never use the last four digits of a credit card number to authenticate users in the first place, Honan might have protected himself by using a single-use, or disposable, credit card number for his online shopping at Amazon, thus reducing the number of services that stored his real credit card number. Citibank, Bank of America and Discover all offer disposable card numbers that are tied to your real card number, but prevent that number from being exposed if a site is hacked.

Always use a credit card, rather than your debit card, when shopping online. While you can get reimbursement for fraud on either card, there’s no buffer between you and the money linked to your debit card, allowing hackers to drain accounts that are linked to it. With a credit card, you can dispute the charge before you pay it.

(Source: Wired)

How Apple and Amazon security flaws led to an epic hacking

 Today, I came across a story where a writer, Mat Honan, lost all his lifetime’s digital files, thanks to a hacking. Someone hacked his google account, got hold of Twitter and Gmail accounts. Even though the hacking appears merely for the purpose of trolling his Twitter followers, it could have been much worse if it had led into his banking systems or to some of his contacts as a journalist. Maybe this incident shows that cloud services that are being pressed upon users need different security measures -- a password system doesn’t cut it anymore.

Read the account of Honan here and see what best you can do to save yourself from being hacked:
In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

In many ways, this was all my fault. My accounts were daisy-chained together. Getting into Amazon let my hackers get into my Apple ID account, which helped them get into Gmail, which gave them access to Twitter. Had I used two-factor authentication for my Google account, it’s possible that none of this would have happened, because their ultimate goal was always to take over my Twitter account and wreak havoc. 

Had I been regularly backing up the data on my MacBook, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing more than a year’s worth of photos, covering the entire lifespan of my daughter, or documents and e-mails that I had stored in no other location.

Those security lapses are my fault, and I deeply, deeply regret them.

But what happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

This isn’t just my problem. Since Friday, Aug. 3, when hackers broke into my accounts, I’ve heard from other users who were compromised in the same way, at least one of whom was targeted by the same group.

The very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the Web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification.
Moreover, if your computers aren’t already cloud-connected devices, they will be soon. Apple is working hard to get all of its customers to use iCloud. Google’s entire operating system is cloud-based. And Windows 8, the most cloud-centric operating system yet, will hit desktops by the tens of millions in the coming year. My experience leads me to believe that cloud-based systems need fundamentally different security measures. Password-based security mechanisms — which can be cracked, reset, and socially engineered — no longer suffice in the era of cloud computing.

I realized something was wrong at about 5 p.m. on Friday. I was playing with my daughter when my iPhone suddenly powered down. I was expecting a call, so I went to plug it back in.

It then rebooted to the setup screen. This was irritating, but I wasn’t concerned. I assumed it was a software glitch. And, my phone automatically backs up every night. I just assumed it would be a pain in the ass, and nothing more. I entered my iCloud login to restore, and it wasn’t accepted. Again, I was irritated, but not alarmed. 

I went to connect the iPhone to my computer and restore from that backup — which I had just happened to do the other day. When I opened my laptop, an iCal message popped up telling me that my Gmail account information was wrong. Then the screen went gray, and asked for a four-digit PIN.

I didn’t have a four-digit PIN. 

By now, I knew something was very, very wrong. For the first time it occurred to me that I was being hacked. Unsure of exactly what was happening, I unplugged my router and cable modem, turned off the Mac Mini we use as an entertainment center, grabbed my wife’s phone, and called AppleCare, the company’s tech support service, and spoke with a rep for the next hour and a half.

It wasn’t the first call they had had that day about my account. In fact, I later found out that a call had been placed just a little more than a half an hour before my own. But the Apple rep didn’t bother to tell me about the first call concerning my account, despite the 90 minutes I spent on the phone with tech support. Nor would Apple tech support ever tell me about the first call voluntarily — it only shared this information after I asked about it. And I only knew about the first call because a hacker told me he had made the call himself.At 4:33 p.m., according to Apple’s tech support records, someone called AppleCare claiming to be me. Apple says the caller reported that he couldn’t get into his .Me e-mail — which, of course was my .Me e-mail.

In response, Apple issued a temporary password. It did this despite the caller’s inability to answer security questions I had set up. And it did this after the hacker supplied only two pieces of information that anyone with an internet connection and a phone can discover.

At 4:50 p.m., a password reset confirmation arrived in my inbox. I don’t really use my .Me e-mail, and rarely check it. But even if I did, I might not have noticed the message because the hackers immediately sent it to the trash. They then were able to follow the link in that e-mail to permanently reset my AppleID password.

At 4:52 p.m., a Gmail password recovery e-mail arrived in my .Me mailbox. Two minutes later, another e-mail arrived notifying me that my Google account password had changed. 
At 5:02 p.m., they reset my Twitter password. At 5:00 they used iCloud’s “Find My” tool to remotely wipe my iPhone. At 5:01 they remotely wiped my iPad. At 5:05 they remotely wiped my MacBook. Around this same time, they deleted my Google account. At 5:10, I placed the call to AppleCare. At 5:12 the attackers posted a message to my account on Twitter taking credit for the hack.

By wiping my MacBook and deleting my Google account, they now not only had the ability to control my account, but were able to prevent me from regaining access. And crazily, in ways that I don’t and never will understand, those deletions were just collateral damage. My MacBook data — including those irreplaceable pictures of my family, of my child’s first year and relatives who have now passed from this life — weren’t the target. Nor were the eight years of messages in my Gmail account. The target was always Twitter. My MacBook data was torched simply to prevent me from getting back in.

I spent an hour and a half talking to AppleCare. One of the reasons it took me so long to get anything resolved with Apple during my initial phone call was because I couldn’t answer the security questions it had on file for me. It turned out there’s a good reason for that. Perhaps an hour or so into the call, the Apple representative on the line said “Mr. Herman, I….”
“Wait. What did you call me?”

“Mr. Herman?”

“My name is Honan.”

Apple had been looking at the wrong account all along. Because of that, I couldn’t answer my security questions. And because of that, it asked me an alternate set of questions that it said would let tech support let me into my .Me account: a billing address and the last four digits of my credit card. (Of course, when I gave them those, it was no use, because tech support had misheard my last name.)

It turns out, a billing address and the last four digits of a credit card number are the only two pieces of information anyone needs to get into your iCloud account. Once supplied, Apple will issue a temporary password, and that password grants access to iCloud.

Apple tech support confirmed to me twice over the weekend that all you need to access someone’s AppleID is the associated e-mail address, a credit card number, the billing address, and the last four digits of a credit card on file. I was very clear about this. During my second tech support call to AppleCare, the representative confirmed this to me. “That’s really all you have to have to verify something with us,” he said.

We talked to Apple directly about its security policy, and company spokesperson Natalie Kerris told Wired, “Apple takes customer privacy seriously and requires multiple forms of verification before resetting an Apple ID password. In this particular case, the customer’s data was compromised by a person who had acquired personal information about the customer. In addition, we found that our own internal policies were not followed completely. We are reviewing all of our processes for resetting account passwords to ensure our customers’ data is protected.”

On Monday, Wired tried to verify the hackers’ access technique by performing it on a different account. We were successful. This means, ultimately, all you need in addition to someone’s e-mail address are those two easily acquired pieces of information: a billing address and the last four digits of a credit card on file. Here’s the story of how the hackers got them.

On the night of the hack, I tried to make sense of the ruin that was my digital life. My Google account was nuked, my Twitter account was suspended, my phone was in a useless state of restore, and (for obvious reasons) I was highly paranoid about using my .Me account for communication.

I decided to set up a new Twitter account until my old one could be restored, just to let people know what was happening. I logged into Tumblr and posted an account of how I thought the takedown occurred. At this point, I was assuming that my seven-digit alphanumeric AppleID password had been hacked by brute force. In the comments (and, oh, the comments) others guessed that hackers had used some sort of keystroke logger. At the end of the post, I linked to my new Twitter account.

And then, one of my hackers @ messaged me. He would later identify himself as Phobia. I followed him. He followed me back.

We started a dialogue via Twitter direct messaging that later continued via e-mail and AIM. Phobia was able to reveal enough detail about the hack and my compromised accounts that it became clear he was, at the very least, a party to how it went down. I agreed not to press charges, and in return he laid out exactly how the hack worked. But first, he wanted to clear something up:
“didnt guess ur password or use bruteforce. i have my own guide on how to secure emails.”I asked him why. Was I targeted specifically? Was this just to get to Gizmodo’s Twitter account? No, Phobia said they hadn’t even been aware that my account was linked to Gizmodo’s, that the Gizmodo linkage was just gravy. He said the hack was simply a grab for my three-character Twitter handle. That’s all they wanted. They just wanted to take it, and fuck shit up, and watch it burn. It wasn’t personal.

“I honestly didn’t have any heat towards you before this. i just liked your username like I said before” he told me via Twitter Direct Message.

After coming across my account, the hackers did some background research. My Twitter account linked to my personal website, where they found my Gmail address. Guessing that this was also the e-mail address I used for Twitter, Phobia went to Google’s account recovery page. He didn’t even have to actually attempt a recovery. This was just a recon mission.

Because I didn’t have Google’s two-factor authentication turned on, when Phobia entered my Gmail address, he could view the alternate e-mail I had set up for account recovery. Google partially obscures that information, starring out many characters, but there were enough characters available, m••••n@me.com. Jackpot.
This was how the hack progressed. If I had some other account aside from an Apple e-mail address, or had used two-factor authentication for Gmail, everything would have stopped here. But using the .Me e-mail account as a backup meant told the hacker I had an AppleID account, which meant I was vulnerable to being hacked.
“You honestly can get into any email associated with apple,” Phobia claimed in an e-mail. And while it’s work, that seems to be largely true.

Since he already had the e-mail, all he needed was my billing address and the last four digits of my credit card number to have Apple’s tech support issue him the keys to my account.

So how did he get this vital information? He began with the easy one. He got the billing address by doing a whois search on my personal web domain. If someone doesn’t have a domain, you can also look up his or her information on Spokeo, WhitePages, and PeopleSmart.
Getting a credit card number is tricker, but it also relies on taking advantage of a company’s back-end systems. Phobia says that a partner performed this part of the hack, but described the technique to us, which we were able to verify via our own tech support phone calls. It’s remarkably easy — so easy that Wired was able to duplicate the exploit twice in minutes.

First you call Amazon and tell them you are the account holder, and want to add a credit card number to the account. All you need is the name on the account, an associated e-mail address, and the billing address. Amazon then allows you to input a new credit card. (Wired used a bogus credit card number from a website that generates fake card numbers that conform with the industry’s published self-check algorithm.) Then you hang up.

Next you call back, and tell Amazon that you’ve lost access to your account. Upon providing a name, billing address, and the new credit card number you gave the company on the prior call, Amazon will allow you to add a new e-mail address to the account. From here, you go to the Amazon website, and send a password reset to the new e-mail account. This allows you to see all the credit cards on file for the account — not the complete numbers, just the last four digits. But, as we know, Apple only needs those last four digits. We asked Amazon to comment on its security policy, but didn’t have anything to share by press time.

And it’s also worth noting that one wouldn’t have to call Amazon to pull this off. Your pizza guy could do the same thing, for example. If you have an AppleID, every time you call Pizza Hut, you’ve giving the 16-year-old on the other end of the line all he needs to take over your entire digital life.

And so, with my name, address, and the last four digits of my credit card number in hand, Phobia called AppleCare, and my digital life was laid waste. Yet still I was actually quite fortunate.

They could have used my e-mail accounts to gain access to my online banking, or financial services. They could have used them to contact other people, and socially engineer them as well. As Ed Bott pointed out on TWiT.tv, my years as a technology journalist have put some very influential people in my address book. They could have been victimized too.

Instead, the hackers just wanted to embarrass me, have some fun at my expense, and enrage my followers on Twitter by trolling.

I had done some pretty stupid things. Things you shouldn’t do.

I should have been regularly backing up my MacBook. Because I wasn’t doing that, if all the photos from the first year and a half of my daughter’s life are ultimately lost, I will have only myself to blame. I shouldn’t have daisy-chained two such vital accounts — my Google and my iCloud account — together. I shouldn’t have used the same e-mail prefix across multiple accounts — mhonan@gmail.com, mhonan@me.com, and mhonan@wired.com. And I should have had a recovery address that’s only used for recovery without being tied to core services.
But, mostly, I shouldn’t have used Find My Mac. Find My iPhone has been a brilliant Apple service. If you lose your iPhone, or have it stolen, the service lets you see where it is on a map. The New York Times’ David Pogue recovered his lost iPhone just last week thanks to the service. And so, when Apple introduced Find My Mac in the update to its Lion operating system last year, I added that to my iCloud options too.

After all, as a reporter, often on the go, my laptop is my most important tool.

But as a friend pointed out to me, while that service makes sense for phones (which are quite likely to be lost) it makes less sense for computers. You are almost certainly more likely to have your computer accessed remotely than physically. And even worse is the way Find My Mac is implemented.

When you perform a remote hard drive wipe on Find my Mac, the system asks you to create a four-digit PIN so that the process can be reversed. But here’s the thing: If someone else performs that wipe — someone who gained access to your iCloud account through malicious means — there’s no way for you to enter that PIN.

A better way to have this set up would be to require a second method of authentication when Find My Mac is initially set up. If this were the case, someone who was able to get into an iCloud account wouldn’t be able to remotely wipe devices with malicious intent. It would also mean that you could potentially have a way to stop a remote wipe in progress.

But that’s not how it works. And Apple would not comment as to whether stronger authentification is being considered.

As of Monday, both of these exploits used by the hackers were still functioning. Wired was able to duplicate them. Apple says its internal tech support processes weren’t followed, and this is how my account was compromised. However, this contradicts what AppleCare told me twice that weekend. If that is, in fact, the case — that I was the victim of Apple not following its own internal processes — then the problem is widespread.

I asked Phobia why he did this to me. His answer wasn’t satisfying. He says he likes to publicize security exploits, so companies will fix them. He says it’s the same reason he told me how it was done. He claims his partner in the attack was the person who wiped my MacBook. Phobia expressed remorse for this, and says he would have stopped it had he known.

“yea i really am a nice guy idk why i do some of the things i do,” he told me via AIM. “idk my goal is to get it out there to other people so eventually every1 can over come hackers”

I asked specifically about the photos of my little girl, which are, to me, the greatest tragedy in all this. Unless I can recover those photos via data recovery services, they are gone forever. On AIM, I asked him if he was sorry for doing that. Phobia replied, “even though i wasnt the one that did it i feel sorry about that. Thats alot of memories im only 19 but if my parents lost and the footage of me and pics i would be beyond sad and im sure they would be too.”

But let’s say he did know, and failed to stop it. Hell, for the sake of argument, let’s say he did it. Let’s say he pulled the trigger. The weird thing is, I’m not even especially angry at Phobia, or his partner in the attack. I’m mostly mad at myself. I’m mad as hell for not backing up my data. I’m sad, and shocked, and feel that I am ultimately to blame for that loss.

But I’m also upset that this ecosystem that I’ve placed so much of my trust in has let me down so thoroughly. I’m angry that Amazon makes it so remarkably easy to allow someone into your account, which has obvious financial consequences. And then there’s Apple. I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can’t put a price on.

 (Source: Wired)