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UK MoD’s Capita-run recruitment portal support offline • The Register

The UK Ministry of Defence has suspended online application and support services for the British Army’s Capita-run Defence Recruitment System and confirmed to us that digital intruders compromised some data held on would-be soldiers.

The army was informed of the break-in on March 14, and “that a group of hackers was going to release Army Application Data on the dark web,” a source familiar with the matter told us.

Two days later, the Army shut down the career website and DRS as a precautionary measure.

The career website is back up and running, but online applications and support are still missing in action – or rather, the website is suffering “TECHNICAL ISSUES”:

The extent and method of the attack remains under investigation by the MoD and Capita. The exact point of entry has yet to be pinpointed.

DRS, we are told, interfaces with numerous MoD systems including Joint Personal Admin (JPA) and Training and Finance Management Information System (TAFIMS), and it is not known how far the attackers got in.

The MoD wanted to avoid potential access by miscreants and instead opted for the shutdown.

Without access to digital services, the Army is using “paper systems to manage their recruitment activity. They have declared a cyber emergency and enacted Op Rhodes,” a source claimed.

The exact number of candidate details stolen is unconfirmed, but we were told by several people that it ranges from 125 to 150. One source claimed 125 recruits’ data were for sale on the dark web for 1 Bitcoin, or $42,733 at today’s exchange rate.

Despite the relatively small volumes of data exposed, this is still incredibly embarrassing for the MoD, and, if it turns out DRS was the method of intrusion, for Capita – which boasts of having a “good deal of its DNA in defence and security.”

We understand the affected candidates were contacted by the MoD. Britain’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, told us the breach has yet to be reported to it.

“Organisations must notify the ICO within 72 hours of becoming aware of a personal data breach, unless it does not pose a risk to people’s rights and freedoms.

“If an organisation decides that a breach doesn’t need to be reported they should keep their own record of it, and be able to explain why it wasn’t reported if necessary.”

The Register asked the MoD about the timelines, the threat of releasing data on the dark web, and more. An army spokesperson said:

“We have been made aware of a compromise of a small section of recruit data and are testing the matter with the utmost importance. Whilst we are investigating the source of the information it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Capita refused to comment.

Marketing material about the way Capita reinvented the Recruiting Partnering Project (RPP), a £495m contract it signed in 2012 with the British Forces, makes no mention of the checkered past for the DRS component, which itself debuted in November 2017 – some 52 months behind schedule.

Under the contract, Capita was in charge of running recruitment operations, including marketing, processing applications and handling the candidate assessment centres.

Online recruitment was due to launch in July 2013 but the MoD “failed to meet contractual obligations to provide the infrastructure to host Capita’s recruitment software,” said a National Audit Office report [PDF] in 2019.

At the start of 2014, the “Army passed responsibility for developing the whole system to Capita.”

Capita, the report continued, underestimated the level of customization required for the online system, and built bespoke applications rather than using off-the-shelf software. It was hosted on Capita infrastructure, not the MoD cloud that runs on Microsoft Azure, the NAO said. A source told us that remains the case.

DRS initially failed in the early days after launch to the point that recruits were almost unable to sign up online. Poor pre-delivery testing was also blamed. Capita then, at its own expense, began an intense seven-month period to sort out the technical problems.

It was revealed by the MoD in 2020 that in the 12 months after the DRS was switched on, there was a 22 per cent drop – meaning a whopping 25,000 fewer applicants – to the British Army.

The Public Accounts Committee – Parliament’s spending watchdog – said in a 2019 report:

“The shortfall each year has ranged from 21 per cent to 45 per cent of the Army’s requirement. In 2017–18, Capita recruited 6,948 fewer regular and reserve soldiers and officers than the Army needed. Capita missed the Army’s annual target for recruiting regular soldiers by an average of 30 per cent over the first five years of the contract, compared with a 4 per cent shortfall in the two years before Capita started.”

The PAC report said the Army was preoccupied with the war in Afghanistan in 2012 when it entered into the RPP with Capita, and admitted it was “naïve to think it could just contract out recruitment to an organization that was not military”.

Capita, according to the report, admitted it “made mistakes”, saying: “It had been more interested in ‘chasing revenue’ and winning new contracts rather than its partnership with the Army.”

Recruitment targets were lowered – but still missed – and the contract’s penalties reset, the PAC said. It voiced concerns the Army did not push back on Capita’s “poor performance.” The Army deducted £26 million in payments to Capita in one lump – the only financial penalty during the contract to date.

Despite a string of failings on both sides, the reward for Capita was a £140 million extension to keep RPP for four more years until 2024.

An insider told us that so far a replacement for DRS is not on the horizon, and they expect the current system will be extended with Capita until April 2026.

The Army still does not have full ownership of the intellectual property upon which DRS is based. It does have contractual rights to the software code and complexity of the systems will mean it will be “difficult to test its future adaptability,” said the NAO report from 2019.

“If the Army decides to continue using the system, it will have to pay Capita for a licence. However, if the application is not suitable for modification, the Army will need to buy or develop a new recruitment system after the contract with Capita ends.”

We asked the MoD when DRS was last accredited by Defence Digital as secure and when the last penetration testing was completed.

The Air Force and Navy appear to be unaffected by recent events. Both forces moved off DRS last year, awarding Pegasystems a £9.5 million, three-year support contract in 2021. Under that agreement, the software biz provides a “standard production cloud offering” via AWS infrastructure. ®

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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