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Digital INSECURITY

Breaking News, July 18, 2021 —

Israeli spyware maker NSO ensures no mobile phone is safe and secure.

The New York Times reported today that NSO Group’s “Pegasus” product documentation states that its spyware tech allows for “unlimited access to a target’s mobile devices.”

The company’s promotion claims include its technology can …“remotely and covertly collect information about your target’s relationships, location, phone calls, plans and activities — whenever and wherever they are.”  And, “It leaves no traces whatsoever.”

The NSO Group further asserts that its tracking software and hardware can install itself in any number of ways, including “over the air stealth installation,” and is tailored to text messages and emails, through public Wi-Fi hot spots where NSO software is secretly installed and activated.

Massive data leak reveals Israeli NSO Group's spyware used to target activists, journalists, and political leaders globally | Amnesty International

For the last six years, the NSO Group’s surveillance and tracking system Pegasus, has been used by a growing number of government agencies around the world to target a range of smartphone users — including iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerry and Symbian systems — and without leaving a trace.

Data leaked suggests the powerful cyberespionage tool is enabling governments to spy on and target news organizations, rights activists, dissidents, journalists, opposition politicians, political dissidents, and academics.

Although such intelligence gathering capabilities have played an integral part for intelligence agencies of United States, Russia, China, Britain, and the EU, what set’s NSO apart is its technology sales to anyone who can pay, including authoritarian regimes that use the spyware for purposes that go far afield of the company’s stated aim: targeting terrorists and criminals

The Pegasus software has been deployed against journalists, rights campaigners and policymakers in Azerbaijan, France, Hungary, India, Morocco. Bahrain,  Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.

To learn more about the Pegasus spyware, and its potential relationship to your phone, view this two minute video:  https://youtu.be/2iQuk3p95M8


Originally Reported,  July 6th, 2021 —

Ransomware hackers demand $70m, over 1,500 businesses attacked

The hackers who claimed responsibility for this latest global security breach demanded $70m to restore all the affected businesses’ data, if the targeted retail and medical services victims wanted to mitigate the economic harm of extended business disruptions.

After the recent major oil-gas pipeline disruption impacting most of the US east coast fossil fuel supplies, the White House said this week they were checking to see whether there was any “national risk” posed by this most recent cyber attack targeting retailers. So far there is no evidence of any nationally important organizations being impacted — at this time.



Today we live with the threat of digital attacks and data breaches defined within one of more of these four categories:

  1. State-sponsored attacks designed to disable and disrupt their target countries and gathering intelligence, e.g. the United States, China, Russia, Iran and Israel
  2. Commerce-directed attacks designed to extort money and inflict economic harm (as in this latest reported attack)
  3. Intellectual property theft, historically led by state actors, e.g., China and Russia, and affiliated or independent organized crime entities
  4. Data breaches designed to steal personal and private consumer information from presumably secure private and public sector data warehouses

~ In this article we explore the vulnerabilities most Americans face as participants in a world gone digital ~

Major Private Sector Computer Breaches

It is the latter data breaches this article is focused on — the type of information theft that affects the daily lives and credit ratings of anyone connected to the Internet.   Not long ago, a breach that compromised the data of a few million people would have been big news. Now, breaches that affect hundreds of millions or even billions of people are far too common.

About 3.5 billion people saw their personal data stolen in the past 10 years.

The largest cybersecurity breaches of the past three years, and their effects on companies - TechRepublic

The smallest incident on this list involved the data of a mere 134 million people.

eBay reported an attack exposed its entire account list of 145 million users in May 2014, including names, addresses, dates of birth and encrypted passwords.

Yahoo announced in September 2016 that in 2014 it had been the victim of what would be the biggest data breach in history. The attackers, which the company believed we “state-sponsored actors,” compromised the real names, email addresses, dates of birth and telephone numbers of 500 million users. Yahoo revised that estimate in October 2017 to include all of its 3 billion user accounts.

Four years ago Equifax made headlines for the exposure of private information of millions of people.

Equifax, one of the largest credit bureaus in the US, said on Sept. 7, 2017 that an application vulnerability in one of their websites led to a data breach that exposed about 147.9 million consumers. The breach was discovered on July 29, but the company says that it likely started in mid-May. The breach compromised the personal information (including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and in some cases drivers’ license numbers) of 143 million consumers; 209,000 consumers also had their credit card data exposed. That number was raised to 147.9 million in October 2017.

Marriott International announced in November 2018 that attackers had stolen data on approximately 500 million customers. The breach initially occurred on systems supporting Starwood hotel brands starting in 2014. The attackers remained in the system after Marriott acquired Starwood in 2016 and were not discovered until September 2018.

The attackers were able to take some combination of contact information, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest numbers, travel information, and other personal information. The credit card numbers and expiration dates of more than 100 million customers were believed to be stolen.  The breach was eventually attributed to a Chinese intelligence group seeking to gather data on US citizens, the New York Times reported.

The 15 biggest private sector data breaches in recent history, (publicly revealed):

  • Adobe
  • Adult Friend Finder
  • Canva
  • Dubsmash
  • eBay
  • Equifax
  • Facebook
  • Heartland Payment Systems
  • LinkedIn
  • Marriott International
  • My Fitness Pal
  • MySpace
  • NetEase
  • Sina Weibo
  • Yahoo
  • Zynga  — Once a giant of the Facebook gaming scene, Farmville creator Zynga is still one the biggest players in the mobile game space with millions of players worldwide.  The hack stole account information from Zynga’s database of Draw Something and Words with Friends players to the 218 million accounts. Zynga later confirmed that email addresses, salted SHA-1 hashed passwords, phone numbers, and user IDs for Facebook and Zynga accounts were stolen.

Data Breaches


Major Public Sector Computer Breaches

The U.S. (federal) government agencies to state agencies have also been targets of cyber attacks and information theft, revealing to attackers millions of U.S. citizens’ private information through every level of government.

Here’s a list from smallest to largest in terms of the number of individuals affected, the 10 biggest government data breaches include:

  • 10. State of Texas: 3.5 Million Affected (April 2011)
  • 9. South Carolina Department of Revenue: 3.6 Million Affected (October 2012)
  • 8. Tricare: 4.9 Million Affected (September 2011)
  • 7. Georgia Secretary of State Office: 6.2 Million Affected (November 2015)
  • 6. Office of the Texas Attorney General: 6.5 Million Affected (April 2012)
  • 5. Virginia Department of Health Professions: 8.3 Million Affected (May 2009)
  • 4. U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM): 21.5 Million (June 2015)
  • 3. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: 26.5 Million Affected (May 2006) – A suspected Russian attack
  • 2. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): 76 Million Affected (October 2009)
  • 1. U.S. Voter Database: 191 Million Affected (December 2015) – A Russian attack was suspected and likely, just ahead of the 2016 Presidential election.

Since 2020 …

Last year, we also began to see the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) impose hefty fines and penalties on organizations, such as those relating to the Equifax breach and Facebook data leaks, to settle charges of improper handling of Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the overall number of data breaches affecting Americans is even higher, reporting more than 1,108 breaches in the United States in 2020 alone.

There was a whirlwind of scams and fraud activity in 2020. Data breaches continue to expose consumers’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII) at an alarming rate, putting close to three hundred million people at risk of identity theft and fraud. Cybercriminals are also focusing their time on other lucrative cyberattacks, such as ransomware, credential stuffing, malware, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) exploitation.

January 11, 2021: A Chinese social media management company, Socialarks, suffered a data leak through an unsecured database that exposed account details and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of at least 214 million social media users from Facebook and Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Information showed 413 people facts from up to three breaches that involved their own personal information. The researchers found people were not aware of 74% of the breaches.   “This is concerning. If people don’t know that their information was exposed in a breach, they cannot protect themselves properly against a breach’s implications, e.g., an increased risk of identity theft, says doctoral candidate Yixin Zou.


How does all this affect me?

The Have I Been Pwned database engaged in a recent study of global cyber attacks and lists nearly 500 online breaches over the last decade.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the overall number of data breaches affecting Americans is even higher, reporting more than 1,108 individual data breaches in the United States in 2020 alone.

Of all information that was breached, email addresses were compromised the most, followed by passwords, usernames, IP addresses, and dates of birth.

Most participants expressed moderate concern and were most worried about the leak of physical addresses, passwords, and phone numbers. In response to their compromised accounts, they reported taking action or an intention to change passwords for 50% of the breaches.

“It could be that some of the breached services were considered ‘not important’ because the breached account did not contain sensitive information. However, low concern about a breach may also be explained by people not fully considering or being aware of how leaked personal information could potentially be misused and harm them,” says Peter Mayer, postdoctoral researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Risks range from credential stuffing—or using a leaked email address and password to gain access to other accounts of the victim—to common identity theft and fraud.

Most of the breaches never made the news, and often they involved little or no notification to affected individuals.   “Today’s data breach notification requirements are insufficient,” Zou says. “Either people are not being notified by breached companies, or the notifications are crafted so poorly that people might get an email notification or letter but disregard it. In prior work, we analyzed data breach notification letters sent to consumers and found that they often require advanced reading skills and obscure risks.”


What Should I do when (not if) my personal information has been digitally stolen?

  1. Check whether accounts were part of a breach using free services such as https://haveibeenpwned.com/ or https://monitor.firefox.com/.
  2. Read breach notifications carefully.
  3. Websites like the FTC’s https://identitytheft.gov/ can help create a recovery plan after identity theft.
  4. Make sure to change the password of the breached account and any others for which the same password was used. Doing this once should be enough unless there is a new breach.
  5. Sign up for identity monitoring services you get offered. Though not perfect, they are better than nothing.
  6. If you experience actual harm from a breach you may also be entitled to further support.
  7. To prevent future data breaches:
  8. Use a unique password for each online account. No one can remember dozens of these so it’s best to use a password manager to store and create strong passwords.
  9. Use two-factor authentication, wherever possible, that requires a code by phone in addition to a username and password in order to access an account.
  10. Freeze credit reports at the three major bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to make it more difficult for identity thieves to cause financial harm.

Vertial Farming 1

No Soil, No Growing Seasons — Just Add Water, Technology, Energy, and Cash

Tech-driven Vertical Farming company Kalera (Euronext Growth Oslo ticker KAL, Bloomberg: KSLLF), announced last December its intention to open a facility in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2021.

Kalera’s Oahu island location will be the Company’s eighth facility announced, making it one of the fastest growing Vertical Farming companies in the United States. It will also be the largest Vertical Farming operation in Hawaii. According to the company, the Honolulu based operation will eventually employ approximately 60 people; the company presently has three management positions open in Glassdoor.

Vertical Farming is a new breed of hydroponic farm, huge and high-tech, and these high-tech farms are popping up in indoor spaces all over America, drawing investors and critics, but is this the answer to Hawaii’s desire to break away from its current and costly imported food dependency?

Vertial Farming 1

Indoor hydroponic farming in the form of “vertical-farming” manipulates light, humidity, temperature and other conditions to grow fresh produce in a totally controlled environment – repeatedly and consistently.

In this new generation of agricultural, vertical hydroponic farms can create precise growing conditions using technological advances like machine-learning algorithms, data analytics and proprietary software systems to coax customized flavors and textures from fruits and vegetables. And they can do it almost anywhere on Earth or even in outer space, and certainly in Hawaii.

Across the United States a new generation of hydroponic greenhouses are popping up, as is the case in an industrial setting near the Hackensack River in Kearny, N.J., where trays filled with sweet baby butterhead lettuce and sorrel that tastes of lemon and green apple are stacked high in a windowless warehouse.

In the Kearny, N.J. example of a new breed of high-tech greenhouses, the site is as large 50 football fields adorned with thousands of LED and power hungry high-pressure sodium lights. Without a teaspoon of soil, nearly 3 million pounds of beefsteak tomatoes grow on 45-feet-high vines whose roots are bathed in nutrient-enhanced rainwater. Other vines hold thousands of small, juicy snacking tomatoes and separately, or vertical rows of popular lettuce varieties.

Vertical-farming has arrived at a pivotal moment in human history.  Swaths of the country and the planet wither in the heat and drought of climate change, and face, with increasing frequency, once-in-century super storms which damage and destroy crops.

At the same time, the demand for locally grown and organic food has never been stronger, as an ongoing pandemic has already demonstrated; the global food supply chain isn’t as resilient as previously believed and now is subject to greater supply uncertainties in face of rising market demand.

Vertical farming advocates site benefits as the way to significantly increase food production while reducing the environmental footprint of traditional forms of agricultural by reducing land, water, chemical, and fertilizer use and increasing overall efficiency. But what are the pros and cons for this new wave of agricultural?


The Advantages of Vertical Farming

  1. Stable crop yields (Hawaii Economic Plus)
  2. Protection from outside conditions  (Hawaii Climate Plus)
  3. Crop yields all year long  (Hawaii Economic Plus)
  4. Protection against pests  (in Hawaii – to be determined)
  5. Fewer crop losses (Hawaii Climate Resiliency Plus)
  6. Increase in profits (Hawaii – to be determined)
  7. Protection from animals & invasive plant species (Hawaii Plus)
  8. Ability to grow all kinds of plants (Hawaii – to be determined)
  9. Savings in water (Hawaii Climate Plus)
  10. Vertical farming can be fully organic (in Hawaii – operator dependent)
  11. Fewer crop imports needed (major Hawaii Plus)
  12. More efficient land use (major Hawaii Plus)
  13. Less habitat destruction (major Hawaii Plus)
  14. Energy generation through composting (Hawaii – to be determined)

The Disadvantages of Vertical Farming

  1. Expert needed to set up a vertical farming project (added Hawaii Cost factors for imported expertise)
  2. High upfront costs  (add in local Hawaii Cost factors)
  3. Significant operational costs (add in local Hawaii Cost Negative)
  4. High energy consumption  (add in local Hawaii energy costs and a major negative for Climate mitigation goals)
  5. High labor costs  (add in local Hawaii Cost factors)
  6. Significant maintenance efforts (add in local Hawaii Cost factors)
  7. Carelessness could lead to a spread of pests (in Hawaii – to be determined)
  8. Pollination problems  (in Hawaii – to be determined)
  9. May need official permissions (in Hawaii – to be determined)
  10. Technology not mature yet (to be determined)
  11. Infrastructure regarding processing of crops is missing  (add in local Hawaii Cost factors)
  12. Only suitable for certain kinds of plants  (in Hawaii – to be determined)
  13. Plants may contain fewer nutrients  (in Hawaii – to be determined)
  14. Technology issues may cause huge problems  (to be determined)
  15. People in rural areas may lose their livelihood (potential Social Negative – TBD)

iFarm is but one example of a growing number of companies claiming to address the operating and environmental costs associated with Vertical farming.

Verical Farming Hardware

One of the advantages of the iFarm fertigation system is that it allows to mix any number of nutrient solutions for a variety of crops (salads, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and edible flowers). This is achieved by adding six mother liquors (concentrates of nutritional ingredients thinned to get solutions with a certain number of nutrients) to the system at a time.

Not everyone is on board.

Huge vertical farming  operations grow produce in nutrient-rich water, not the healthy soil that many people believe is at the heart of both deliciousness and nutrition.

For vertical farming to create a virtual indoor environment which emulates nature without any downside, investors and farm operators face, beyond the initial set-up costs, is the concentrated 24×7 consumption of large amounts of power.

Vertical farming opponents also point to clear evidence that the farming method can consume vast amounts of electricity.  That is major barrier of entry for a state with nation’s highest cost electricity and one that is dedicated to a transition to 100% clean (zero emissions) and locally produced electricity.

There is nothing to prevent vertical farming from becoming carbon-neutral and power self-sufficient by installing onsite solar generation and storage, but add costs and requires added facility site space, and in Hawaii that means likely outside the traditional urban and industrial settings of this type of farming operation, and on land already zoned for agricultural, but potentially without the necessary infrastructure to support this type of high-tech operation.

One example of Vertical Farming operating components:

  • LED lamps to illuminate the farm. As vertical farms are situated indoors, you don’t need to rely on sunlight for plant growth, including white, red, blue, yellow and green spectra, to create optimal growing conditions.
  • Air conditioning system to circulate and cool the air
  • Osmotic water purification system
  • A fertigation unit, to prepare a nutrient-rich solution for plants.
  • Pumps to deliver fertilizers to plants
  • Air humidifiers are required during the first few months of operation. Once plants are mature, they’re able to maintain appropriate humidity levels naturally and air humidifiers are no longer needed.
  • Air dryers are used on larger farms where mature plants process more water.
  • Controllers and automation systems maintain a stable microclimate, control mixing solutions and facilitate plant growth with minimal human input.
  • Lamps used to illuminate the farm interior
  • Computers and communications used to log and manage operations remotely.
  • Webcams to monitor plants, and detect growth deviations or diseases using computer vision technology.
For Vertical Farming operations, technology and operating experience continue to evolve into greater efficiencies, with improvements in power consumption at top priority.
Vf 2In the case of the iFarm system, the company claims electricity consumption is divided into LED lamps (65%), air conditioners (20%) and dehumidifiers (10%) – which accounts for 95% of electricity usage, while the remaining devices use less than 5%.  No total kWh power consumption comparisons to production examples were provided by the company.

iFarm’s web site states: “The amount of electricity your vertical farm uses will depend on exactly which crops you choose to grow. We’ve calculated how much electricity it takes to grow light-loving Romaine lettuce, shade-loving rocket and garden strawberries to give you an example of energy usage on vertical farms.”

Reducing energy consumption makes your vertical farm more environmentally friendly and has the added bonus of reducing your operating costs. By using iFarm technologies to manage your farm, you can significantly reduce the amount of electricity you use…”  For more information on this see: https://ifarm.fi/blog/2020/12/how-much-electricity-does-a-vertical-farm-consume 


The Real Organic Project offers an alternative to vertical farming without the environmental and economic baggage.

OrganicOrganic farming, put simply, is returning organic matter to the soil so that the life in the soil cycles nutrients back to the crop. Highly soluble fertilizers kill much of the life in the soil, whereas organic matter feeds it. Organic farming is much more closely aligned with Hawaii’s traditional (non-corporate) farming practices. Organic produce, for example, merits a premium price in the retail store sales and higher profits for organic farmers.

Real Organic Project claims the results include vastly less soil erosion, vastly better water retention, less drought, less flooding, less water pollution, better carbon sequestration, and a more resilient and reliable agricultural system.

Organically grown food benefits include:

  • No GMOs
  • Supports healthy soil
  • More nutrition and flavor
  • Supports, rather harms pollinators
  • Healthier working environment for farmers
  • Resistance to pests and diseases
  • Natural Fertilizers are created on-site
  • Opportunity for specializing
  • Is climate-friendly

For consumers, organic grown crops offer beyond the obvious health benefits to themselves and the environment in which spraying poisons for food is not required, organics eliminate the agriculture’s petrochemical and biotech dependencies, which among other negatives, contributes to global biodiversity destruction.

Dave Chapman, a Vermont farmer and the executive director of the Real Organic Project is passionate about what he does and describes today’s Vertical Farming this way;  “Hydroponic production is not growing because it produces healthier food. It’s growing because of the money. Anyone who frames this as food for the people or the environment is just lying.”

A Pyrrhic Victory for Hu Honua; Hawaii’s Supreme Court Decision

While the spin machine for Hu Honua Biomass would have you believe that a recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision was a great victory for them, that really isn’t the full story.

Justice Michael Wilson in a concurring opinion for the majority makes it clear that the Public Utilities Commission may still decline a waiver from the competitive process that Hu Honua had sought.

The court decision was more a form of legal housekeeping that clarifies an earlier ruling. PUC attorneys have the ability under current regulations to issue a new waiver denial they just need to change the justification. It is the stuff only lawyers love.

Back in 2006, the PUC adopted a competitive bidding framework under administrative rules that have the effect of law. Waivers are really obsolete now. The intent is to get ratepayers the best deal for electricity. Waivers are anti-competitive and not in the public interest.

Hu Honua simply cannot compete in the current energy marketplace. Burning trees for fuel is highly inefficient. Prices for solar and batteries have dramatically dropped making them the better choice.

When the PUC re-issues its new waiver denial in accordance with their rules, it will send a message to Puna Geothermal which also seeks the special treatment of a waiver. They, too, are not competitive.

With no open competitive bids for additional renewables, both Hu Honua and PGV efforts to get special treatment actually leave them with no opportunity until another round opens up and even then it is highly unlikely that they will succeed.


In the meantime, two solar farms on the Big Island with 60 MW of capacity and massive battery storage have been approved and are moving quickly to start construction.

Another larger solar farm at 60 MW went through Phase 2 competition and is awaiting PUC approval.

As Hawaii moves down the path to 100% clean and renewable energy, with it comes island sustainability and energy independence.

Hawaiian Electric ratepayers can also look forward to reduced costs for electricity, altogether a win-win for Hawaii’s residents and businesses when Hawaii can move past Hu Honua to a clean and sustainable energy future.


For additional information, see Steve’s earlier article on the “Hu Honua Meltdown”: https://www.beyondkona.com/hu-honua-meltdown/

“The PUC denied the waiver from competition because they found that Hu Honua wanted too much money for electricity and that it wasn’t in the public interest to raise rates for all consumers including State and County facilities on the Big Island …”


Steve Holmes is the former Energy and Sustainability Coordinator for the City and County of Honolulu.   He won the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Champion Award in 2002.  He served 12 years on the Honolulu City Council putting large areas into parks and preservation.    He was a state energy analyst in Hilo, a Park Ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Executive Director of Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Hawaii Chapter Conservation Chair of the Sierra Club, President of Kokua Hilo Bay, and has won numerous awards for his efforts on behalf of Hawaii’s environment.
Cyber Security2

A 21st Century Power Struggle: bombs are out, bots are in!

Article Updates

— April 26, 2021

Russia ‘likely’ kept access to US networks after SolarWinds hack

Russia’s alleged success with the SolarWinds hack might not have ended just because US agencies and companies have bolstered their defenses. CNN sources aware of the investigation claim Russia’s SVR intelligence agency “likely” still has access to American networks despite efforts to close exploits. The attackers are still “very much out there,” one contact said.

Deputy National Security Adviser Anne Neuberger didn’t directly acknowledge the allegation when CNN asked, but did say that formally blaming the SVR was meant to “shape [Russia’s] calculus” on the value of hacks. The US wasn’t going to dissuade Russia with a single action, the adviser said.

A continued presence in American networks is consistent with history. Russia continued to mount cyberattacks against the US after the Obama administration imposed sanctions in late 2016, targeting politicians (Sen. Claire McCaskill) and other systems during the 2018 midterms and beyond. Even if the US successfully dislodged Russia from government systems, there was a good chance it would find another security hole.

If the report is accurate, though, it illustrates just how difficult it may be to secure a lasting victory against state-sponsored cyberattacks. Even the large-scale response to a campaign like the SolarWinds hack apparently wasn’t enough to dislodge the intruders. The US might not get a reprieve for a long, long time to come.

— April 11, 2021

Israel confirms it carried out cyberattack on Iran nuclear facility

Israel appeared to confirm claims that it was behind a cyber-attack on Iran’s main nuclear facility on Sunday, which Tehran’s nuclear energy chief described as an act of terrorism that warranted a response against its perpetrators.

The apparent attack took place hours after officials at the Natanz reactor restarted spinning advanced centrifuges that could speed up the production of enriched uranium, in what had been billed as a pivotal moment in the country’s nuclear program.

As Iranian authorities scrambled to deal with a large-scale blackout at Natanz, which the country’s Atomic Energy Agency acknowledged had damaged the electricity grid at the site, in statement today by Israeli defense chief, Aviv Kochavi.

Natanz has remained a focal point of Israeli fears, with an explosion damaging a centrifuge assembly plant last July, and a combined CIA and the Mossad cyber-attack using a computer virus called Stuxnet in 2010 that caused widespread disruption and delayed Iran’s nuclear program for several years.


Original Article Post

With barely sixty days into his administration, President Joe Biden got a taste of what the next four years may look like: a new era of bitter superpower competition, marked by perhaps the worst relationship Washington has had with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with China since 1972, marked by the beginning of diplomatic relations with the United States.

In recent years, Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China both took sharp turns toward authoritarianism.  President Biden acknowledged a reporter’s question-statement that Putin was a “killer”, in reference to a long string of not-so-mysterious deaths of people on Putin’s enemy list.

Then there’s the first Biden administration meeting with Chinese officials last month in Alaska, when Chinese representatives lectured the American delegation about their arrogant view that the world wants to replicate their freedoms.  It may have been political theater, but the underlining issues were real enough for both sides.

The Cold War period has not resumed, there are no drop drills or super power nuclear brinkmanship, the current competition is over technology, cyber attacks, and influence operations — scenes which are now playing in the shadows of those bygone bad old days.

Russia today

Putin, however, has lamented that the Russia of the early 21st century is a shadow of the former Soviet Union. Russia’s economy is roughly the size of Italy’s and is based on two assets of the past, fossil fuels and weapons.

The real power in Putin’s Russia, in the 21st century, is mostly limited to cyber warfare in disrupting governments and societies, instilling fear, stealing trade and state secrets,  silencing dissension, and using the state’s highly advanced cyber abilities for personal political and economic gain.

Today’s Russia mostly resembles a mafia-run enterprise more than a former superpower. Its state goals are not social or idealistic, but for profiting the few and powerful within Putin’s inner circle, an almost czar-like government.  It’s a far cry from the idealistic workers revolution of 1917 which created the former Soviet Union.

China today

After several decades experimenting with shades of capitalism, China’s recently installed (in relative terms) president Xi Jinping has placed China back onto its authoritarian path to power by building new networks, rather than disrupting old ones.

Economists debate when the China will assume the title (currently held by the United States) of having the world’s largest gross domestic product — some economists predict within less than 10 years.

Underlying the goal of global economic dominance, China’s national goals are building the world’s most powerful military and dominating the race for key technologies by 2049 — the 100th anniversary of Chairman Mao’s revolution. Their military aspirations are not to repeat the costly mistakes of their former ally the Soviet Union.

The United States invented the Internet, we own it through one means or another from the idea of the Internet to its underlying technology, standards and regulatory entities.  But that is changing, and changing at technology fast speeds.Russian Cyber Center

For China, it’s all about expanding economic might by positioning their government-subsidized technology to wire developing nations — be it Latin America or the Middle East, Africa or Eastern Europe — with Chinese 5G wireless networks intended to tie them ever closer to Beijing. Like competing rail monopolies of the 19th century, it was all about who owned the rails, not the trains that mattered.

For China today, Internet competition and cyber dominance comes in the form of laying the undersea cables. China is presently connecting the developing world with undersea and terrestrial fiber and 5G wireless networks running on Chinese-owned (not US) circuits.

China is developing the “second” worldwide Internet. The one we know and the one that’s coming under the control of Chinese minders, placing national and commercial interests of the United States and its democratic allies at risk; not as enemies, but as economic competitors for market and mind share.

The United States (a new sheriff is in town)

Shortly after taking office, President Biden met by phone with President Xi Jinping.   In the two hour conversation, Biden told Xi that the Chinese narrative of the U.S. in decline was badly mistaken.   It was a foundational statement from this new president whose mission is to right the America ship of state which had been adrift the previous four years and was sailing through a foreign policy fog.

President Biden’s leadership mission for the United States is summed up on the White House web site as…

This is the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new economy.

The American Jobs Plan is an investment in America that will create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China. Public domestic investment as a share of the economy has fallen by more than 40 percent since the 1960s.

The American Jobs Plan will invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race.

Biden’s Infrastructure plan clearly recognizes what’s needed at a time of a growing global threat to US dominance. Elements of the plan include a historic national investment – consisting principally of one-time capital investments in our nation’s productivity and long-term growth.

The plan will invest about 1 percent of GDP per year over eight years to upgrade our nation’s infrastructure, revitalize manufacturing, invest in basic research and science, shore up supply chains, and solidify our care infrastructure.

In total, the plan will invest in America nearly about $2 trillion this decade – perhaps this is what Biden meant when he told president Xi of China “the Chinese narrative of the U.S. in decline was badly mistaken”.


Solar-Winds

Yang Jiechi, China’s most senior diplomat, put China’s present day’s feeling about the United States this way…“I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion…”   In another words, there is room for oligarchs and dictators, just not democracies.

The ongoing cyber attacks by Russia and China (and others) on the United States and Western democracies is ample evidence that a new age of soft warfare is well underway — practiced daily by both the United States and its competitors. Less obvious than the cold war days of classroom drop drills, but equally representative of times. Cyber Security3

In 2020, a major cyberattack by a group backed by a foreign government penetrated thousands of organizations globally including multiple parts of the United States federal government, leading to a series of data breaches.

While malicious attacks occur every day through phishing, malware, and other means, the so-called SolarWinds attack (because hackers used the SolarWinds software platform — unbeknownst to the company) to facilitate the hackers’ attack and enable the attackers code scale to spread across companies and government agencies. It is especially shocking by weaponizing third-party software operating on targeted systems as the means of attack.

The hackers’ attack spread into data systems around the world faster than a pandemic.

Austin-based SolarWinds sells technology products to an extensive list of sensitive targets, including all five branches of the U.S. military.  The company sells it’s technology products to an extensive list of sensitive targets, including all five branches of the U.S. military. The company said it has more than 300,000 customers worldwide, including a large number of the U.S. Fortune 500 who have been affected by the attack..

The SolarWinds cyberattack and data breaches were reported to be among the worst cyber-espionage incidents ever suffered by the U.S., due to the sensitivity and high profile of the targets, as well as  the long duration (eight to nine months) before being detected. Hackers had access to the systems data and data operations. Within days of discovery, at least 200 organizations around the world had reported being affected by the attack, and some of these suffered serious data breaches.

The attack, which had gone undetected for months, was first publicly reported on December 13, 2020, and was initially only known to have affected the U.S. Treasury Department and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Key agencies within the United Kingdom, European Parliament were also attacked, as well as Microsoft and many of its large private and public sector customers. Microsoft reported they knew of at least 60 major customers with compromised email systems, in which the same attackers had used email for reconnaissance purposes.

In addition to the theft of data, the attack caused costly inconvenience to tens of thousands of SolarWinds customers, who had to check whether they had been breached, and had to take systems offline and begin months-long decontamination procedures as a precaution.

U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin described the cyberattack as tantamount to a declaration of war.

US intelligence agencies have been expectedly silent on the hack, but technology experts strongly believe the pattern of the attack suggests it originated with Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB.


How Secure Is Hawaii?

State and local governments have been begging the Federal government for help and more resources since they are on the front lines of a growing number of cyberattacks.

State and local government computer systems have, in effect, been locked up by hackers seeking a ransom payout before they release the attacked computer systems data files, and some cases system access.

The intended targets of this type of cyber attack is normally directed to government data silos responsible for vital services. Digital applications and databases, some of which are even more critical during a pandemic – including hospitals, schools and government benefit distribution systems.

It’s a problem growing exponentially according to the US Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division. Hawaii is not exempt from these attacks — the question is are we prepared?

 

Beyond Kona Energy Feed

Legislative Update; EV Market Analysis

Hawaii EV Legislative Update

Ev Charging L 1 2 3

As we reported earlier, there is a variety of EV bills in this year’s legislative cycle. One of those bills, Senate Bill SB756 SD2, is still alive (and made it out of committee) and is presently before the House Energy & Environment Committee for full consideration. Today’s hearing is open to public testimony. If you missed today’s hearing, you can view the hearing and public testimony at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPULuxV-FMY&ab_channel=HawaiiHouseofRepresentatives

The SB756 bill-specific testimony begins at 1:15 mark.

SB756 SD2 is a particularly important bill as it addresses the state’s multi-island deficient EV charging infrastructure. One of the key aspects of the bill is its intent to address the need for an effective public charging infrastructure, and which will enable equitable access to electric vehicles for Hawaii’s residents and visitors.

Many within Hawaii’s growing EV owner community charge their vehicles at home. But for Hawaii’s mass market EV adoption to be realized, both state and private sector partners must join together and address a growing demand by the state’s residents and future EV owners; especially those who live in condos and apartments and those who are renters, who altogether today do not have practical access to convenient vehicle charging options.

SB756 is designed to address these and other of Hawaii’s infrastructure components needed to fulfill the potential of a 100% statewide transition to electrification in ground transportation.

For more details on the status of current EV legislation, and more specifically SB756, we recommend you visit: https://hawaiiev.org/2021-hawaii-ev-legislation


EV Market Analysis; present and near future

Bank of America analysts have calculated that a shift to a 100% Electric Vehicle (EV) world would need more than $2.5 trillion in investments, coming from companies, investors, and governments across the world.

So far, Wall Street and Silicon Valley have poured billions of dollars into electric-vehicles and supplier companies over the past year. They’re betting on the future dominance of EV’s and the sunset of ICE vehicles, fueling valuations, and creating an economic catalyst for EV start-ups and major automakers alike.

There is little doubt that the automotive industry is trending toward electric vehicles amid the rise of Tesla Inc.  Within the past 10 years, the pure EV universe was owned by Tesla, with only tentative and limited EV production steps taken by GM and Nissan, along with a smattering of R&D stage fuel-cell companies. In the past two years along comes China, now a major driving force for both EV market makers and for EV demand.

In total, at least $28 billion was invested in public and private electric-vehicle companies in 2020, according to the Dow Jones Market Data Group.

This bird has flown

No longer confined to regulatory-driven market experiments, EV’s have gone main stream. “The writing is on the wall with regard to the long-term EV versus internal combustion debate,” said John Mitchell, a partner at Blue Horizon Capital. In several countries around the world, people will no longer be allowed to purchase internal combustion-engine vehicles within a short decade or two, and global automakers have realized that “the transition to electrified vehicles is the only way to compete,” he said.

According to Mitchell, the enabling elements on EV’s:

  • declining prices with technology breakthroughs enabling cheaper, longer-lasting, and faster-to-recharge battery options
  • increasing availability of electric vehicles,; and
  • potential political strides towards a national EV infrastructure buildout, together with other “green friendly” government initiatives now taking root, the U.S. and elsewhere are on a path forward to a national and global switch in the electrification of transportation.
  • Marine and aviation sectors are presently in the R&D stages of applying battery tech towards the eventual  replacements of ICE powered planes and ships.

“The EV party is just beginning, buckle the seat belts,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said recently. Recent weakness are short-term “growing pains,” he said.


Market investments, driving meaningful change

A switch from combustion engines to electric cars will not be an easy ride for consumers and manufacturers or take place quickly, with so many legacy stakeholders working to retard the growth of EV’s.

Electric cars currently make up around 2-3% of global auto sales, and estimates for a future market penetration share vary from a low-end forecast of 10% to 20% of cars sold by 2030 to as much as two-thirds of the market by that time.

Much more money will be needed to fund the switch, despite the billions that already found its way to EV-related investments. Boding well for the future, however, Blue Horizon’s Mitchell pointed to the increasing quality and technical improvements for EVs.

“Battery life is only going to be extended and with the trillions being invested globally by all those supporting the electrification of the transportation system the infrastructure for widespread adoption and usage of EV technology is only going to increase,” he said.

Analysts at UBS forecast that global auto makers’ revenues from EVs are going to shift to $1.16 trillion by year 2030, from $182 billion today.

Conversely, revenue from ICE vehicles, at $1.77 trillion today, will dwindle to $1.07 trillion. Revenues for software will make an even bigger slice of that revenue pie by 2030, at nearly $2 trillion.


Building a charging infrastructure for Hawaii and the nation.

The electric vehicle charging stations market is a highly concentrated market which includes key players and local players. The market has witnessed increased various strategic developments producing a favorable market scenario.Ev Charger Market

The market has a prominent growth in upcoming years due to increasing demand for electric vehicles, incentives & subsidies by government for electric vehicles and increasing environmental concerns. The vehicle-to-grid (v2g) technology for EV charging stations and renewable sources of energy for electricity are also posing as an opportunity for the market.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Market Trends

For bills like Senate Bill SB756 SD2 to become successful, regulators, Hawaiian Electric, and private sector partners must engage in a market ready and consumer friendly cost effective charging architecture – and one based on clean, renewable, and locally produced energy.

Global electric vehicle charging stations market today is segmented into five segments: the charging station, vehicle type, charging stations standards, installation type, and last but not least, the technology employed which must resilient and easily maintained.

  • The present market segmentation for EV chargers are confined to AC charging stations (Level 1 & 2), DC charging and inductive charging stations. The DC charging station segment is projected to grow at the highest CAGR in the forecast period of 2019 to 2026.
  • Vehicle type is the second grouping, with a market today segmented into both (all) battery electric vehicles (BEV), and plug–in hybrid vehicles (PHEV)
  • EV Chargers are generally segmented into level 1, level 2, level 3, and Tesla’s advanced, and vary fast, Supercharger network (presently, not available for Hawaii’s neighbor islands)
  • Charging stations are evolving quickly, as are standards governing chargers.  The current chargers are segmented not only their rate of charge, but their plug type, e.g., CHAdeMO, CCS, Tesla Supercharger, SAE J1772 and IEC 62196
  • And finally building a charging infrastructure must be structured to address two basic market segments; residential and commercial

Disruptive EV Market Factors


  • Tesla, the established global EV leader

Its first-mover advantage widely viewed as substantial, as ICE competitors continue to chase Tesla’s taillights for piece of the emerging EV marketplace.

The UBS analysts calculate that Tesla has a cost advantage around $1,000 to $2,000 per electric vehicle over other auto makers, although competition is increasing.  Analysts see large legacy auto makers, like VW, will be able to reach an EV manufacturing cost and margin parity with Tesla today within five years – which in terms of building market share can be a lifetime in business and technology terms.

The problem for VW and other Tesla competitors is the company is not standing still waiting for its competitors to catch up. Innovation and cost and profit performance will be the deciding factors in the next few years.

Today, VW is the No. 2 auto maker in the world, but lags behind Tesla in terms of battery costs, software, and EV production tech. Tesla likely to keep its price advantage in the battery space due to its vertical integration and technology advances.

 

  • EVs, not FSDs (full self-drive) vehicles could be the real game-changer

Related to investor’s inflows to electric-vehicle makers is the interest generated by lidar, batteries, sensors and other components hailed as key to autonomous vehicles.

Full autonomy (FSD) has proven to be a stubborn and costly problem to solve, with regulatory, legal, and technological hurdles aplenty.

Despite lofty driver automation goals, most cars on the road today offer advanced driver-assistance systems that are not dramatically different from previous years’ systems and still far from being the game-changer they are expected to be for lives and economies in a not-so-distant future.

For now, in spite the hype, automakers are mostly focused on partial autonomy and ADAS offerings that can be commercialized in the short term, as EVs continue to pull ahead in terms of consumer interest and the current regulatory push.

 

  • Pandemic Life Lessons; working without a daily commute

As appealing to some of the promise of a fully automated and self-driving vehicle may be, there is the larger of the role and demand for personal vehicles, electric and otherwise.

During past year of COVID-19 lockdowns and working remotely, an unintended social experiment was underway. In highway-heavy Los Angeles the average commuter saved 10.25 days last year by working from home during the pandemic the past year.

In Honolulu, a similar number of days saved while working at were logged.  Working at home commuter saved Hawaii’s primary workforce (Oahu) a total time in days saved, altogether were logged in at 9.68 days.  If someone said to you, here, take these 10 (saved) days add the to your life, and do with the saved time what you want – that too would be an interesting experiment.

According to a December Pew Research study, about 71 percent of the American workforce was working from home during the past pandemic year. Only 20 percent worked from home before the pandemic.

About half of those Pew surveyed said they want to continue to work from home after the pandemic ends — perhaps they’ve gotten used to the break from commuting.

The study used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and calculated the above rate by averaging the number of days most people work in a year. On average, Americans work about 242.8 days a year, factoring in sick and vacation time.

If the pandemic has forever changed us in the way many of us will work and socialize, then what does that say about future demand for personal vehicles or that second car or truck? Only time will tell us the answer to that question.

Beyond Kona Energy Feed

Senate Bill 243, a Wake-up Call for Hawaii’s Clean Energy Ambitions

previous published in ililani media


  • The Biden administration plans to decarbonize the U.S. power sector by 2035.
  • Hawaii plans to decarbonize its electric grid by 2045.

The Hawaii Legislature proposes to tax rather than to ban fossil fuel, as this will send a message to the marketplace, rather than imposing sustainability on the out-of-control fossil fuel industry.

The fossil fuel industry got us into this mess, and by being taxed, they will find solutions to get us out of this mess. So, the theory goes. Just like tobacco which then discovered flavored stuff.

Hawaii proposes using a crystal ball to develop strategic plans to reach future goals.

Imagine the pre-internet, pre-cell phone world from 25 years ago.

Imagine having a crystal ball in 1995 and being asked to map out what 2020 would look like.

Imagine being paid to do this. That is, having the taxpayers fund your analysis.

Fast forward to the new, exciting, cutting edge, energy revolution.

Solar and wind are now the cheapest forms of electricity for virtually everyone on the planet. Energy storage on a large scale has just begun and is poised to take-off.

The electric grid has become a dynamic, two-way, flow of real and reactive power, and communications, with smart devices installed throughout.

The simple world of yesterday`s electricity generation and distribution is becoming vastly complex. New regulatory mechanisms like incentive regulation are being implemented.

Imagine being paid to determine what the world would look like in 2045.

Football and a Crystal Ball: Data Privacy Predictions for 2016

Paid by taxpayers – Hawaii Senate Bill 243 was signed onto by over half of the Senators.

“The legislature finds that section 269-92, Hawaii Revised Statutes, requires each utility company that sells electricity for consumption in this State to establish a renewable energy portfolio standard of one hundred per cent of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2045.”

“The legislature also finds that section 225P-5, Hawaii Revised Statutes, establishes a zero emissions clean economy target to sequester more atmospheric carbon and greenhouse gases than emitted within the State as quickly as practicable, but no later than 2045.”

“The legislature finds that no strategic plan currently exists for the attainment of either of these goals.”

“The Hawaii state energy office … shall establish a strategic plan.”

The problem is pesky community people who pushed for these laws to be passed in the first place and who also care about equity, respect, community values, and participatory democracy.

The goal of the strategic plan is to provide clarity for utilities, utility-scale developers, and energy distributors in planning to achieve the benchmarks.”

Two different groups would be funded by Legislators to study this impossible analysis of the future.

The University of Hawaii, Mānoa`s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute of the University of Hawaii “shall conduct a feasibility study on the State’s ability to achieve its goal.”

The Hawaii State Energy Office “shall submit its strategic plan, including proposed strategies, benchmarks, and metrics.”

Both studies would be paid for by taxpayers.

The Hawaiian Electric Companies and the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission already tried this.

The Power Supply Improvement Plans (PSIPs) were developed from 2013-16 and are already out-of-date.

Long-term utility planning used to examine scenarios 15-20 years in the future. Today, that has shrunk to five years.

The dynamic electricity sector is changing too fast for longer-term analysis.

 

Pv To Ev

New PUC Model Holds the Promise of Lower Rates

A new PUC regulatory framework will have repercussions for most of Hawaii’s electricity consumers, and in advancing the state’s transition to a 100% clean energy economy.

The new framework governing Hawaiian Electric’s operations establishes a rate-setting basis designed to incentivize the state’s largest electric utility’s transition off imported fossil fuels, beyond the state’s current 2045 and 100% clean energy mandate. Hawaiian Electric (HE) will soon find itself operating in the new regulatory world of a “Performance Regulatory Framework” (PBR).

According to a statement by Hawaii’s PUC, the new regulatory framework will transition Hawaiian Electric from a system wherein energy rates are determined by the cost of providing service to one which the company is rewarded for providing “exemplary performance” – in effect, a balanced approach between incentivizing and penalizing Hawaiian Electric based on the company’s performance and actions.

Performance-based ratemaking rewards utilities for performing well on key metrics, such as efficiency, customer service and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. PBR is a departure from the traditional utility model of reaping returns from capital-intensive investments (the cost-of-service model).

The PUC, in its governing role as the state regulatory body ensures HE’s performance and compliance in meeting state goals, and the utility’s ability to profit from its operations, but the PUC also foresees the new PBR model as an opportunity for HE customers and the utility to reduce customer electricity bills.

– Legacy and PBR Utility Operating Models –

 

Utility Puc Performance Model

 


PBR is new, but not unique to Hawaii

A total of 19 states and Washington D.C. have seen recent legislative and/or regulatory developments related to PBR. That’s six more than a year ago, according to new data on PBR activity by utility commissions and utilities compiled by regulatory intelligence firm EnerKnol and analyzed by Wood Mackenzie.

Yet analysis of regulatory and legislative activity shows that while PBR is becoming more widespread, linking new performance metrics with financial consequences for utilities remains rare. How well Hawaii’s largest electric utility does in this PBR environment remains to be seen.

According to EnerKnol research, … “Utilities increasingly view the programs as critical for locking in more stable revenues in the face of declining power sales and costly environmental mandates.”

Incentives are a key element of the PBR regulatory framework, but so far are mostly absent in most state-regulated PBR utility programs.  Performance mechanisms for PBR are divivded into three general categories,, according to Wood Mackenzie:

  • Metrics: Required reporting of quantifiable and verifiable metrics (greenhouse gas emissions, clean peaks, efficiency and customer satisfaction are typical examples)
  • Scorecards: When metrics are associated with targets and utility performance can be scored to compare to its historical levels or with peer utilities
  • Incentives: When scorecards are associated with financial incentives and/or penalties, giving performance mechanisms real enforcement power

Among the 11 states and territories with 100 percent renewable or carbon-free goals either signed into law or being acted upon in the state legislature, nine of them have recent PBR developments at the state or utility level: Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, New York and Washington.

Wirleless Tower

Norman Abramson, ALOHAnet and Wireless Networking Pioneer, Dies at 88

His ALOHAnet, designed a half-century ago in Hawaii, was a precursor to the technology used in today’s smartphones and home WiFi networks.

Professor Abramson’s project at the University of Hawaii was originally designed to transmit data to schools on the far-flung Hawaiian islands by means of a radio channel. But the solution he and his group devised in the late 1960s and early ’70s would prove widely applicable; some of their technology is still in use in today’s smartphones, satellites and home WiFi networks.  Alohanet Pioneer Dies

The technology he helped to create allowed many digital devices to send and receive data over that shared radio channel.

It was a simple approach that did not require complex scheduling of when each packet of data would be sent. If a data packet was not received, it was simply sent again. The approach was a departure from telecommunications practices at the time, but it worked.

“It was an incredibly audacious idea, real out-of-the box engineering,” said Vinton Cerf, a computer scientist at Google and the co-author, with Robert Kahn, of the technical standards for linking computer networks on the internet.

The wireless network in Hawaii, which began operating in 1971, was called ALOHAnet, embracing the Hawaiian salutation for greeting or parting. It was a smaller, wireless version of the better known ARPAnet, the precursor to the internet, which allowed researchers at universities to share a network and send messages over landlines. The ARPAnet was led by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, which also funded the ALOHAnet.

“The early wireless work in Hawaii is vastly underappreciated, said Marc Weber, an internet historian at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Every modern form of wireless data networking, from WiFi to your cellphone, goes back to the ALOHAnet.”

The ALOHAnet technology became so widely used was partly because Professor Abramson and his team had shared it freely and welcomed other scientists to Hawaii.

Professor Abramson majored in physics at Harvard, then earned a master’s degree in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford, in 1958. He briefly worked in industry and had postdoctoral teaching stints before he went to Hawaii. He retired from the University of Hawaii in 1994.

 

Covid 19 Breaks Apart

Promises of a COVID-19 Vaccine or Cure?

“I think that we’re going to have some degree of public health measures together with the vaccine for a considerable period of time. But we’ll start approaching normal — if the overwhelming majority of people take the vaccine — as we get into the third or fourth quarter [of 2021].”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House task force on the coronavirus, (NYT Interview Nov. 19-2020).

 

NEWS UPDATE

Pfizer Claims Early Data Shows Their Vaccine Is More Than 95% Effective

The drug maker Pfizer announced on Monday that an early analysis of its coronavirus vaccine trial suggested the vaccine was robustly effective in preventing Covid-19, a promising development as the world has waited anxiously for any positive news about a pandemic that has killed more than 1.2 million people.

Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with the German drugmaker BioNTech, released only sparse details from its clinical trial, based on the first formal review of the data by an outside panel of experts.

PfizerThe company said that the analysis found that the vaccine was more than 94.5 percent effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers who had no evidence of prior coronavirus infection.

If the results hold up, that level of protection would put it on par with highly effective childhood vaccines for diseases such as measles. No serious safety concerns have been observed, the company said.

Pfizer plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization of the two-dose vaccine later this month, after it has collected the recommended two months of safety data.

By the end of the year it will have manufactured enough doses to immunize 15 to 20 million people, company executives have said.

Wait & See

Independent scientists have cautioned against hyping early results before long-term safety and efficacy data has been collected. And no one knows how long the vaccine’s protection might last.

The data released by Pfizer Monday was delivered in a news release, not a peer-reviewed medical journal. It is not conclusive evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, but it is certainly welcome news to a world-weary population living in a pandemic if Pfizer’s claims of more than 90 percent efficacy are independently validated — the trial goes on.

 


Covid 19 Treatments 1

There is no cure yet for Covid-19. Only one treatment, a drug called remdesivir, has been approved by the F.D.A. for the disease, and with only a modest benefit to patients. Scientists are also studying a wide range of other potential treatments, but most are still in early stages of research.

Categories of COVID-19 Treatment

Antibodies

How Antibody Tests Work - WSJ

 

Antibodies are one of your body’s natural defense systems against foreign attackers. When your body detects foreign intruders (like bacteria or viruses), your immune system makes antibodies that recognizes them. These specific antibodies attach to the foreign intruders and target them for destruction.

To treat or prevent disease, scientists can either use antibodies from the blood of people who have recovered from the infection (i.e., “convalescent plasma”) or use antibodies made in a lab that will attach to and stop (“neutralize”) the foreign intruders.

Antibodies created to attach to different molecules in the body (i.e., not foreign intruders) can also be used to treat disease, for example, by turning down your immune response to stop it from overreacting and causing damage to the body (a phenomenon known as “cytokine storm”).

 

Antivirals

BREAKTHROUGH! Boston Researchers Identify New Target For Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Treatment That Can Be Used For Corvid-19 Coronavirus. - Thailand Medical News

Viruses travel light—they usually only carry a few things they need, including the code to make more of themselves (the “nucleic acid,” either DNA or RNA) and a protective shell around them.

They can’t make more of themselves (“replicate”) on their own. They need to get into animal cells, where they hijack the replication system that those cells use.

Antiviral treatments stop viruses from making more of themselves by blocking one or more steps in the process.

 

Cell-Based Therapies

2020 Autologous Stem Cell Based Therapies Market Growth Factor By Regeneus, Mesoblast, Pluristem Therapeutics, US STEM CELL – Galus Australis

Cell-based therapies work by transferring into patients live cells to treat a specific disease. To make cell-based therapies, researchers take cells either from the patient (called “autologous” therapies) or from a donor (called “allogeneic”therapies) and either transfer the cells unchanged or change the cells in specific ways to treat a specific disease (e.g., CAR-T therapies).

Different cell types from different sources can be used (e.g., stem cells from fat tissue or bone marrow, cells from placenta, T-cells, natural killer [NK] cells). To treat COVID-19 disease, potential cell-based therapies work, in general, by helping the patient’s immune system work better (and not overreact) by releasing signals to other cells in the body to coordinate a proper reaction to the infection and help healing.

 

Devices

Brita Filter for Blood” Aims to Remove Harmful Cytokines for COVID-19 Patients - IEEE Spectrum

Not all potential therapies to treat COVID-19 are drugs. Some are devices or machines that in some way treat a disease.

These potential treatments include blood purification devices that filter patients’ blood to remove excess proteins (e.g., cytokines causing the“cytokine storm”) or toxins that are causing problems that can lead to respiratory or organ failure in patients.

 

 

 


COVID-19 Drugs or Potential Vaccines in Testing

PROMISING EVIDENCE 

 Remdesivir — made by Gilead Sciences under the brand Velkury, is the first drug to gain approval from the F.D.A. for the treatment of Covid-19. It works by interfering with the creation of new viruses, inserting itself into new viral genes. Remdesivir was originally tested as an antiviral against Ebola and Hepatitis C, only to deliver lackluster results. But a randomized controlled trial published in May concluded the drug reduced the recovery time of people hospitalized with Covid-19 from 15 to 11 days.   Updated Oct. 23


TENTATIVE OR MIXED EVIDENCE 

  • Favipiravir — Originally designed to beat back influenza, favipiravir blocks a virus’s ability to copy its genetic material. A small study in March indicated the drug might help purge the coronavirus from the airway. Larger, randomized trials are now underway.   Updated Sept. 29
  • Molnupiravir — (also known as MK-4482 and previously as EIDD-2801) is another antiviral originally designed to fight the flu. Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck are collaborating to develop it as a treatment for Covid-19.   Molnupiravir produced promising results against the new coronavirus in studies this spring in cells and on animals. In October, the companies started two Phase 2/3 trials to see if it can reduce mortality and speed recovery in patients.   Updated Oct. 13   
  • Recombinant ACE-2 — To enter cells, the coronavirus must first unlock them — a feat it accomplishes by latching onto a human protein called ACE-2. Scientists have created artificial ACE-2 proteins which might be able to act as decoys, luring the coronavirus away from vulnerable cells. Recombinant ACE-2 proteins have shown promising results in experiments on cells, but not yet in animals or people.  Updated Oct. 13
  • Ivermectin — For decades, ivermectin has served as a potent drug to treat parasitic worms. Doctors use it against river blindness and other diseases, while veterinarians give dogs a different formulation to prevent heartworm. Studies on cells have suggested ivermectin might also kill viruses. In April, Australian researchers reported that the drug blocked coronaviruses in cell cultures, but they used a dosage that was so high it might have dangerous side effects in people. The FDA immediately issued a warning against taking pet medications to treat or prevent Covid-19. “These animal drugs can cause serious harm in people,” the agency warned.  Updated Oct. 13
  • Oleandrin  — It is a compound produced by the oleander shrub. It can cause irregular heartbeats, making the plant dangerous to ingest. But many plant compounds — even some potentially lethal ones — have proven to be medically useful, and so researchers have investigated oleandrin as a potential treatment for cancer. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases tested oleandrin on coronavirus-infected cells in May but the experiments were inconclusive.  But most compounds that kill viruses in cell cultures fail in further testing in animals or humans. Phoenix Biotechnology is considering selling oleandrin as an over-the-counter supplement. Consumers should be aware that there is no evidence that it’s safe or effective against the coronavirus in people.  Updated Aug. 21

NOT PROMISING 

  • Lopinavir and ritonavir — Twenty years ago, the F.D.A. approved this combination of drugs to treat H.I.V. Recently, researchers tried them out on the new coronavirus and found that they stopped the virus from replicating. But clinical trials in patients proved disappointing.
  • Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquineGerman chemists synthesized chloroquine in the 1930s as a drug against malaria. A less toxic version, called hydroxychloroquine, was invented in 1946, and later was approved for other diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers discovered that both drugs could stop the coronavirus from replicating in cells.  The World Health Organization launched a randomized clinical trial in March to see if it was indeed safe and effective for Covid-19, as did Novartis and a number of universities. Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly promoted hydroxychloroquine at press conferences, touting it as a “game changer,” and even took it himself. The F.D.A. temporarily granted hydroxychloroquine emergency authorization for use in Covid-19 patients — which a whistleblower later claimed was the result of political pressure. But more detailed studies proved disappointing. Studies on animals such as monkeys and mice found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine stopped the disease.
Covid 19 Image

COVID-19; more than a question of life or death

A study of low-risk COVID-19 infected individuals finds impairments four months after first contracting the virus.

Young and previously healthy people with ongoing symptoms of Covid-19 are showing signs of damage to multiple organs four months after the initial infection, UK study suggests.

The findings are a step towards unpicking the physical underpinnings and developing treatments for some of the strange and extensive symptoms experienced by people with “long Covid”, brain fog, breathlessness, and pain are among the most frequently reported effects.

The UK-based Coverscan study assessed the long-term impact of Covid-19 on organ health in around 500 “low-risk” individuals – those who are relatively young and without any major underlying health complaints – with ongoing Covid symptoms, through a combination of MRI scans, blood tests, physical measurements and online questionnaires.

A total of 200 COVID-19 patients in the study had undergone screening suggesting 70% have impairments in one or more organs, including the heart, lungs, liver and pancreas, four months after their initial Covid-19 illness.

There is some post-infection impairment in 25% of the people in the study,  affecting two or more organs,” said Amitava Banerjee, a cardiologist and associate professor of clinical data science at University College London.

“This is of interest because we need to know if [the impairments] continue or improve – or if there is a subgroup of people who could get worse.”


COVERSCAN STUDY FINDINGS

Between April and September 2020, 201 individuals (mean age 44 (SD 11.0) 55 years, 70% female, 87% white, 31% healthcare workers) completed assessments following 56 SARS-CoV-2 infection (median 140, IQR 105-160 days after initial symptoms).

The 57 prevalence of pre-existing conditions (obesity: 20%, hypertension: 6%; diabetes: 2%; heart 58 disease: 4%) was low, and only 18% of individuals had been hospitalized with COVID-19. 59 Fatigue (98%), muscle aches (88%), breathlessness (87%), and headaches (83%) were the 60 most frequently reported symptoms.

Ongoing cardiorespiratory (92%) and gastrointestinal 61 (73%) symptoms were common, and 42% of individuals had ten or more symptoms. 62 There was evidence of mild organ impairment in heart (32%), lungs (33%), kidneys (12%), 63 liver (10%), pancreas (17%), and spleen (6%). Single (66%) and multi-organ (25%) 64 impairment was observed, and was significantly associated with risk of prior COVID-19 65 hospitalization.


In some, but not all, cases there was a correlation between people’s symptoms and the site of the organ impairment. For instance, heart or lung impairments correlated with breathlessness, while liver or pancreas impairments were associated with gastrointestinal symptoms.

“It supports the idea that there is an insult at organ level, and potentially multi-organ level, which is detectable, and which could help to explain at least some of the symptoms and the trajectory of the disease,” said Banerjee.

The new findings could also have implications for the management of people with long-term Covid impacts, suggesting the need for closer collaboration between medical specialists. “Sending the people you need to the cardiologist, and then to the gastroenterologist, and then to the neurologist would be an inefficient way to deal with things as the pandemic continues,” Banerjee said.

For Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar, Covid-19 brought an onslaught of symptoms from chest pains to an 11-day migraine, three positive test results, and a period in hospital.

Brain Fog: the long and unclear road to coronavirus recovery

Seven months later, the rollercoaster is far from over: the 36-year-old from Byron Bay, Australia is still experiencing symptoms – including difficulties with thinking that are often described as “brain fog”.

“Brain fog seems like such an inferior description of what is actually going on. It’s completely crippling. I am unable to think clearly enough to [do] anything,” says Nicholson-McKellar, adding that the experience would be better described as cognitive impairment.

The consequences, she says, have been enormous.

“I can’t work more than one to two hours a day and even just leaving the house to get some shopping can be a challenge,” she says. “When I get tired it becomes much worse and sometimes all I can do is lay in bed and watch TV.” Brain fog has made her forgetful to the point that she says she burns pots while cooking.

“It often prevents me from being able to have a coherent conversation or write a text message or email,” she adds. “I feel like a shadow of my former self. I am not living right now, I am simply existing.”

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Dr Michael Zandi, a consultant at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology , says he has seen patients who have been living with brain fog for a few months. While some have been admitted to hospital or intensive care with Covid, Zandi says he is now seeing cases among people who coped with Covid at home.

“The proportion of people with cognitive symptoms for any period of time as a result of Covid-19 is unknown, and a focus of study now, but in some studies could be up to 20%,” he says.

Zandi agrees that difficulties with thinking and concentration have previously been reported by patients with other conditions, including the auto-immune disease lupus.

“Doctors and scientists wouldn’t necessarily use [brain fog] as a diagnosis as it doesn’t exactly tell you what the problem is and what could be causing that,” says Zandi.

Dr Wilfred Van Gorp, former president of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, says many Covid survivors he has seen with brain fog also have problems ranging from headaches to difficulties tolerating loud noise and controlling emotions.

 “The complaints are very much similar to [those of] post-concussion patients,” he says, adding that there are also similarities to chronic fatigue syndrome.

Zandi says there could be many causes of brain fog in Covid survivors, from inflammation in the body to a lack of oxygen to the brain – the latter is a particular concern for those who spent time on ventilators.

Dr Nick Grey, a consultant clinical psychologist at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said terms similar to “brain fog” have previously been used in connection with extreme tiredness, low mood and conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – the latter of which is thought to affect about a quarter of Covid survivors who were in intensive care.

(originally published, Guardian, 10-09-20)