Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

December 22, 2022

India first crewed space mission scheduled for Q4, 2024

Filed under: Astronomy / Space — Suramya @ 5:48 PM

The Indian Space Program has been running on an accelerated schedule over the past few years. We had the Chandrayaan 2 launch in 2019 followed by multiple record breaking launch of 104 satellites (It was later broken by Space X, but efforts are ongoing to break their record of 143 satellites launched.

India is aiming to launch an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft Gaganyaan (“Space Craft”) by Q4, 2024. If all goes well India will become the 4th country to put a human in space after Russia, US and China. This is an extremely ambitious program that will push the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to its limits. This was announced yesterday by India’s Minister for Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh in his answer to a question posed in the Lok Sabha.

(a) The first uncrewed flight of Gaganyaan programme i.e. ‘G1’ mission is aimed at validating the performance of Human rated launch vehicle, Orbital module propulsion system, mission management, communication system and recovery operations. The mission will carry a humanoid as payload. In view of the paramount importance of crew safety, two Test Vehicle missions are planned before the ‘G1’ mission to demonstrate the performance of crew escape system and parachute-based deceleration system for different flight conditions.

(b) Yes, Sir. The uncrewed ‘G1’ mission is targeted to be launched in the last quarter of 2023 followed by the second uncrewed ‘G2’ mission in the second quarter of 2024. India’s maiden human space flight ‘H1’ mission is targeted to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2024.

(c) & (d) Yes, Sir. The astronaut designates for human space flight mission are identified and are currently undergoing their mission specific training at Bengaluru. First semester of Astronaut training has been
completed wherein they have undergone course modules on Theoretical basics, Space medicine, Launch vehicles, spacecraft system and ground support infrastructure. Regular physical fitness sessions, aeromedical training and flying practice are also part of crew training. Corresponding evaluation and assessment activities have also been completed. The second semester of crew training is currently in progress.

Another interesting point for this launch is that the training for the astronauts is being conducted in India itself at ISRO’s facility in Bangalore instead of in Russia as it was done in the past. Now that the initial announcement has been made, we need to publicize this a lot more to get everyone excited about the launch. If possible I will def be planning a visit to Sriharikota to witness the launch in person.

I am looking forward to the launch and wish ISRO all the best. This is a proud moment for all Indians. Jai Hind.

Source: Gaganyaan: ISRO plans to launch first human space flight mission in 2024 & India schedules first crewed space mission for Q4, 2024

– Suramya

December 21, 2022

“Linux is a meme and only autistic people use it” brainstorm from an anonymous coward

Filed under: Humor,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 8:28 PM

It is funny how people will make up stuff to explain why Linux (or any other OS) is difficult and why the person making the pronouncements can’t get it to do what they want it to do. Recently, the screenshot below came up in my feed and it made me laugh. As per the author only autistic people use Linux and everyone else “has just fallen for the meme”.


Linux is only for Autistic People

I have been using Linux almost full time since 2001 and am definitely not autistic. I can’t identify trains by their sounds and instead of not being able to talk to girls, according to some I sometimes talk too much. I have no interest in learning the names of the cast for any TV show and as far as I can tell I am leading a pretty normal life.

The genius who penned this (and I am of half a mind that this is just someone trolling Linux users) doesn’t seem to know that it is used to power 96.3% of the world’s top web servers and Android is based on Linux as well. It is the world’s 3rd most popular OS (after Windows and Mac) and while it has its own quirks it def doesn’t need you to know the in’s and out of the computer in order to use it. In fact in my experience, it is easier to install Linux and have a functional setup than it is to install Windows as Windows requires a lot of extra stuff to be installed in order to be productive while in Linux most of that is already pre-installed or built-in.

This was good for a laugh so I wanted to share it here.

– Suramya

December 19, 2022

IndiGo Airlines classifies powerbanks as Dangerous goods & threatens potential prosecution for carrying them on Flight

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 2:19 AM

A couple of days ago while I was checking in for my IndiGo flight, I noticed that the airline has a page for “Dangerous Goods and Restricted Articles” just like most other airlines have when doing the online check in. What was interesting over here, was the fact that the page lists “Power Banks” under this category and states that “Carrying these objects may be an offense and may result in prosecution”.


Screenshot from Indigo website taken 10th Dec 2022

This makes absolutely no sense as powerbanks are now carried by pretty much everyone and yes while they are not allowed in checked-in luggage anymore, they are still allowed in carry-on luggage. Classifying then alongside weapons and flammable liquid etc doesn’t make any sense and just gives the airline the option to potentially abuse this classification if required.

I did try reaching out to Indigo over social media about this but didn’t get any response.

– Suramya

December 15, 2022

Visiting Nagaland: The land of festivals

Filed under: My Life,Travel/Trips — Suramya @ 4:54 AM

North East India is not a very well explored area of India and over the past year we have been making an effort to explore more of it and have already covered Assam, Meghalaya and Sikkim so far. This time we decided to visit Nagaland as Santosh from Exotic Expeditions had organized a trip that included the Hornbill festival. It was our 4th Trip with Santosh and as always it was a fun experiential trip.

We (Jani, Me and Punita) started on the 3rd morning at 4am from our place for the airport for the flight to Delhi. Initially we had booked via Calcutta but one of the legs of the flight got cancelled so we decided to route via Delhi instead. At the Delhi airport we met Uma, Veena and Jaclyn who had flown via different flights. This was the first time I was flying via Terminal 2 and found it to be a lot more crowded than T1 & T3 but not insanely so. The flight to Dibrugrah was uneventful and once we reached Dibrugrah Santosh received us at the Airport and we drove over to the Hotel where we were staying. This trip people came via different transportation methods, we had 2 folks who came by train and another who came via bus and the rest flew so it was evening by the time everyone arrived at the hotel. Another interesting fact about this group was that it was a majority women group with 4 guys and 8 ladies.

Since it was my birthday, Jani and Shankar had planned a surprise cake cutting and it was a pleasant surprise. After the cake cutting, we stayed up for dinner (the hotel only served dinner at 8:30) while the rest ate out and then crashed for the day. Santosh, Shankar, Jani and me hung out for a while and then crashed hard post dinner.


Group photo taken just before the cake cutting

The next day started early as we had a long drive ahead of us. I wanted to try the local breakfast food for breakfast but when I asked the cook what the local folks ate for breakfast he answered that they also eat bread and omelette. *shaking my head*. The food was decent and post breakfast we all piled into the cars and started the journey. About an hour into the drive, we were told that since it was a Sunday most of Nagaland would be closed so we picked up snacks from a local bakery and while the bakery looked a bit shady, the quality of the food was great. In addition to the baked goods we also picked up samosa’s and assorted junk food. One of the packets Punita picked up was a packet of Paneer Bhujia which was something I was seeing for the first time. Turns out that there was a reason that it wasn’t popular and we hadn’t seen it because it tasted pretty bad. During the stop we did see various pigeons in colors that we normally don’t get to see them in.


Group photo at a random stop on the way

The views as we were driving were amazing, we stopped for a bio break next to an abandoned bridge over a small river where I managed to click some really nice pics.


Abandoned bridge we found on the way


Abandoned bridge over the river

We reached Longwa around 4pm and within 30 mins of us reaching there the sun had set and it was already dark. We stayed at the Longwa Homestay (+91 8730-027353) where Nok Au was our guide. As we hadn’t had a proper lunch yet, the first thing we did after dumping our luggage was to sit down for a meal. The food was all sourced locally and was a bit bland to be honest. However, they did give us naga chilies which more than made up for the lack of spices. The Longwa Homestay is owned by the tribes and the main hut served both as a kitchen and gathering place. This was also the home of the king and queen of the tribe and their family only took care of us during the stay.


Having local tea in Bamboo cups


Photo with a Head Hunter who has collected 5 heads

After food, we explored the hut and the large collection of handmade jewellery, masks and other items. Jani bought a necklace and others bought a bunch of stuff. I was tempted to buy a mask but then decided not to because of a lack of space at home to put them up. Amongst other things, they also had carvings made out of Mithun bones (a species of ox), wild boar teeth and spinal bones of animals. Interestingly, all the carvings etc were done with a machete which is something I didn’t think was possible because of the size of the blade, but these folks were extremely skilled with the blade and did some intricate work. We also got to meet a real live headhunter who was gracious enough to pose for photos with us. In addition the front of the hut was covered with the skulls of animals that had been sacrificed during festivals. As per their beliefs they keep the skull as a reminder of the sacrifice made by the animal. We could identify wild boar, Mithun, Monkey, bison skulls amongst others which was quite fascinating.


Sunset photo I took near the homestay

After food and meet and greet we walked around for a bit before it became too cold to hangout outside and got some nice photos of the sunset. Post dinner we hung out for a bit before crashing as we were all tired from the long drive. The rooms we were in were a concrete structure but the walls were extremely thin, to the point that we could hear snoring in the next room and conversations at a normal volume were easily understandable in the other rooms. To make things even more interesting the toilets for the two rooms (ours and the next door room) shared a common wall that only went up 2/3rd of the way. So, anyone in one of the toilets could easily hear whatever was going on at the other side. To reduce the awkwardness we ensured that both were not occupied at the same time. Another very innovative implementation we saw in our bathroom was their version of a shower. As you can see from the pic below, instead of a showerhead which would have been expensive and difficult to maintain they just put a tap on top that you could open to have a shower.


Fancy Showerhead we had in our room

Post shower and breakfast we started the next portion of the itinerary where we walked up to the watch-tower between the India – Myanmar border. Since it was a bit of a distance we did take the car partway and then walked the next. From the tower/viewpoint we could see both India and Myanmar. The views were fantastic and the pics we took came out beautifully. Indu and me took a lot of pics (she took way more pics than me of the landscape while I mostly focused on the people).


Photo at the border, the stone visible in the back is the India – Myanmar border marker

From the watch tower we walked back down to the cars and on the way passed a house having its roof being put up. Interestingly the entire structure was built without the use of any nails etc. They used cords made from bamboo to tie the components together and the roof was covered with palm leaves which were again tied down with bamboo cords. The roof needs to be replaced every five years or so and most of the village comes together to work on it.


Pic taken on the way

Then we drove over to the Ang’s (Chief) and met the king, queen and prince of the Konyak tribe. His house is on the border of the India – Myanmar border and their kitchen is bisected by the border, so half of it is in India and the other half in Myanmar. They also had a lot of indigenous crafts available for sale and a few folks did end up buying from them.


Group photo with the Ang (Chief)

Once we were done meeting with the Ang we walked down to the local gunmaker’s place where we got to observe the gunmaker making a gun from scratch. When we saw him, he was building the stock of the gun and there were a few complete guns on display as well. One person can make about 15 guns a year and they only cost about 20k INR each and they don’t require a license. I really wanted to get one but there was no way for me to get it to Bangalore without getting arrested for carrying a gun without a license. They offered to let us shoot the gun if we wanted and I volunteered thinking that I would get to shoot at a target in a range setup, but unfortunately, they didn’t have such a setup. So I got to fire the gun without a bullet in it (basically a blank shot). Which was interesting but not as fun as firing a proper shot would have been. It was easy to figure out that the gun was locally made and not 100% efficient as some of the gases from the firing came out from the back/side as well and a few sparks hit my cheek. Divya has also wanted to shoot but backed out at the last minute stating that she really liked her fingers and wanted to keep them.


Naga Gunmaker handmaking guns

After people made sure that I was still in one piece and had all my fingers we went on to visit one of the last head-hunters who had captured five (5) heads as a youngster. He showed us the head-hunter victory dance and allowed us to take pics with him and trust me, we were all very polite while dealing with him since we wanted our heads to stay attached to our bodies.


Pic with one of the oldest headhunter

Post the photo session, we drove back to the homestay as we were done with the official itinerary for the day. At the homestay we had our lunch (which was again chow-chow and a few other things) and then Jani crashed and some of us decided to take a walk around the area to the nearby helipad which gave us a wonderful view of the setting sun. Near the helipad there was a field growing radish so me and Divya walked over and picked one (technically stole one) and ate it with our dinner. While waiting for the sunset we just chilled out and got to know each other better.


Picking (or rather stealing a Muli/Radish) from the field

As soon as the sun set the temperature dropped so we all hurried back to the kitchen / central hut where we found a carom board already setup so 4 of us decided to play with me and Divya teaming against Santosh and Indu. It was a lot of fun to play carom after years (decades) and while we didn’t plan our strategy as seriously as the other team we did end up winning multiple times. After a few games, others took over and we hung out waiting for the dinner. At this time some of the other guests who had arrived earlier in the day also joined us so we got to spend time with them as well. Post dinner, we all hung out for a while and Santosh, Jani and Shankar had a dance session with the queen, king and their family members.


Carom session


Picture at the Tribal Kitchen


Group photo outside the homestay

The next day, we started early as we had a long drive ahead of us. Initially we had planned for about 8 1/2 hours but were told that the roads were really bad and took another group 10 1/2 hours to travel the distance. Calling what we traveled roads was being extremely generous as they were ditches & potholes with delusions of grandeur. There is a song that I have been listening to and the lyrics go something like: “Itne Khaddon Se Hoke Nikli Hai Gaadi Nut Bolt Hil Gaya Hai Har Ang Ka” that translates to “The car has traveled through so many potholes that every body part is hurting” and that basically captures what the travel was like. The roads were so bad that we even got a flat because of the bumpy roads. Thankfully we had a spare and were able to change the tire otherwise it would have been a major problem since we were barely getting any signal.


Waiting for the tire change after we had a flat

After over 10 1/2 hours of bouncing we finally made it to Mokokchung in time for dinner. The rooms here were decent but we were all pretty exhausted so we crashed soon after dinner. Next day we started early again without breakfast as the plan was to visit the Longkhum village and have a breakfast picnic over there. The road to Longkhum was bad but not as bad as what we traveled the previous day and we made decent time. The village was quite picturesque and we had a lovely picnic over there and took a ton of photos. The villagers were super friendly and helpful and we had a fun time walking through the village back to the cars.


Panoramic shot at Longkhum


Picnic at Longkhum


Group photo taken at Longkhum

Then it was time to resume our journey to Kigwema near Kohima. The roads were better than earlier but still not good. Basically, there is a lot of construction going on across Nagaland and most of the roads are being expanded and repaved and due to this they are quite bad right now till the work is completed. We made good time with a short stop for lunch on the way and reached the Hills home stay, Konama. The owner Stanley (+91 96128 88938) was there to greet us and helped us get settled in.


Night view from Hills Home Stay, Konama

The homestay only had 3 rooms available, with 5 beds in 1, 3 in one and 2 beds in the last one. We moved beds around so that 5 girls were in the largest room. Jani, me, Divya and Sapna took the next largest one and Santosh, Shankar and Venkat took the last room. Originally the plan was for Santosh and Venkat to stay in tents but with the reshuffling we managed to get everyone to fit in the rooms, which was a good thing because the temperature outside was pretty cold. (At 5am when we checked it was 4 degree Celsius outside).


Full Moon visible from the homestay

The sky was crystal clear and since it was a full moon I took the opportunity to take a few pics of the moon with my phone that in my opinion came out really well. After dinner some of the folks went to sleep early and the rest of us were outside in the cold snugged up to the warm fire with drinks and snacks. We managed to get Shankar to dance and he then ensured all of us got up and danced as well. It was good that we were the only guests at the place since we were making quite the racket. There are videos of our dance but they will not be shared as we are all pretty bad dancers (except for Shankar and Uma). The dance party continued for a while and then as we were all tired we crashed as the next day we had the Hornbill festival to attend.


Hanging out in the cold outside


Early morning pic of the ladies

The day after started with a nice breakfast in the sun post which we all walked over to the Hornbill festival. The Hornbill Festival is an annual festival celebrated from 1st to 10th of December to encourage inter-ethnic interaction between the tribes and to promote cultural heritage of Nagaland. It is also called the Festival of Festivals and was started in Dec 2000.


At the entrance of Hornbill Festival

When we got to the venue we found nice seating right in the front, but what we didn’t realize at that time was that that particular area of the amphitheater was empty because it was in the direct sun. I walked around the venue quite a bit to get some really awesome photographs of the tribal performances. Towards the middle of the show I found the perfect spot to take photos from and basically didn’t move from there for the remaining show. Each tribe showcased their cultural heritage, which included songs sung during harvest, games played by the youngsters, contests of skill and courage etc. The morning half of the show ended with the tug-of-war contest between various tribes and it was fun to watch. The winners of these games claim bragging rights for the rest of the year and also get a cash prize.


Our seating during the cultural events


Tribal Dance during the event

During the lunch break the group broke up in two, with vegetarians going one way and the non-vegetarians going another. We veg folks had a Chinese buffet while the nonveg folks tried a bunch of weird stuff like silkworms etc. The second half of the cultural event was as interesting as the first half and this time I went and sat in the venue itself on the grass and got some more fantastic pics and videos.


Tug-of-war participants preparing for their match

Once the show ended, we all walked over to the stalls to check out the massive range of stuff available. We bought a bunch of stuff even though we weren’t planning to buy much except a naga-shawl. After we got tired of shopping we had a snack break where I ordered two drinks that sounded cool but were pretty bad. Divya was kind enough to help me finish the coffee but I had to finish the other one (cranberry + vodka). As soon as we had fortified ourselves with food, we resumed walking around the festival to see all the huts etc that had been setup that showcased how each of tribes traditionally built their houses. Took a ton of pictures and explored a lot of the setup and by then it was time for the music festival part of the show to start so we headed back to the main arena to grab a good seat.


Group pic in front of a tribal hut

By this time the sun had set and the temperature was dropping fast. We were one of the first to reach the stage and got a nice seat on the grass. The evening show started with Swarathma who have been doing a collaboration with 14 tribes to showcase their traditional music mixed with Swarathma’s music style. I have heard the band before a couple of times and really enjoyed them. Even this time though the collaboration didn’t always work overall the performance was excellent. The band which followed them unfortunately wasn’t that great and played songs that were quite depressing. As per Jani the singer must have had a recent breakup and was thus torturing us by playing breakup songs. By this time, most of us were freezing and Jani wasn’t to be seen as she was buried under so many layers of clothes that it was difficult to identify her. So, we all decided to head back to the homestay to warm up.


Hornbill Festival 2022


Waiting in front of the stage for the concert to start

At the homestay after we defrosted some of the folks again slept off early and the rest of us didn’t have the courage to sit outside for long so the four of us snugged up in our blankets and chatted late into the night. The homestay folks were nice enough to stay up late to ensure we had hot food and didn’t freeze.


How Jani watched the musical performances at night

After a cozy sleep with freezing temperature outside, we again had a nice breakfast in the sun before starting off to Khonoma which is an Angami Naga village located about 20 km Kohima. The drive was again quite bumpy and because of the poor condition of the road it took us almost an hour to reach the village which is the first green village in India. In addition to being India’s first green village, it is also the site of one of the last major resistance against the British by the Nagas, who were fighting to stop the British from force recruiting Nagas as bonded labourers. The naga forts are quite small as compared to the forts in other locations but looking at the terrain it was apparent how difficult it would have been for an attacker to capture the forts.

The folks here are very simple and trusting. We saw multiple stalls of fruits and snacks where no one was there at the stall but a jar was kept where people would put in the money for whatever they picked up. I thought think that this setup would work in most of the other places in the world but here it looked like it worked beautifully. From what I could see most of the houses didn’t lock their doors either so I guess crime was almost non-existent here.


Photo of the jungle path we saw

Once we were done soaking up the atmosphere and had some really tasty guava’s & oranges we wrapped up for the day and headed back to the Hornbill festival with the idea being to reach there before the second half started. We made it to the venue on time and this time we had lunch at a different setup called the ‘Food Paradise’ where they had multiple stalls selling different kinds of food. We tried the burger, fries, veg noodles and fried rice. The food was decent but the desert was phenomenal and we ended up ordering multiple servings.

Post lunch the group split up into two with Jani, Indu and me heading out to the War Museum and the rest went to see the cultural program at the main amphitheater. The war museum covered the battle of Kohima and it was an eye opener. I don’t remember ever reading about it in history books and reading about the fight sent goose-bumps through my body. You can read about the battle on Wikipedia and on the BBC site. Historians have called it one of the bloodiest battles of World War II but not many people know about it.

After the museum we walked around and explored a bunch of art exhibitions where the local artists were showcasing their paintings and while browsing I really wanted to buy some of them as they were done so beautifully but the price of the paintings was way out of our budget (some of them went up to Rs 2,00,000). One of the exhibits was by an artist who didn’t have hands and had painted the paintings by holding the brush in his mouth. According to the curator they had gotten over 20k postcards with his prints for sale and they were sold out within 2 days. They are also planning to create posters with his work so that more people can purchase his art. Next we walked over to a book exhibition where we picked up two books of folk tales from Nagaland. Haven’t read them yet as we are still recovering from the trip but it is on the agenda.

There was a horticulture exhibit along with a organic produce exhibit next to the book store so that was our next stop. The flower displays were done very beautifully and in the organic produce section we had the tastiest pineapple juice I have had. We picked up some naga-chili pickle along with some other snacks. By this time the cultural festival had ended so we regrouped with the others and had some snacks followed by a bit more shopping and then headed back as none of us wanted to brave the chill for the night music show.


Night time chats

During the walk back we bumped into another friend (Jyothi) unexpectedly who had also come for the festival and it was nice to meet her unexpectedly after a long time. The walk back was cold but uneventful and we once again decided not to brave the cold outside but rather sit in blankets to chat, so we went over to the other room and all of us cozily fit under blankets and chatted for a few hours which was quite fun. Some of the old stories came out from other trips and it was good spending time getting to know everyone. Pretty soon we all decided to crash as we had a long day.


Group photo outside the Hills home stay

Next day was a relatively lazy start as we were not starting that early in the morning. After another tasty breakfast we said our goodbyes to Stanley and family during which everyone got pretty emotional and were on our way to Kohima to visit the Kohima War Cemetery. After having read the history the previous day the cemetery had a lot more impact and allowed me to visualize how the fight must have taken place. The cemetery is beautifully maintained and one of the quotes I saw over there on a gravestone really hit me “When you go home, tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, we gave our today”. We don’t realize how much soldiers sacrifice for us and this quote really sums their sacrifice in one line.


At the Kohima War cemetery

After the cemetery we drove over to the Kohima Cathedral Church which was unfortunately closed due to renovation but from what we could see the church would be very impressive once the renovation is completed. We spent a bit of time outside taking pics but there wasn’t much to see so we quickly wrapped up and drove over to the Kohima Museum.

The museum covers the history and culture of the tribes and was quite interesting. It had a lot more impact since we had seen some of the things being showcased in the museum during the Hornbill festival and during our travel such as the games and the culture of the head hunters etc. Took a lot of photos, some silly others more educational and had a great time. Finally we were done and we started the last leg of the journey towards Dimapur. The roads in this part of the state were a lot better than what we had traveled through earlier so we made good time. We did manage to stop and buy chilies on the way so that mom can make some pickle for me.

We stopped for lunch on the way at this really small place, and while the folks having the thali got proper plates those of us who were having Puri Sabji had to make do with the food being served on a piece of newspaper. Here the food wasn’t that great and we suspect that it caused a few of us to get an upset stomach but as always Kutjarishta helped even though Divya claimed that we were trying to poison her with it. (The faces she made after she drank it were hilarious).

After we reached Dimapur we checked into the hotel and Jani crashed as she had caught a cold, I caughtup with my emails and some of the others visited the night market where they tried more of the weird non-veg foods available. The rest of us had dinner at the hotel only and crashed quickly since by this time we were all feeling like we had been beaten up with clubs during the journey.

Next day it was time for us to head back so we came down for breakfast only to find out that it was taking them hours to serve food. When asked to hurry up they had a standard answer that they only have one chef and that is why things are taking time. Luckily we had budgeted enough time so even with the delay we were on time for the flight back which was long and exhausting. It took us almost 11 hours from the time we left the hotel to the time we reached home in Bangalore.


Last pic at Dimapur just before we started back home

I really enjoyed the trip and the friends we made during it. The conversations we had ranged from philosophy to mythology to movies to travel stories. If I tried writing down all the stuff we were talking about this post would be another 10-15 pages longer.

It was really difficult to select the pics for this post. There are a ton of other pics that I wanted to share but would have made the post unwieldy so I ended up not sharing. Jani has shared a lot of the pictures from the trip over on Facebook so you can check it out here. Let me know if you don’t have access.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

December 1, 2022

Analysis of the claim that China/Huawei is remotely deleting videos of recent Chinese protests from Huawei phones

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Computer Software,My Thoughts,Tech Related — Suramya @ 2:23 AM

There is an interesting piece of news that is slowly spreading over the internet in the past few hours where Melissa Chen is claiming over at Twitter that Huawei phones are automatically deleting videos of the protests that took place in China, without notifying their owners. Interestingly I was not able to find any other source reporting this issue. All references/reports of this issue are linking back to this tweet and based on this single tweet that is not supported by external validation. Plus the tweet does not even provide enough information to validate that this is happening other than a single video shared as part of the original tweet.


Melissa Chen claiming on Twitter that videos of protests are being automatically deleted by Huawei without notification

However, it is an interesting exercise to think how this could have been accomplished, what the technical requirements for this to work would look like and if this is something that would happen. So lets go ahead and dig in. In order to delete a video remotely, we would need the following:

  • The capability to identify the videos that need to be deleted without impacting other videos/photos on the device
  • The capability to issue commands to the device remotely that all sensitive videos from xyz location taken at abc time need to be nuked and Monitor the success/failure of the commands
  • Identify the devices that need to have the data on the looked at. Keeping in mind that the device could have been in airplane mode during the filming

Now, lets look at how each of these could be accomplished one at a time.

The capability to identify the videos that need to be deleted without impacting other videos/photos on the device

There are a few ways that we can identify the videos/photos to be deleted. If it was a video from a single source then we could have used a HASH value of the video to identify it and then delete. Unfortunately in this case the video in question is recorded by the device so each video file will have a separate hash value so this is not how we could do this.

The second option is to use the Metadata in the file, to identify the date & time along with the physical location of the video to be deleted. If videos were recorded within a geo-fence area in a specific timeframe then we potentially have the information required to identify the videos in question. The main problem would be that the user could have disabled geo-tagging of photos/videos taken by the phone or the date/time stamp might be incorrect.

One way to bypass this attempt to save the video would be to have the app/phone create a separate geo-location record of every photo/video taken by the device even when GPS is disabled or Geo tagging is disabled. This would require a lot of changes in the OS/App file and since a lot of people have been looking at the code in Huawei phones for issues ever since there was an accusation that they are being used by China to spy on western world, it is hard to imagine this would have escaped from scrutiny.

If the app was saving the data in the video/photo itself rather than a separate location then it should be easy enough to validate by examining the image/video data of photos/videos taken by any Huawei phone. But I don’t see any claims/reports that prove that this is happening.

The capability to issue commands to the device remotely that all sensitive videos from xyz location taken at abc time need to be nuked and Monitor the success/failure of the commands

Coming to the second requirement, Huawei or the government would need the capability to remotely activate the functionality to delete the videos. In order to do this the phone would need to be connecting to a Command & Control (C&C) channel frequently to check for commands. Or the phone would have something listening to remote commands from a central server.

Both of these are hard to disguise and hide. Yes, there are ways to hide data in DNS queries and other such methods to cover the tracks but thanks to Botnets, malware and Ransomware campaigns the ability to identify hidden C&C channels is highly developed and it is hard to hide from everyone looking at this. If the phone has something listening to commands then a scan of the device for open ports/apps listening to connections would be an easy thing to check and even if the app listening is disguised it should be possible to identify that something is listening.

You might say that the commands to activate might be hidden in the normal traffic going to & from the device to the Huawei servers and while that is possible we can check for it by installing a root certificate and passing all the traffic to/from the device via a proxy to be analyzed. Not impossible to do but hard to achieve without leaving signs, and considering the scrutiny these phones are going through hard to accept that this is something that is happening without anyone finding out about it.

Identify the devices that need to have the data on the looked at. (Keeping in mind that the device could have been in airplane mode during the filming)

Next, we have the question on how would Huawei identify the devices that need to run the check for videos. One option would be to issue the command to all their phones anywhere in the world. This would potentially be noisy and there is a possibility that a sharp eyed user catches the command in action. So far more likely option would be for them to issue it against a subset of their phones. This subset could be all phones in China, all phones that visited the location in question around the time the protest happened or all phones that are there in or around the location at present.

In order for the system to be able to identify users in an area, they have a few options. One would be to use GPS location tracking which would require the device to constantly track its location and share with a central location. Most phones already do this. One potential problem would be when users disable GPS on the device but other than that this would be an easy request to fulfill. Another option is to use cell tower triangulation to locate/identify the phones in the area at a given time. This is something that is easily done at the provider side and from what I read quite common in China. Naomi Wu AKA RealSexyCyborg had a really interesting thread on this a little while ago that you should check out.

This doesn’t even account for the fact that China has CCTV coverage across most of its jurisdiction and claim to have the ability to run Facial recognition across this massive amount of video collected. So, it is quite easy for the government to identify the phones that need to be checked for sensitive photos/videos with existing & known technology and ability.

Conclusion/Final thoughts

Now also remember that if Huawei had the ability to issue commands to its phones remotely then they also have the ability to extract data from the phones, or plant information on the phone. Which would be a espionage gold mine as people use their phones for everything and have then with them always. Loosing the ability to do this just to delete videos is not something that I feel China/Huawei would do as harm caused by the loss of intelligence data would far outweigh the benefits of deleting the videos. Do you really think that every security agency, Hacker Collective, bored programmers, Antivirus/cybersec firms would not immediately start digging into the firmware/apps on any Huawei phone once it was known and confirmed that they are actively deleting stuff remotely.

So, while it is possible that Huawei/China has the ability to scan and delete files remotely I doubt that this is the case right now. Considering that there is almost no reports of this happening anywhere and no independent verification of the same plus it doesn’t make sense for China to nuke this capability for such a minor return.

Keeping that in mind this post seems more like a joke or fake news to me. That being said, I might be completely mistaken about all this so if you have additional data or counter points to my reasoning above I would love for you to reach out and discuss this is more detail.

– Suramya

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