What is ransomware?

Thousands of computers across the globe were hit by a ransom-demanding malware. DW explains what ransomware is and how to avoid becoming the next victim.

Symbolbild Kreditkartenbetrug Cyberkriminalität (imago)

A massive global cyberattack infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries by exploiting vulnerabilities believed to have been exposed in documents leaked from the US National Security Agency.

Friday’s attack used a type of malware known as ransomware to extort money from victims, including governments, companies and organizations.

Read: Spread of global cyberattack curbed — for now

DW explains what ransomware is and how to avoid becoming the next victim.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that encrypts files on an infected computer or mobile device. The ransomware locks the computer and prevents users from accessing files, documents and pictures until payment is made.

Symbolbild Computerprobleme in Großbritannien (picture-alliance/AP Photo/@fendifille )Major organizations across England reported problems with their computer systems as a result of an apparent cyberattack

How does a computer get infected with ransomware?

Computers are typically infected when a user opens a link or email attachment from a malicious email message. Known as a phishing email, the message is often sent from an email account disguised to look like it is coming from a known or trustworthy entity. Hackers can also plant malware on websites.

Sometimes a user may not be immediately aware the computer is infected. Some types of ransomware, such as the one used on Friday, show a “lock screen” notifying the user their files have been encrypted and demanding payment to unlock the files.

How does payment and unlocking work?

The ransomware demands the user pay to have the files decrypted. Payment, often with the anonymous virtual currency Bitcoin, allows the user to access the files with an encryption key only known by the hacker. As in Friday’s attack, the payment can go up if it is not made within a short time frame.

If the payment is not made within a certain time period, the encryption key is destroyed and the files are lost forever.

Wiesbaden BKA Vorstellung Lagebericht Cybercrime 2015 Ransomware (DW/M. von Hein)A typical ransomware infection will show a message telling the victim to pay a ransom to decrypt files

Should you pay ransomware? 

Law enforcement agencies advise against paying ransom. They say payment encourages criminal hackers, and there is no guarantee that after payment access to files will be restored.

What can you do to protect yourself against ransomware?

Exercise caution before clicking on an email link from an unknown or potentially disguised source. Users should also install security updates on their computers and back up their files to avoid losing them in case of an attack.

Friday’s attack targeted a known vulnerability in the Windows operating system. Microsoft said it had released Windows updates to defend against the ransomware used in the attack, but not everyone installed them.

Microsoft releases protection for out-of-support products Windows XP, Windows 8, & Windows Server 2003: http://msft.social/VIIqP4 

Customer Guidance for WannaCrypt attacks

Microsoft solution available to protect additional products Today many of our customers around the world and the critical systems they depend on were victims of malicious “WannaCrypt” software….


Why are businesses vulnerable to ransomware?

Larger businesses, organizations and governments may not install security updates immediately because they have their own security measures in place. Hackers target businesses because they calculate that they are more likely to pay. Businesses may have sensitive data and do not want to disrupt operations. Restoring files may also be more expensive than paying the extortion fee.

How can you get files back?

Without paying the extortion payment it is very difficult to save the files. There are instances of hackers creating weak malware that is capable of being broken. In one case, a hacker regretted creating malware and published a master key for files to be decrypted. In another case, law enforcement seized a server with keys on it and shared it with victims.

Law enforcement agencies and computer security companies have keys to some ransomware to decrypt files, but with a growing number of different malware most ransomware cannot be decrypted.


Spread of global cyberattack curbed – for now

The spread of a global cyberattack appears to have slowed after a researcher accidentally found a “kill switch.” The breakthrough won’t help fix systems worldwide that are already crippled by ransom-demanding malware.

Symbolbild Hackerangriff (picture alliance/dpa)

Governments and companies on Saturday scrambled to respond to a massive global cyberattack that hit computers in nearly 100 countries by exploiting vulnerabilities believed to have been exposed in documents leaked from the US National Security Agency.

Cyber extortionists on Friday used malicious software to exploit a vulnerability in Windows operating systems to infect thousands of computers with a variant of WannaCry ransomware.

The spread of the ransomware appeared to have stopped on Saturday after a security researcher registered a domain name connected to the malware.

The researcher, tweeting as @MalwareTechBlog, said the discovery was accidental but registering the domain name triggered a “kill switch.”

It’s very important everyone understands that all they need to do is change some code and start again. Patch your systems now! https://twitter.com/MalwareTechBlog/status/863189077843116032 

The security researcher warned that those behind the cyberattack can “change some code and start again.” Computers already infected by the malware will not be helped by the fix.

Cybersecurity experts said after the domain was registered the number of new infections dropped.

“We are on a downward slope, the infections are extremely few, because the malware is not able to connect to the registered domain,” said Vikram Thakur, principal research manager at Symantec. “The numbers are extremely low and coming down fast.”

One of largest cyberattacks ever

The ransomware locks up computer systems by encrypting files and data, demanding users pay $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin to recover the files. Payment is demanded in three days or the price is doubled. After seven days it threatens to delete all files.

“This is one of the largest global ransomware attacks the cyber community has ever seen,” said Rich Barger, director of threat research with Splunk.

The security firm and others have linked WannaCry to a NSA hacking code known as “Eternal Blue” that was leaked last month by  hacking group Shadow Brokers. It is unclear who led the ransomware attack or from which country.

Cyber security software company Avast said it had detected 57,000 infections in 99 countries, with Russia, Britain, Ukraine and Taiwan being the hardest hit.

Friday’s wave of attacks hit several high-profile organizations, including Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), Russia’s interior ministry, French car maker Renault, Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica, international shipper FedEx and German rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

Watch video02:18

Massive cyber attack hits Britain’s NHS

The attack on NHS wrecked havoc on the British health care system, with a number of hospitals and clinic turning away patients and forcing ambulances to divert to neighboring hospitals. The Health Service Journal reported that X-ray imaging systems, pathology test results and patient administration systems were all affected.

Russia’s interior ministry reported that roughly 1,000 of its computers had been infected, but that the ministry’s servers had not been impacted. The central bank said it was also targeted, but that its systems were not compromised.

Deutsche Bahn said destination boards at several train stations had been infected but that transportation had not been impacted. The attack also affected the rail operator’s video surveillance technology.

Deutschland Weltweite Cyber-Attacke - Hauptbahnhof Chemnitz (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Götzelt)A Deutsche Bahn departure display shows the ransonware demanding payment.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Center and Spain’s National Center for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure said they were working with companies hit by or potentially targeted by the attack. The US Department of Homeland Security said that it has shared information with domestic and international partners.

Microsoft said it released Windows updates to defend against WannaCry. It issued a patch in March to protect against Eternal Blue.

cw/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)







Thousands of ransomware cyberattacks reported worldwide

Thousands of ransomware cyberattacks reported worldwide
A ransomware virus is reported to be spreading aggressively around the globe, with over 50,000 computers having been targeted. The virus infects computer files and then demands money to unblock them.

An increase in activity of the malware was noticed starting from 8am CET (07:00 GMT) Friday, security software company Avast reported, adding that it “quickly escalated into a massive spreading.”

In a matter of hours, over 57,000 attacks have been detected worldwide, the company said.

57,000 detections of (aka aka ) by Avast today. More details in blog post: https://blog.avast.com/ransomware-that-infected-telefonica-and-hns-hospitals-is-spreading-aggressively-with-over-50000-attacks-so-far-today 

Photo published for Ransomware that infected Telefonica and HNS hospitals is spreading aggressively, with over 50,000...

Ransomware that infected Telefonica and HNS hospitals is spreading aggressively, with over 50,000…

Avast reports on WanaCrypt0r 2.0 ransomware that infected NHS and Telefonica.


Seventy-four countries around the globe have been affected, with the number of victims still growing, according to the Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, the Kaspersky Lab.

So far, we have recorded more than 45,000 attacks of the ransomware in 74 countries around the world. Number still growing fast.

The ransomware, known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, or WannaCry, is believed to have infected National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK and Spain’s biggest national telecommunications firm, Telefonica.

Britain and Spain are among the first nations who have officially recognized the attack. In Spain, apart from the telecommunications giant, Telefonica, a large number of other companies has been infected with the malicious software, Reuters reported.

The virus is said to attack computers on an internal network, as is the case with Telefonica, without affecting clients.

Attackers are allegedly demanding for 300Ƀ which equals £415k & give a deadline of May 19: https://on.rt.com/8bgz 

Computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry have been infected with the malware, the ministry said Friday evening.

Some 1,000 Windows-operated PCs were affected, which is less than one percent of the total number of such computers in the ministry, spokeswoman Irina Volk said in a statement.

The virus has been localized and steps are being taken to eliminate it.

The servers of the ministry have not been affected, Volk added, saying it’s operated by different systems for Russia-developed data processing machines.

Several” computers of Russia’s Emergency Ministry had also been targeted, its representative told TASS, adding, that “all of the attempted attacks had been blocked, and none of the computers were infected with the virus.”

Russian telecom giant, Megafon has also been affected.

The very virus that is spreading worldwide and demanding $300 to be dealt with has been found on a large number of our computers in the second half of the day today,” Megafon’s spokesperson Pyotr Lidov told RT.

Вот что появилось на экранах всех рабочих компьютеров Мегафон Ритейл @eldarmurtazin

The internal network had been affected, he said, adding that in terms of the company’s customer services, the work of the support team had been temporarily hindered, “as operators use computers” to provide their services.

The company immediately took appropriate measures, the spokesperson said, adding that the incident didn’t affect subscribers’ devices or Megafon signal capabilities in any way.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said the cyberattack on UK hospitals is part of a wider international attack.

In Sweden, the mayor of Timra said “around 70 computers have had a dangerous code installed,” Reuters reported.

According to Avast, the ransomware has also targeted Ukraine and Taiwan.

The virus is apparently the upgraded version of the ransomware that first appeared in February. Believed to be affecting only Windows operated computers, it changes the affected file extension names to “.WNCRY.”

It then drops ransom notes to a user in a text file, demanding $300 worth of bitcoins to be paid to unlock the infected files within a certain period of time.

While the victim’s wallpaper is being changed, affected users also see a countdown timer to remind them of the limited time they have to pay the ransom. If they fail to pay, their data will be deleted, cybercriminals warn.

According to the New York Times, citing security experts, the ransomware exploits a “vulnerability that was discovered and developed by the National Security Agency (NSA).” The hacking tool was leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, the report said, adding, that it has been distributing the stolen NSA hacking tools online since last year.

In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.

The real issues at Women20

With the Ivanka Trump show having moved on, the Women20 summit in Berlin may have been quieter. But it also felt like the way had finally been cleared to talk about what really matters.

Women20 debate (DW/L. Osborne)

One could have been forgiven Tuesday for concluding that the main issue on the agenda of the third Women20 summit was the attendance of Ivanka Trump. But little could be further from the truth.

For, prior to her arrival, during her brief, and let’s face it, awkward stint on stage and in the aftermath thereof, there have been hours on end of smart discussion and debate about the present, perceived and potential place of women in the world; about the gender divide that in too many sectors and parts of the world is more of a gape than a gap, and about the measures that must be taken to close it. For good.

During the sessions, a number of themes were raised over and again. Among them are the facts that women do not have the same access to financial support when it comes to starting their own businesses, that they are vastly outnumbered by men in positions of leadership, and that unsurprisingly they are the ones, quite literally and time and again, left holding both the baby and the elderly.

The equally unsurprising result of the family care conundrum is that women have fewer opportunities to immerse themselves in the world of work, and as a result, to secure themselves not only an income in the here and now, but a living pension in the future.

Of families and technology

Annette Niederfranke, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) described family reconciliation as one of the “toughest challenges for working women worldwide,” adding that in a bid to meet their obligations, women are more likely to work “in non-standard forms of employment, and in part-time work linked to lower wages, lower social security, lower benefits and fewer training possibilities.”

Watch video02:11

Why do women still earn less?

Connected to that particular Catch-22 is the reality that women are still massively underrepresented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) sectors at the heart of many talks and impassioned calls in Berlin over the past couple of days.

Leveling the employment opportunity field, and closing the digital divide, are among the recommendations of the W20 communiqué presented to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds the current G20 presidency, at the end of the summit.

Prior to accepting it, she said Germany traditionally has a narrow view of professions for girls. “So it is very very important that we take a broader view of things while girls are still at school, and to consider what opportunities really exist.” And not just in Germany.

Another issue that accrued interest throughout the summit was Merkel’s proposed fund to help female entrepreneurs in developing countries set up small to medium-sized businesses. Though she stressed it could not become a reality unless she could secure the support of the other G20 states, she said that as and when it was up and running, “digital development should be an important part of it.”

Inspiration and motivation

Besides “digital,” one of the words echoing around the halls and rooms of the Women20 summit venue was “inspiring.” Women from all over the globe gathered in Berlin to listen to other women – and a token man – discuss how best to make this world of ours a more equal place, how to progress economic development through women, how to ensure them greater access to labor markets and financial services, and, yes, to be inspired by the steady stream of ideas and suggestions to that end.

One that came up many times was that though women can achieve a lot on their own, and even more collectively, closing the gap in anything like the foreseeable future will require a concerted effort from our male counterparts. The fact that the vast majority of those present here in Berlin were not men might, at this stage of proceedings, paint a discouraging picture.

But there was also a general consensus that the momentum reached at this, the third Women20 summit – after Turkey and China – would now be hard to stop. And momentum can be an overpowering force.

As the German Minister for Family Affairs, Manuela Schwesig, put it, the summit could give both men and women the courage to take forward the issues discussed.

“I’m sure this summit will help us progress in matters of equality,” she said. “We believe in gender equality. Change is possible.”

Watch video25:59

Gender gap – unequal careers




IMF predicts global economy accelerating despite risks

A resilient China, rising commodity prices and sturdy financial markets are offering a brighter outlook for the global economy, says the International Monetary Fund, but warns of a rise in protectionist policies.

IWF Wachstumsprognose Maurice Obstfeld (Getty Images/AFP/M. Riley)

In its World Economic Outlook report released on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hiked its global growth prediction for 2017 by one-tenth of a percentage point – compared with its January outlook – to 3.5 percent.

It was the crisis lender’s first upward revision in two years, seeing the global expansion for 2018 at a pace of 3.6 percent – also slightly more than in January.

This year, the global recovery is being driven mainly by the US and Chinese economies, which are set to grow 2.3 percent and 6.6 percent respectively. Moreover, the 19-country eurozone is predicted to expand 1.7 percent – the same as last year, while Japan’s GDP is forecast to grow 1.2 percent, up from one percent in 2016.

“The global economy seems to be gaining momentum – we could be at a turning point. But even as things look up, the post-World War II system of international economic relations is under severe strain,” IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said in a statement.

Protectionist clouds

The IMF’s semi-annual report warned of “significant downside risks” to the outlook, which had worsened since January. Obstfeld specifically mentioned “the turn towards protectionism, leading to trade warfare.”

Many of the IMF concerns, including rolling back financial regulation, pulling away from the multilateral trading system and restricting immigration, are centerpieces of US President Donald Trump’s “America first” policies. But the IMF also sees them in the French election campaign, as well as in Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

IMF chief economist Obstfeld noted that “capitulating to those pressures would result in a self-inflicted wound,” that would harm countries by pushing prices higher and eroding household income, prompt retaliation, and worsen the global economy.

Watch video01:16

Is Trump right about the US economy?

Addressing the social gap

In its report, the Washington-based fund said hundreds of millions of people had been lifted out of poverty through economic integration and technological progress, “helping to reduce global income inequality.”

But the benefits of growth and the burden of economic adjustments had been unequally shared, making it necessary for governments to “address these disparities head-on to ensure the stability of an open, collaborative trading system that benefits all.”

The IMF recommends “well-targeted initiatives” to help workers adversely affected by free trade and other economic changes to “find jobs in expanding sectors” as well as “social safety nets to smooth the loss of income,” and improved education and training in the longer term.

“Similarly, curbing immigration flows would hinder opportunities for skill specialization in advanced economies, limiting a positive force for productivity and income growth over the long term,” the report said.

China issues

The IMF report stressed that risks to the outlook “remain tilted to the downside,” meaning that while growth could turn out to be faster than expected particularly if there is a large US government spending program there are more negative scenarios on the horizon.

China’s “dangerous dependence on rapidly expanding credit” was one area of concern, as was weak demand in Europe, and a series of noneconomic factors, including geopolitical risks and corruption, the IMF found.

Nevertheless, the fund increased China’s growth outlook by 0.1 percent to 6.6 percent this year, and by two tenths of a percentage point to 6.2 percent in 2018.

“Global economic activity is picking up speed, but the potential for disappointments remains high, and momentum is unlikely to be sustained in the absence of efforts by policymakers to implement the right set of policies and avoid missteps,” the IMF concluded.

Watch video00:44

China cuts economic growth target

uhe/kd (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)




Creativity will be the source of our next industrial revolution, not machines

April 11, 2017

Growth in the first industrial revolution was driven by engineering, the second through electricity and production lines, and the third by technology and information. The modern economies that will undergo a fourth industrial revolution will not be those that worship machines, but those that support human creativity. When we understand how people think and work best, we will be compelled to put our workers’ well-being first in the name of both health and economic productivity.

For centuries, human health has been systematically traded for economic growth. The word labor originated in medieval Europe during a decline in slavery and widespread adoption of money, and symbolizes the monetization of human skill: “productive work, especially physical toil done for wages.” Its modern definition, and how we perceive productivity, came about through the process of industrialization.

The first, second, and third industrial revolutions

In the mid-17th century, the nature of work changed when rural, agrarian societies shifted to become urban and industrial. Economic growth meant going underground for energy and into factories for manufacturing. The detrimental effects to workers’ health in these industries are well documented: In the name of financial gain, miners and factory workers were subject to hazardous conditions that often resulted in illnesses, physical pain, and early death.

The first industrial revolution presented economic opportunities fraught with dangerous labor. The tradeoff of well-being for economic benefit was clear: Employers knowingly ran businesses that paid workers not just for their time, but also for their health.

 Employers knowingly ran businesses that paid workers not just for their time, but also for their health. Over time, machines took over from humans in dictating the pace of production, and working hours soared. Rising demand outpaced supply, meaning that businesses could maximize profits by manufacturing around the clock. An extensive study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) into working hours explains how the concept of “working time” in early industrialization was based on the perception that hours spent outside work were regarded as “lost time.”

Through these developments, the perceived dichotomy of work and life emerged: Work is the time dedicated to economic gain, while life is the time spent on our mental and physical needs. Four hundred years later, our contemporary culture of “living for the weekend” is a reflection of how this form of exchange became an accepted aspect of our existence.

The fourth industrial revolution

Western countries now firmly in throes of the third industrial revolution successfully shifted from manual to skilled labor. Yet the mentality that time spent outside work is “lost” hasn’t changed. The ILO study points out that even a recorded decrease in working hours is shaky because of the institutionalization of overtime and out-of-office work, such as mindlessly replying to emails on your phone.

One example of how businesses and organizations are trying to create a more effective workforce is not actually based in work, but in the office spaces in which it is conducted. The new wave of “fun” workplaces that are now standard in high-tech companies is a continuation of finding solutions to the wrong problem; the aim of such designs is often to encourage longer work hours and company loyalty. Facebook went as far as offering workers $10,000 to live closer to the office.

However, the link between an employee spending more time in the office and being more productive with their time is rather tenuous. Workers might clock more hours and stay longer at a company if the surroundings are comfortable, but the assumption that this makes them better at what they do is unfounded.

Another design-based example is open-plan offices. In the push to lower overheads—and under the false assumption that it would encourage better working practices—private rooms were traded for non-divided workspaces. This resulted in environments that increase stress, particularly due to noise. Stress has become the dominant cost to human health at work. A 2016 report found that stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill-health cases in the UK and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.

Studies carried out as early as the 1970s have shown that stress can be beneficial for performing simple or familiar tasks, but detrimental to ones requiring complex, flexible thinking. The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain associated with executive function, which contributes to decision making, predictions, and many of our highest cognitive processes related to learning and imagination. Increased levels of catecholamine released during stress harms the performance of the prefrontal cortex, including persistent loss of these functions from chronic stress. Naming just one aspect of how working conditions affect us cognitively, there are many more that stem from our environmental and social context.

As robots increasingly take on manual labor, we will need to foster what differentiates human from machine (at least for now): creativity. Evidence that psychological and physical well-being is paramount to creative thinking will turn the historic exchange of human health for economic growth on its head. As Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum writes, “I am convinced of one thing—that in the future, talent, more than capital, will represent the critical factor of production.”

You can follow Itai on Twitter. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

UN report: Millions ‘excluded from human development journey’

Despite huge strides in human development across the globe, many groups have been left behind, according to the UN’s 2016 Human Development Report. DW speaks to lead author Selim Jahan about the biggest challenges.

Slum Schule in Nairobi Kenia (DW/A. Stahl)

DW: The latest Human Development Report, titled “Human Development for Everyone,” was launched on Tuesday in Stockholm. It seems that there’s been little change in the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings over the past few years. Norway, Switzerland and Australia top the 2016 index, while countries in Africa, including Niger and the Central African Republic, rank lowest. Have there been any significant changes?

Selim Jahan: I wouldn’t say there have been remarkable changes, but there have been some shifts. Some countries, such as Romania, have moved up to the very high human development group. Some moved from medium to high human development, like Uzbekistan. And some countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Kenya have moved from low to medium human development.

Selim JahanSelim Jahan, lead author of the Human Development Report 2016

Predictably, countries like Syria, Libya and Yemen have dropped both in terms of rank and value because the conflicts there have led to declines in educational attainment and per capita income.

Are there any examples of improving development you can highlight from Africa?

Africa has been doing very well in terms of human development. During the first decade of 2000, Africa achieved an additional life expectancy of six years, which is the highest in the world. As a whole, African countries increased their HDI by 31 percent between 1990 and 2015. In Ethiopia they initiated a social protection program in 2005. Four years later, 7.5 million people were made food secure. In Senegal, between 2010 and 2012, the number of people having access to electricity increased from 17,000 to 90,000 – that’s a huge jump. Africa, in my view, is the next frontier of development.


Jahan: Work is crucial for human development

The Human Development Index by UNDP

Launch of the Arab Human Development Report 2016

In the report, long-term development looks pretty good for all countries. But if we look at countries like Syria, which has just entered its seventh year of conflict, are you concerned about how long it could take them to catch up?

I don’t think it’s a question of how long it will take. It’s about what has caused the shocks. And those shocks can come from three sources. The first is conflict or extremism. If that happens over a longer period of time, as in Syria or Afghanistan, then it’s very difficult to keep the level of human development at the point they were at, say, five years ago. The second source is turmoil in the economic system. If a country is small, it is dependent on foreign aid, so shocks to the economic system can lead to the reversal of human development. The third source may come from climate change, although we don’t yet know the extent of the impact. Some of the trends are quite alarming. For example, if we don’t address climate change right now, by 2030 an additional 100 million people will be in extreme poverty. So that would be another source where human development gains may be lost.

Kiribati Wasserpegel (John Corcoran)Rising sea levels have threatened the livelihoods of people living in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati

This year there’s a particular emphasis in the report on those who are being excluded. Which groups are still being left behind?

The groups we’ve highlighted in this specific report are women and girls, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, people with a disability and LGBTI communities. And the reasons they’ve been left behind in the human development journey are many fold. It could have to do with social norms and discriminatory laws, or exclusions by society at large. For example, indigenous people represent 5 percent of the global population but account for 15 percent of global poverty. And if we look at laws, in 18 countries women need the permission of their husband to take up a job. Every year, 15 million girls under 18 get married – one child bride every two seconds – and that destroys their potential, shrinks their human development and stumps their capabilities. So there are discriminatory laws which basically act as barriers to human development.

Indien KinderhochzeitYoung children are still married off in some Indian villages as part of a centuries-old custom, despite laws against it

It’s not just on an individual level though, it’s a loss for the whole society isn’t it?

Absolutely because whenever there are losses for groups, it’s a loss for the whole society. Take the example of women and girls, you cannot have sustained or sustainable human development if that development bypasses half of humanity. It’s as simple as that.

Listen to audio17:40

World in Progress: Fleeing from oppression and poverty in Eritrea

There are also different ideas about what human development encompasses. How important is the quality versus quantity of development?

For so long we’ve been concerned about the quantity of human development – how many children are going to school, whether they are enrolled, whether people are having a long and healthy life, and so on. But now the time has also come to ask: “Ok, children are attending school, they are enrolled, but what are they learning?”

One third of children at the primary level have difficulties with maths and reading, even though they have finished five years of primary education. So the question of quality of education is a concern in every society.

We also made a very strong point in the report that for too long we have been hostages to the tyranny of the average and it is important that we go beyond the average and instead use a desegregated framework. For example, the multidimensional poverty index indicates that 1.5 billion people in the world are in multidimensional poverty. But when we desegregate it by rural-urban divide, we see that out of those 1.5 billion people, only 11 percent are in urban areas, but 29 percent are in rural areas. So the rural population in multidimensional poverty is three times bigger than the urban population. That kind of desegregation can unmask the average.

Hannover Flüchtlinge in Sprachlernklasse (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen)One third of children at primary school have trouble reading

What recommendations does the report give to policymakers?

Basically it tells policy makers to focus on those groups of people who are disadvantaged. That means having universal policies in terms of inclusive growth, employment-led growth strategy and financial inclusion. We’re also making the policy recommendation that human development will not be sustained if it is not resilient. And resilience will come when we deal with issues like climate change, HIV/AIDS or trying to initiate the development process in post-conflict situations.

People have to be empowered. Their rights have to be protected. There has to be accountability and transparency by the government and other development actors. Without the empowerment of people, human development for everyone will not be reached.

Selim Jahan is the Director of the UNDP’s Human Development Report Office in New York. He is the author of 10 books and more than 150 articles in various national and international academic journals. His areas of expertise include human development, poverty and vulnerability, macroeconomic policies, inequality, inclusive growth and the post-2015 development agenda.