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Internet throttling, blocked websites mark Kazakhstan’s new political era

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In a year filled with elections, Europe gears up for massive cross-country cyberattacks
Massive cyberattacks with real-world consequences are no longer unthinkable. Time to get prepared, says Europe.

May 9 is an important date in contemporary history: it was the day the Third Reich was finally defeated in 1945. As a result, with their 26 million dead from World War II, most countries from the former Soviet Union treat Victory Day with the utmost respect.

Yet it also represents an opportunity for people in many post-Soviet Union nations, dealing with democratic transition from their traditional political systems, to raise concerns and express dissatisfaction with governments and authorities.

Over the weekend, Kazakhstan held its first democratic elections. After being at the helm for almost three decades, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his decision two months ago to step down as ruler of the central Asian, energy-rich, post-Soviet republic, which has a population of 18 million.

SEE: Can Russian hackers be stopped? Here’s why it might take 20 years (TechRepublic cover story) | Download the PDF version

During his rule, the 78-year-old governed with an iron fist and zero tolerance for demonstrations, cracking down on even the most peaceful protests.

That recent shift has encouraged a lot of young Kazakh people to take a political stance when it comes to the future of the country, participating in various protests and demonstrations.

On Victory Day, Kazakh authorities didn’t want anyone to rain on their parade, so they took measures – blocking media outlets that usually cover protests and demonstrations and the issues behind them.

For the presidential elections, the ruling Democratic People’s Party, Nur Otan, nominated current Interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Critics argue that Tokayev has not only taken over the reins from his predecessor but also Nazarbayev’s hard-line attitude to anyone who opposes him.

In the event, Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor has been elected with more than 70 percent of Sunday’s vote, according to electoral authorities.

A total of 10 websites, including the Kazakh edition of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, were blocked for the entire day on May 9 and could be accessed in the country only through a VPN or proxy servers.

One of those websites is The Village Kazakhstan, a news outlet that covers topics from Kazakhstan’s cultural and social life, business, and entertainment scene.

The site occasionally reports about demonstrations and social movements held across the country, its founder, Kazakh journalist and entrepreneur Aisana Ashim, tells ZDNet.

“On May 9, in the morning, we noticed the website wasn’t working. We’ve never been blocked before, although we’ve been writing about various issues related to the authorities for almost two years now,” she says.

“We didn’t receive any warning. Technically, the site could be accessed only from users outside Kazakhstan, or using VPN services.”

Kazakh officials later explained that the websites were restricted due to “technical issues”. According to media reports, even popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in Kazakhstan “either work slowly or not at all” during evenings, with internet restrictions apparently one of the main tools in dealing with social unrest.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to GDPR compliance (free PDF)

Website restrictions weren’t all that marked on the Victory Day anniversary. Several protests were still held in the capital of Astana, named Nursultan after Nazarbayev announced his resignation, and in the country’s largest city, Almaty. As a result of those demonstrations, activists and protesters were detained.

A couple of days earlier, Aslan Sagutdinov, a 22-year-old blogger from the city of Uralsk, wanted to test the patience of local authorities by protesting with an empty banner.

As shown in a YouTube video of the protest, the activist was arrested within minutes of arriving at the city’s central square.

Sagutdinov was later released and said he wanted to show that “the absurdity in Kazakhstan has got so strong that the police detained him, even though there were no inscriptions, slogans, chanting or him saying anything at all.”

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Toyota lowers production goals by 15 percent for November

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The global chip shortage is impacting automakers significantly. This week, Toyota announced that it plans to cut its global production output by 15 percent in November. The reduced production is laid directly at the feet of the shortage of microprocessors needed to build modern vehicles.

Despite chopping production in November, Toyota says it is still sticking to its planned production goals for the entirety of 2021. The company has said that it plans to ramp up production in December. Toyota is the largest automaker in Japan and also builds some of its vehicles in the US.

Toyota was also forced to reduce production in September and October due to the chip shortage and other issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For the year through March 31, Toyota reduced its production goals to 9 million vehicles representing a reduction of 300,000 units. In addition, the pandemic has significantly impacted components required to build its vehicles sourced from Malaysia and Vietnam.

Toyota says that a decline in COVID-19 infection rates in southeast Asia will allow chip manufacturers to increase output for the remainder of the year. Toyota wasn’t as impacted as some automakers by the chip shortage and pandemic because it had a stockpile of components allowing it to continue manufacturing operations.

The automaker has asked its component suppliers in southeast Asia to boost its allotment of chips and other components in December to allow it to ramp production significantly and meet its goals. Toyota spokesperson has stated that the total loss production for the automaker between September and November will be as high as 910,000 vehicles. In North America specifically, the reduced production in November will mean between 45,000 and 55,000 fewer vehicles produced.

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Porsche deliveries climb significantly despite chip shortage

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The global chip shortage impacts most automakers and has resulted in reduced shipments and production stoppages. While most automakers are seeing their deliveries decline, Porsche has seen deliveries increased by 13 percent in the first three quarters between January and September 2021. Porsche says it has delivered 217,198 vehicles around the globe.

The automaker notes that demand for its vehicles rose across all sales regions, but increased demand was particularly strong in the US. While deliveries have increased for Porsche, the automaker still says the coronavirus situation is dynamic, and it is facing challenges in procuring semiconductors. The most popular model for Porsche is the Cayenne, with deliveries of 62,451 units.

Porsche’s second most popular model was the Macan delivering 61,944 units, working out to a 12 percent increase in deliveries for that model. Its third most popular model may be a surprise to some. The electric Taycan sports car delivered 28,640 units to customers. 2021 is only the second year that model has been available, and it’s already surpassed deliveries of the iconic 911. So far, the 911 has delivered 27,972 units in the first three quarters of the year, which represents a 10 percent increase.

Porsche says the 718 Boxster and the 718 Cayman delivered 15,916 units. The four-door Porsche Panamera remains popular, delivering 20,275 units. In the US, Porsche says it delivered 51,615 vehicles in the first nine months of 2021. Those numbers represent a 30 percent increase compared to deliveries made during 2020. Across the entirety of the American continent, Porsche delivered 63,025 vehicles for a 29 percent increase compared to last year.

Interestingly, the largest single market for Porsche is China, with 69,789 vehicles delivered, representing an 11 percent gain compared to 2020. In addition, Porsche delivered 56,332 vehicles across Europe.

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AAA study finds vehicle safety systems are negatively impacted by rain

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Researchers from AAA have published a new study looking at how moderate to heavy rain affects the ability of modern vehicle safety systems to function. AAA conducted testing in a closed course environment simulating rainfall and discovered that test vehicles equipped with automatic emergency braking they were traveling at 35 mph collided with stopped vehicles 33 percent of the time during rain. Other vehicle safety features were also impacted during rain.

Other tested features include lane keeping assist, which allowed the vehicle to depart their lane 69 percent of the time during grade. AAA says that vehicle safety systems called advanced driver assistance systems are typically tested in ideal conditions. AAA believes testing standards need to be changed to incorporate real-world conditions that drivers would typically encounter.

Safety systems rely on cameras and sensors to visualize markings on the road, cars, pedestrians, and other obstacles. AAA’s Greg Brannon says people don’t always drive around in perfect sunny weather and test methods need to be changed to take real-world conditions into account. AAA says its research found rain had the biggest effect on vehicle safety systems.

However, they also stimulated other environmental conditions, including bug impacts and dirt. The results found that driving in simulated moderate to heavy rain impacted both safety systems. Automatic emergency braking engaged while approaching a stopped vehicle in the lane ahead at 25 mph but resulted in collision 17 percent of the time.

When speeds were increased to 35 mph, collisions occurred 33 percent of the time. Overall, during testing, lane keeping assist veered outside of lane markers 69 percent of the time. Researchers said that when testing systems with a simulated dirty window stamped with a concentration of bugs, dirt, and water, only minor differences in performance were noted. However, cameras can be influenced by a dirty windshield, and AAA says it’s important that drivers keep the windshield clean.

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