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Ransomware attack: What you need to know

On Friday, ransomware attacks hit tens of thousands of organizations in what is thought to be the biggest cyberextortion attack recorded, according to a report from The Associated Press.

>> Read more trending news

The attack gained attention from media largely after it impacted National Health Service operations in England. It has hit computer networks across the globe in more than 60 countries. The New York Times reported that FedEx in the United States and telecommunications companies Telefónica in Spain and MegaFon in Russia were affected.

Here are things to know about the ransomware attack.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is malware that locks and disables a user’s computer system and demands ransom in order for the user to regain access to their computer and the files on it. Kurt Baumgartner, a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told The AP ransom demands start at $300 and two hours later, increasing to $400, $500 and $600. 

How does the  ransomware attack happen?

The attack exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that was patched in March but not on machines that had not been updated or patched, according to NPR. It then prompts the pop ups that tells the user their files are encrypted and can be unencrypted if they pay ransom money. Once one computer is affected, the malware spreads itself across the network.

How can future attacks be prevented?

Updating computer operating systems when prompted and maintaining up-to-date software is the best bet against ransomware attacks. Many groups were affected by the attacks because machines had not had updated versions of Windows or had versions that Microsoft was no longer offering patches for.

Texting while driving: Surprising number in one age group say it’s OK

A national survey shows 46 percent of drivers in one age group think texting behind the wheel is just fine.

The most accepting group? People ages 25 to 34, research from insurancequotes.com finds.

>> Read more trending news

The group represents a big slice of millennials, many of whom grew up with mobile devices in hand. The next highest approval rate for sending texts on the go comes from ages 35 to 44, with 22.7 percent.

The survey of 2,000 Americans found 13.7 percent of drivers 18 to 24 were OK with texting while driving, while other age groups approved at 10.1 percent or less.

study released in April that relied on devices in cars found 92 percent of U.S. drivers with cell phones have used them for texting or calling while in a moving vehicle in the past 30 days. Florida received the nation’s worst score for such use after Louisiana.

“I’m not surprised by the results of the study,” state Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton said. “We’re one of four states that don’t make texting while driving a primary offense.”

It’s a secondary offense in Florida, meaning police can’t cite it unless a driver is pulled over for something else. Bills to strengthen penalties did not pass in the legislative session that ended May 8.

>>  Related: 92 percent of motorists use phone while driving; Florida gets study's 2nd worst score

Texting was involved in 6 percent of accidents and cell phone use including talking was a factor in 26 percent of crashes, the National Safety Council found in 2015. Overall phone use in accidents has been rising for several years, researchers said.

Is it acceptable to send text messages while driving?

Age/yes answers

18-24 -- 13.7%

25-34 -- 46.3%

35-44 -- 22.7 %

45-54 -- 10.1%

55-64 -- 5.6%

65-74 -- 1.4%

75+ -- 0.1%

FIRST LOOK: Tesla's solar roofs are here

Tesla is officially taking orders for its solar glass roof, which is said to be cheaper than a regular roof with an "infinity warranty."

>> Read more trending news

Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday that the solar roof can be ordered in "almost any country." The roofs will be deployed this year in the U.S. and overseas in 2018. 

The roofs will come in textured, smooth, Tuscan and slate. 

The roofs are made with tempered glass and are more than three times stronger than standard roofing tiles, according to Tesla's website.

Learn more here.

Amazon Echo Show: 5 things to know about the 'stupendously powerful' device

Amazon officially unveiled the Amazon Echo Show, its first smart speaker with a built-in touchscreen, Tuesday.

Here are five things to know about the new device:

>> Creepy or useful? Amazon’s new Echo Look selfie camera wants to help you get dressed

Tech specs 
  • 7-inch display
  • Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Dual 2-inch stereo speakers powered by Dolby
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera

>> Read more trending news

Features
  • Built-in camera
  • Voice-assistance from Alexa; includes at least 12,000 skills or tasks
  • Bluetooth
  • Touchscreen display offers more on-screen information (step-by-step recipe instructions, 10-day weather reports) and can be used to play videos.
  • Music display features: Connects to Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and offers real-time song lyrics, custom stations, curated playlists, album art
  • Organization features: Ask Alexa to start timers, manage calendars, create to-do lists and sync all the information with the Alexa app.
  • Drop In feature: Free voice-call feature (similar to Apple’s FaceTime) for those with the Alexa app, Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show to message or call each other.
  • Compatible with smart home devices such as cameras, lights, fans, garages, sprinklers and more, so you can potentially ask Alexa to turn off the lights without getting off the couch

>> On AJC.com: Someone asked Amazon’s Alexa about the CIA and the answers are hilarious

What are critics saying?

Wired Magazine called the device and its abilities “stupendously powerful” and lauded the touchscreen feature that now complements Alexa’s voice control. 

“A screen in the Echo universe means there’s almost nothing you and Alexa can’t do,” Wired’s David Pierce wrote.

But The Verge noted some of the device’s limitations, including a “slightly unsettling” feature in Drop In, the voice-call feature. Drop In allows users to white-list individual contacts who will be able to pop up and start a video chat on your Echo Show unannounced.

“I personally cannot imagine ever letting my friends have this power, but maybe that’s just me.” tech critic The Verge’s Chaim Gartenberg said.

Other limitations include Amazon’s single-user system, which would give anyone in the house access to things like to-do lists and would set off all your devices if someone calls you via Drop In.

In addition, because the device is built to run Echo skills and not apps, users won’t be able to run Amazon’s own Fire OS apps, or anything from the Google Play Store, Gartenberg said.

>> On AJC.com: 7 hidden perks of Amazon Prime you probably never knew about

How to buy

The Amazon Echo Show is currently available to pre-order on Amazon for $229.99 in black or white. The device will be released June 28. 

Amazon is also offering a buy two, save $100 deal with promo code SHOW2PACK.

How to use

Plug the Echo Show into a power outlet, connect to the internet and ask Alexa.

More at Amazon.com.

Are your kids safe? Predators reaching children through online games

MaryBeth Reeves is used to a lot of chatting. The Georgia mother of quadruplet 10-year-old daughters says it’s rarely quiet in their home. What she wasn’t used to were the chats taking place while her girls played games online.

>> Watch the news report here

Her girls use Roblox, a multiplayer game site that allows players to communicate with each other.

“There’s a bunch of different people that can be on a game and then there’s, like, this chat that you can type in what you want to say. Then you can communicate with other people, say if you’re on a team,” 10-year-old Hannah Reeves explained.

Not long ago, a few players stopped talking about the game and began asking the girls questions about themselves.

“He said, ‘You’re cute,’ and I said, ‘Ew, gross!’” Gwendolyn Reeves said.

Her sister, Isabella, said someone asked her if she’d like to go out on a date.

Reeves said she was unaware that was possible. She and her husband monitor their girls’ online activity closely. They have controls on each laptop and tablet that turn them on and off and allow them to track what sites the kids visit.

ON WSBTV.com:

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“When the first girl told me someone asked her out on a date I thought she was making it up,” Reeves said. “There was a sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach.”

She immediately had a conversation with her girls.

“We just have to try to educate them as much as possible. Keeping them in the dark is not going to help them,” Reeves told WSB-TV’s Dave Huddleston.

Sky Valley Police Chief Vaughn Estes told WSB-TV that is the exact right approach for parents to take. Estes worked for the GBI in its high technology investigative unit and says pedophiles prey on children using subtle techniques to gain their confidence and lure them in.

“We’ve worked cases where people have talked children into doing things in front of their webcams that the parents walk into the room and they are horrified when they discover,” Estes said.

He also says active parenting should be the first line of defense to protect your child.

“Know what your children are doing. Know what they are on. If they are in that room with that computer, you don't know who is on the other side of that computer,” Estes said. “If their phone has a password on it and you, the parent, does not know it, then you need to get the phone away from them because there is nothing on there that a 14-year-old should not be able to show you.”

>> Read more trending news

He says when parents are aware and kids speak up, it makes investigating this type of behavior easier.

WSB-TV’s Huddleston also spoke with Eliza Harrell, a director with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Harrell says that while knowing what your kids are doing online is important, they also need to understand online gaming safety features.

“Most companies are more than willing to help,” Harrell said.

Roblox, the site the Reeves girls use, filters out offensive language and allows parents to choose who their children chat with or to turn chat off altogether. They also allow kids to report abuse and block players that ask offensive questions.

The company told WSB-TV that every abuse report is investigated and players can be banned from the site.

All three girls in the Reeves house who were approached blocked the player asking the questions, and one of them was able to report the activity before the player left the game.

Reeves says she’s thankful they spoke up and wants other parents to be prepared.

“Anything I can do to let other parents know that that happens,” she said.

WSB-TV's Huddleston was joined by DeKalb County Police, Common Sense Media and Roblox for a LIVE Q&A with the experts about how to protect your children online.

>> Click here to watch

 

Facebook accused of helping advertisers target 'insecure' teens

Facebook is doing damage control after a new report suggests the company helped advertisers target teens based on their emotional state.

A 23-page leaked report from an Australian newspaper included a presentation to a bank that showed Facebook's ability to identify when young users are feeling especially insecure, stressed, anxious or overwhelmed and outlined “moments when young people need a confidence boost,” the paper reported.

>> RELATED: ‘10 concerts’ Facebook meme may reveal answer to security questions, professor says 

“Anticipatory emotions are more likely to be expressed early in the week, while reflective emotions increase on the weekend. Monday to Thursday is about building confidence; the weekend is for broadcasting achievements,” authors of the report wrote.

According to Forbes, parts of the document written by Facebook employees Andy Sinn and David Fernandez focused on body image and weight loss and how image-recognition tools are used on Instagram and Facebook.

>> Read more trending news

The Australian paper argued the world’s biggest social network is collecting “psychological insights” on teens based on internal Facebook data.

In response to the criticism, Facebook said it does not target anyone based on their emotional state and someone feeling depressed would not receive different ads compared to someone feeling happy.

>> On AJC.com: The more you use Facebook, the worse you feel, study says

“We have opened an investigation to understand the process failure and improve our oversight. We will undertake disciplinary and other processes as appropriate,” Facebook told the paper.

Later, the company released a separate statement:

“On May 1, 2017, The Australian posted a story regarding research done by Facebook and subsequently shared with an advertiser. The premise of the article is misleading. Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state.

The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated.

Facebook has an established process to review the research we perform. This research did not follow that process, and we are reviewing the details to correct the oversight.”

>> On Boston25News.com: AG: Companies can't target ads to women in abortion clinics

This isn’t the first time Facebook has been in hot water for targeting users.

In 2014, according to MarketWatch, Facebook targeted nearly 700,000 users without their knowledge as part of a psychological experiment to determine if their emotional state changed based on how much positive or negative content they consumed on their news feeds.

Opinion: The ESPN we used to enjoy is dead and never coming back

The worst thing that ever happened to ESPN was the success of PTI.

>> READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s “Cus Words Blog

Shortly after Pardon The Interruption debuted in October 2001, the network set about trying to replicate it on every other show on the network.

That has proven to be a disaster because nobody in Bristol gets the debate isn’t what makes that show great, it’s the debaters.

Tony Kornheiser and Michal Wilbon, not just colleagues but friends who genuinely seem to love arguing with each other about things they’ve actually put some thought into, have a unique rapport that can’t be copied easily.

And yet more than 15 years later, the people running ESPN continue to try in vain.

Collateral damage in this war against people who want good content has been mounting for years, and Wednesday was one of the worst as the company parted ways with a bunch of people who actually do good work and produce things worth consuming (mostly for their website) in an effort to offset financial losses wrought by spending more than they can afford on the rights to broadcast live sports.

If you wondered if the product on ESPN was ever going to get better, the answer is now clear.

For the most part, it appears ESPN kept the carnival barkers while cutting many of the people who actually gather the information people like Stephen A. Smith hyperventilate about.

>> Read more trending news

There’s a theory out there that mixing in too many liberal political messages has hurt the network’s bottom line, but I’m not sure I buy that. Of course, I don’t watch it enough to know just how liberal those messages are. It could be true. It’s probably at least a small factor.

I can’t imagine skewing in one direction politically helps, and I believe the whole stick to sports thing is actually good advice most of the time.

Not that everyone isn’t entitled to their opinion and encouraged to share it whenever they want, but there are a lot of sports fans who really don’t want political commentary in their sports.

And that’s a very fair request, at least 99 percent of the time. There are plenty of sources for news, politics and whatever else, but ESPN has the market cornered on live sports. So feel free to be obstinate, but don’t be surprised if there are consequences. 

Responding to consumer demand is important in any business, but ESPN hasn’t made a habit of that lately.

As often as they take a former athlete off the street and throw him or her into the studio – or worse yet, onto a broadcast – with no experience and much to learn about how to actually express themselves in an informative and entertaining manner, it’s clear ESPN doesn’t care about the quality of what it puts out there.

So at this point I assume if ESPN is having ratings problems (they are), it’s mostly because their product sucks.

I assume they’re cutting people from their website because it doesn’t generate much revenue in the grand scheme of things. The people who have run the network so poorly probably also figure whatever money the web does bring in can probably be maintained mostly by posting viral clips from their terrible sports opinion shows anyway.

Maybe I’m making a lot of assumptions for someone who gave up on ESPN long ago, but actually watching ESPN didn’t used to be essential in appreciating it.

I grew up without cable, but I knew all about SportsCenter.

There was no Twitter to make the catchphrases of Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott, et al, go viral as they might today, but ESPN became a cultural icon in the 1990s anyway.

That was, oddly enough, because they presented sports in a fun and entertaining way. 

A lot of the good stuff was still there when I finally got cable in 2001 (dorm livin’, baby!), but it didn’t last long.

Within about three years, I quit watching for the most part (aside from live events and PTI), and nothing since has indicated I’m missing much. Certainly social media gives few endorsements, and neither have I found the few snippets I catch here and there appealing.

That’s why I keep coming to the same conclusion.

ESPN is dead and never coming back. Today is just one of the sadder reminders. 

Uber plans to take ride-sharing off the ground

The Uber Elevate Summit is live in Dallas this week through Thursday.

>> Read more trending news 

Uber Elevate describes its mission as “fast-forwarding to the future of on-demand, urban air transportation.” 

Uber is working to take its successful ride-sharing services airborne.

The Uber Elevate Summit is offering information and working to bring awareness to the benefits of flying taxis, with car manufacturers, lawmakers and venture capitalists presenting research and preliminary plans for how to get the next phase of Uber off the ground.

The multibillion-dollar company is already detailing its aircraft capabilities – basically, quiet and capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) – and has worked up a drawing of theoretical landing pads in Dallas

Dallas-Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter is on the short list for its first batch of possible air taxi manufacturers, and given its large-scale production capabilities and experience building the type of aircraft that Uber would like, Uber Elevate could be calling Texas home.

Here’s a video of one of Uber Elevate’s other development partners demonstrating its concept of electric-VTOL aircraft:

Government hurdles could be the biggest roadblocks to Uber Elevate taking off, but executives are hoping to begin large-scale production by 2023.

Read more at Uber, and see the full Uber Elevate Summit schedule and speakers here.

FaceApp transforms selfies via neural network

For better or for worse, a lot of us have gotten used to selfie face filters in apps such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger that can add silly extremes to our photos and videos, such as sticking a unicorn horn on our head or turning us into superheroes. But FaceApp, an increasingly popular app that debuted in February for iOS and Android, is different; depending on the photo, it can convincingly and quickly show what a person might look like years from now, as a child or even as the opposite gender.

>> Read more trending news

Leaving aside all questions about gender politics and, for the age filter, whether it’s actually a good idea to take a peek into the future that may be too accurate, the technology sounds interesting. As with the Prisma app, it apparently uses an online network to quickly apply artificial intelligence to a photo filter.

The app has already gotten some criticism for how it handles darker faces and there are concerns that its ability to turn frowns into smiles make it a natural for spreading fake, out-of-context photos. But its eerily uncanny technology means it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Here are some examples:

Google launches 10,000-person study to predict how and when people get sick

Verily Life Science — a Google life sciences company owned by Alphabet — is finally kicking off the massive study it first announced three years ago.

» RELATED: The hottest features from the new Google Earth mobile, desktop launch this week 

In partnership with both Duke University School of Medicine and Stanford Medicine, the landmark study, part of its Project Baseline, aims to collect health data from 10,000 participants over the course of at least four years, the company announced in a news release Wednesday.

>> Read more trending news 

Baseline’s official website describes the project as “a quest to collect comprehensive health data and use it as a map and compass, pointing the way to disease prevention.”

Using physical and biochemical traits of the study population, researchers hope to better understand how people get sick, when they get sick and identify any additional risk factors and biomarkers leading up to disease, including diseases related to both cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“The Project Baseline study is the first step on our journey to comprehensively map human health,” Verily Chief Medical Officer Jessica Mega said.

With the help of experts at Duke, Stanford and other collaborators, the project also seeks to develop new technologies to better access and understand health data, Mega said. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Over the next few months, Project Baseline will begin enrolling its 10,000 American adult participants at Duke and Stanford’s committed study sites.
  • Once a year for at least four years, at the study sites, researchers will record participants’ blood samples, genetic data, images from chest X-rays and from the electrocardiogram. Also assessed: tears, saliva, stool samples and a psychological assessment.
  • If participants are willing to share, researchers will also gather additional data including electronic health records, insurance claims, phone calls, texts, social media activity and more.
  • Participants will go home with a sleep sensor and wristwatch/health monitor and wear the watch during the day, wile placing the sleep sensor under their mattress at night. The sensor and watch will measure participants’ heart rate, sweat and steps — but he or she will only see the time when wearing it. 
  • Throughout the study, participants will receive compensation and perks, regular updates and early insights into discoveries, certain test results to share with their doctors and access to Baseline’s community, events.
  • After four years (or longer, if the participants are interested in continuing), researchers will use the health data from the annual visits and watch to understand how people progress from healthy to ill.

» RELATED: Google honors Ghanaian business woman with doodle 

Past studies that have focused on understanding patterns, causes and effects in a study population — at least in cardiovascular disease research — have seen huge strides, according to American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown.

While Verily has also been busy with other projects, such as developing smart contact lenses and reducing the use of glucose monitors for people with diabetes, Project Baseline is the company’s first serious public test.

“I hope that 20 years from now, 30, 50 years from now … people will say ‘wow this really led to a transformation of human health,’” Sam Gambhir, one of the study’s lead investigators, said.

More about Project Baseline here.

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