Apple News · General Tech News · Software News For Professionals · Virus News

Mac Users Are NOT Safe From Ransomware!

Hundreds of thousands of Windows PCs around the world have been hit by a nasty strain of ransomware called WannaCry 2.0.

Ransomware is a form of malware that completely encrypts your PC. The only way to get the key to unlock your photos, documents and music is to erase your hard drive or pay a ransom.

This particular type of ransomware is only affecting Windows computers, but that doesn’t mean Apple’s (AAPL) Macs and MacBooks are immune from these types of attacks.

See, contrary to popular belief, Apple’s desktops and laptops aren’t inherently safer than those running Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows operating systems.

Yes, WannaCry 2.0 does exploit a vulnerability in older versions of Windows, but Microsoft issued a patch to deal with the problem well before this malware exploded across the web.

Windows is hurt by its popularity

None of this points to Microsoft’s current operating system, Windows 10, being more susceptible to malware than Apple’s macOS or OS X. In fact, the real reason hackers and criminals attack Windows is that it’s the most popular desktop operating system in the world.

“Cyber criminals are generally looking for a scenario that will maximize the return on their investment,” explained McAfee CTO Steve Grobman. “What that means is they will invest in creating a malware or ransomware campaign that they believe will generate the maximum amount of ransom payment by the victim.”

One of the key elements to a successful ransomware attack is the use of social engineering to trick victims into downloading infected files in dubious emails.

To sucker enough people into doing that, though, criminals have to cast an incredibly wide net. And since Windows is far more popular in the world than Apple’s OS X and macOS, hackers go after Microsoft’s operating system.

“Given that the vast majority of deployed platforms in corporate environments are Windows, there is a lot of attention on looking for exploitation vectors of the Windows platform,” Grobman explained.

In other words, if Apple’s macOS and OS X were as popular as Windows, we’d see a heck of a lot more malware designed to attack Apple’s machines.

We’re only human

Vulnerabilities like the one used in the WannaCry ransomware are the result of human error when developing an operating system. Humans, like you and me, are notoriously fallible and are the ones who build and program operating systems like Windows.

Companies like Microsoft and Apple continually work to find these vulnerabilities before criminals can exploit them. But with millions and millions of lines of code to comb through, it’s nearly impossible to find every issue. What’s more, each update to an operating system can introduce new vulnerabilities that didn’t exist beforehand.

Apple does have one advantage over Microsoft when it comes to issues like malware: it builds both its own software and hardware. That means that if Apple finds an issue with a piece of firmware for its MacBooks or Macs it can provide an update that addresses it.

Microsoft’s software is installed on machines built by a slew of companies including Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP and others. Each of those organizations might have their own firmware that can be exploited that would need to be fixed with Microsoft’s help.

So no, Apple’s MacBooks and Macs aren’t more secure than Windows-powered machines. If you’re running a new operating system and are sure to keep it properly updated, your Windows and Apple laptops and desktops will be equally secure.

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General Tech News · Virus News

Why These Firms Became Targets of Randsomware

It’s a lot harder for huge companies to update their computer systems.  The WannaCry 2.0 ransomware is still crippling computer systems and networks around the world. The malware, which hit the web, has impacted everything from automakers to the U.K.’s National Health Service, by locking down their Windows PCs and demanding a ransom of $300 in bitcoins in return for the codes to unlock them.

So how did such large companies and public services fall victim to WannaCry 2.0? Well, contrary to popular opinion, it’s certainly not because they’re fools.

Updating isn’t so easy

The WannaCry ransomware is widely believed to use a vulnerability in Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows operating system, which the National Security Agency knew about and kept secret. In April a group of hackers called The Shadow Brokers, said it stole the vulnerability along with a slew others from the agency, and posted them online.

The makers of WannaCry then used that vulnerability and weaponized it in the form of ransomware that spreads through computer systems like a worm, infecting more and more PCs as it moves.

Microsoft, however, released a patch for the vulnerability for most versions of Windows well before WannaCry hit the internet. A follow-up patch was released for its long-discontinued Windows XP after the software giant recognized the scale of the attack.

So, why didn’t every company and institution immediately update their systems? As McAfee CTO Steve Grobman explains, it takes more time for huge organizations to update their computers than it does for you or me.

“Some of the organizations that were negatively impacted by [WannaCry] have delayed releasing patches, because they were still performing compatibility tests, and were working through those before deploying the patch,” Grobman explained.

Organizations like hospitals, for example, run specialized software on top of Windows to do things like keep tabs on patients’ records and medications. So they can’t run the risk of installing a new Windows patch that may or may not be compatible with their own programs.

After all, if you see a Windows update is incompatible with one of your programs, the worst that happens is you have to wait a few days for a new update. A hospital or factory, on the other hand, could be out of commission for days.

“It’s not simply organizations not wanting to patch,” Grobman said. “Sometimes there are real risks of deploying a patch when there are compatibility issues in their environment.”

A perfect storm

According to Grobman, what makes the WannaCry 2.0 ransomware so dangerous is that it’s an almost perfect storm of vulnerabilities and implementations coming together. That makes it extremely contagious.

“What’s unique about this piece of ransomware is it’s taking advantage of a wormable vulnerability that is exploitable on Windows clients,” he said.

Essentially, the malware makers took an known exploit for Windows software and packaged it as a worm that was able to crawl across networks, infecting each computer it touched. The ransomware then locked down those machines when it was activated. The fact that companies weren’t able to deploy Microsoft’s patch for the initial vulnerability was a huge boon for the malware’s creators.

“We haven’t seen those planets align that frequently,” Grobman said.

The good news, if there is any, is that companies unaffected by the WannaCry ransomware might be able to speed up the implementation of the appropriate patches to protect themselves from the software.

Impacted companies, however, aren’t so lucky. If they didn’t have backups of their files that were encrypted by the attack, they may have to simply start from scratch.

The lesson here? Never open emails you aren’t expecting or from people you don’t know.

Anything Microsoft · General Tech News

Meet Microsoft’s New Surface Pro Laptop!

When it launched back in 2012, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Surface was little more than a reference design for the company’s Windows 8 operating system. Unfortunately, Windows 8 was a disaster. But the Surface hardware proved to be a diamond in the rough thanks to its simple, 2-in-1 laptop-tablet design.

Which brings us to the new Surface Pro. The follow-up to Microsoft’s excellent Surface Pro 4, the new Surface Pro — there’s no number designation for this one — builds on the successes of its predecessor with improved performance, a new, more flexible kickstand and an upgraded stylus. And while you’ll now have to shell out an extra $100 to get the whole package, it’s still worth the price of admission.

Haven’t we met before?

I’d be both impressed and a bit concerned if you could tell the difference between the Surface Pro 4 and new Surface Pro at a glance. That’s because the new Pro’s design hews so closely to its predecessor that any changes are incredibly subtle at best.

Microsoft points to the system’s newly curved edges and the lack of fan vents — on the Intel Core m3 and i5-powered versions only — as some of the 2-in-1’s most distinct changes.

At this point, I wish Microsoft would revamp the design a bit. Still, the fact that the company managed to pack a Core i5 processor into a device without a fan to keep it cool is seriously impressive. I, however, have the Core i7-powered model, which does have a fan and vent. But it’s not like it sounds like a jet engine or anything.

The biggest physical change to the Pro is its new kickstand. Now you can lean the Surface all the way back 165 degrees until it’s essentially flat on its back. Microsoft says this is to help make it easier for people who want to write on the Surface using their Surface Pen or use the Surface Dial accessory.

One of the best features of the Surface is its display. That’s been the case for the past few generations of Surface devices, and it’s no different this time around. The Pro’s 12.3-inch screen is beautiful, especially when using Microsoft apps like Office, Edge or others.

A slick stylus for a price

This time around, the Surface team improved the device’s display to work better with the new Surface Pen stylus. According to Microsoft, the Pen is more sensitive than its predecessor and suffers from less latency. The company says it cut down the response time for the Pen to 21 milliseconds. Microsoft also added a tilt feature to the Pen so you can create wide strokes with the stylus when you tilt it.

Apple’s (AAPL) new iPad Pro 12.9 inch, however, also features a more responsive stylus with a response time of just 20 milliseconds. Realistically, you’re not going to notice a 1-millisecond difference, but you know, bragging rights.

The Surface Pen’s performance is certainly impressive. Writing on the Pro’s screen genuinely does feel like you’re writing on a piece of paper. I didn’t notice a hint of lag even when scratching off a note. And the tilt function works just as advertised, though it didn’t seem to work with every app. I’m sure that will be helpful for artists, but all it did for me was give me a chance to add some extra flare to a few doodles around my notes.

My one beef with the Surface Pen is that it’s no longer included with the price of the Surface. Previously, Microsoft tossed in the stylus as part of the Surface package. But this time around you’ll have to shell out $99. That’s a heck of a lot of cash for a stylus. I previously criticized Apple for charging that much for its Apple Pencil stylus, and now Microsoft is doing the exact same thing. Sure, the new Surface Pen is supposed to offer improved performance, but it’s still a bad look.

Paying to type

To get the full Surface Pro experience, you’ll have to also purchase a Surface Pro Type Cover for $129. Microsoft also sells the $159 Signature Surface Type Cover with its Alcantara fabric covered body, but outside of that, both keyboards are essentially the same.

I like typing on the Type Cover — I wrote this review with it — but still have the same complaint I’ve always had about the whole setup: it just doesn’t feel comfortable when working on your lap. The fact that you need to rest the kickstand on your knees means you’ve got to keep the Surface tucked close to your body when typing. Either that or I have unusually short thighs.

That said, I hardly ever use the Surface, or any laptop for that matter, on my lap. I’m usually sitting at a desk or table. If you tend to work on the bus or train, though, you might want to keep that in mind.

Power on the go

In terms of overall performance, the Surface Pro can range from a solid web-browsing machine to a full-on media consumption and creation device depending on your configuration. The base model, which starts at $799, comes with an Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive. That’s plenty of power for someone who just wants to surf the web — do people even say that anymore? — watch Netflix and send angry messages to celebrities on Twitter.

If you’re looking for a little more horsepower, there’s also the Core i5-powered model with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $999. I’d suggest most people opt for the Pro with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. If you want to max out your Surface, Microsoft offers a model with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for $2,699.

Don’t forget, you’ll need to add $139 for a keyboard and $99 for the stylus, too.

If you’re in the market for a similarly lightweight device, you can always opt for the 13-inch MacBook Air with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $999. If you want an insane amount of power you can go for a MacBook Pro with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for $2,899. Still, neither of those devices have touch-screen displays nor can they double as tablets.

My Surface Pro review unit came with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, and man is it a beast. I managed to stream videos on Netflix and Hulu, stream songs through Spotify, open 10 tabs in Chrome, download “Fallout Shelter,” mess around with Paint 3D and run a full system scan while writing this review and only noticed any slow down after about 15 minutes or so. In other words, this will easily handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.

Living through the day

Microsoft says the Surface Pro can get up to 13 and a half hours of battery life when playing video and with the display’s auto brightness feature turned off. I personally saw all-day battery life, meaning I got through my 8-hour work day, with the Surface Pro with the brightness between 25% and 50%. Push the brightness up to 100% and you’ll see the battery fall significantly faster.

Should you get it?

So, should you get the new Surface Pro? If you’re in the market for a premium laptop that can double as a tablet and can more handle your everyday tasks then I’d recommend going with the Surface Pro. If you don’t think you’re going to use the stylus more than once or twice, though, just save your $99.

General Tech News · Software News For Professionals · Virus News

Nobody Likes Ransomware!

On May 12, a computer worm called WannaCry infected 320,000 Windows computers in 150 countries—and made headlines around the world. Here’s what you need to know.

Meet ransomware

Why the headlines? First, because WannaCry is one of the most widespread cases of ransomwaresoftware that encrypts all of the files on your PC, and will not unlock them until you pay the bad guys. In WannaCry’s case, you’re supposed to pay $300 within three days; at that point, the price goes up. If you still haven’t paid in a week, all your files are gone forever. (Here’s what it looks like if you’re infected.)

(Why can’t the authorities just track who the money’s going to, and thereby catch the bad guys? Because you have to pay in Bitcoin, which is a digital currency whose transactions are essentially anonymous.)

The second notable feature: The WannaCry malware took advantage of a security hole in Windows that had already been discovered by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). But instead of letting Microsoft (MSFT) know what it had found, the NSA kept it a secret and, in fact, decided to write a “virus” of its own to exploit it.

Ransomware is nasty. There’s no way out, no fix. And even if you pay up, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back; some of these ransomware people take your money and run. (Why can’t these low-life hackers have more of a sense of decency?)

How security holes get patched

So why doesn’t Microsoft fix Windows’s security holes? It does—all the time. For example, if you have Windows 10, you’re safe from WannaCry. And even if you have Windows 7 or 8, and you accept Microsoft’s steady flow of software updates, you’re fine, too; Microsoft patched this hole back in March.

The only people vulnerable to WannaCry are people running old versions of Windows, and people who don’t keep their Windows updated with Microsoft’s free patches.

Here’s the real irony: Typically, a researcher discovers a security hole in Windows—and quietly tells Microsoft. Microsoft’s engineers write and release a patch—for a hole the hackers hadn’t known about before. But the bad guys know that millions of people won’t install that patch. So they write the virus after Microsoft has fixed the hole! They get the idea from the fix.

In any case, ransomware loves to target corporate networks: hospitals, banks, airlines, governments, utility companies, and so on. These are places that often don’t regularly update their copies of Windows. (Lots of them still run Windows XP, which is 16 years old. Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP, but to its credit, it has written and released a patch to prevent WannaCry for Windows XP, too.)

How not to get ransomware

If you’d rather not get a ransomware infection on your PC, here’s what to do.

  • Back up your computer. I know you know. But only 8% of people backup daily, according to a 2016 poll of over 2,000 people. For $74, you can get a 2-terabye backup drive, and use your PC’s automatic backup software. Thereafter, if your files get locked by ransomware, you lose only a couple of hours as you restore from your backup. (For best results, keep the backup drive detached when you’re not using it, since some ransomware seeks out other connected drives.)
  • Turn on automatic updating of Windows. Get those patches before the bad guys do.
  • Don’t open file attachments you’re not expecting. Even if they seem to come from people you know. Don’t open zip files that come by email. Don’t ever click links that seem to be from your bank, or Google, or Amazon; they’re just trying to trick you into giving them your passwords.

Backup, turn on updating, don’t open email attachments you’re not expecting.

This has been a public service message.

Fun With Pinterest

Pinterest’s New AI For Foodies!

Pinterest has found perhaps the most delectable use of artificial intelligence and image recognition yet: to serve up recipes based on photos of meals you’re eating.

The eight-year-old San Francisco, Calif.-based startup rolled out an update on Tuesday that enables its AI-powered feature, Pinterest Lens, to detect and analyze what you’re eating in any given photo. Lens then suggests a recipe “inspired” by the food, meal or dish.

Say you snap a photo of jambalaya you’re chowing down on. Lens figures out you’re eating jambalaya, then recommends a jambalaya recipe for you to try. This is different from how many other companies are applying computer vision technology, a Pinterest spokesperson pointed out.

Facebook (FB) already uses image recognition to identify friends in photos and suggests tagging them. Meanwhile, a feature called “automatic alternative text,” released last year, enables visually-impaired Facebook users to hear a somewhat detailed description of the photo. A person using automatic alternative text on a photo of a group of people in the woods would hear, “This image may contain: Three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Lens joins a series of food recipe-related features Pinterest announced on Wednesday, including a new filter that let Pinterest features search by dietary preferences like vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and paleo, as well as time filters that sift out recipes based on how long they take to make.

If Lens is accurate in detecting meals and offering relevant recipes, the feature would be a significant step forward for AI-powered applications aimed at mainstream users. Of, course whether the recipes it serves passes muster for those with a discerning palate, is another matter entirely.

All Things Google

Google Scrambles To Fix Android O’s Biggest Problem To Date

The next version of Android doesn’t have a name yet, only a letter. But “Android O”—which should get a dessert-based moniker when it ships later this summer—does have a set of features that Google (GOOG, GOOGL) pitched over the first day of its I/O developer conference here.

As in earlier updates, Android O brings a grab-bag of features. Some address lingering pain points in this mobile operating system, while others borrow from features Apple (AAPL) added to iOS. Another represents an overdue remedy for a problem that’s afflicted Android since its debut almost nine years ago: the zombie-like persistence of obsolete versions.

And of course, there’s better emoji support.

Project Treble: easing updates, we can only hope

The most important part of O—a rebuilding of Android’s foundation to remove an obstacle to timely software updates—barely got a mention in the almost-two-hour keynote from Google CEO Sundar Pichai and other Googlers that opened I/O at the Shoreline Amphitheatre Wednesday.

As of May 2, the current Nougat release that debuted last August runs on 7.1% of all devices that had connected to the Play Store in the prior seven days. The most widely used Android release was the two-year-old Marshmallow, on 31.2% of devices. At Apple, meanwhile, 79% of iOS devices that visited the App Store on Feb. 20 ran the current iOS 10 release.

Project Treble, announced in a blog post last week, aims to free chipset vendors from having to tweak the code that keeps their circuitry talking to the rest of Android. Treble will add a layer of translation code between that proprietary software and the rest of Android—the equivalent of putting a standard-size joint atop some intricate plumbing in the basement. A hardware vendor can write Treble-compliant, circuit-specific code once for a device and know that future versions of Android will understand it without further rewrites.

That won’t end all Android-update holdups. As this post from Ron Amadeo at Ars Technica explains, Treble won’t stop phone vendors from shipping weird Android interfaces (hello, Samsung!) that demand their own revisions. But it’s an important step in an operating system that now runs on more than 2 billion active devices.

Security and privacy

The afterlife of abandoned versions of Android remains the biggest problem in Android security, but many users worry instead that they’ll pick up malware in the Play Store. In reality, that’s a vanishingly small risk compared to the odds of getting hacked after downloading an app from elsewhere, thanks to a variety of malware scans that happen in the background.

Android O will add more layers of security hardening but will also make these app-safety checks visible in a Google Play Protect feature showing their status. It’s literally security theatre. As Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson, product-management director for Android, said in the keynote, “Most Android users don’t know these services come built into Android devices with Play.” But if it gets people to trust the Play Store over less-secure sources, it’ll be a worthwhile production.

This update will guard against a different device threat—a runaway app killing your battery life—by imposing limits on how often apps running in the background can ask for a device’s location or make other requests of the system. If that sounds like an overdue move… it probably is.

In the area of privacy, Android O will randomly assign different device IDs to apps—a small but significant change that will make it harder for a developer of multiple apps to correlate your use among them.

Notifications, picture-in-picture and other interface tweaks

Android O will require apps to group their notifications—the little nags that pop down from the top of the screen—into “channels” that you can turn on or off. It’s meant to stop apps from being too needy; in practice, having yet another option to set may not yield much difference.

You’ll also be able to snooze notifications, which may help avoid losing sight of yet another message from a friend coming in on yet another messaging app. These changes should certainly help Android’s notifications experience stay ahead of the same in iOS, where you can’t even clear all notifications unless you use a device with Apple’s Touch ID pressure-sensitive control.

App icons will be able to show a different sort of notice: colored “notification dots” at the top right corner of each that indicate something’s changed. That seems a pretty clear case of Google following Apple’s lead, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A picture-in-picture option will pick up on the examples of some Android vendors by letting you watch a video clip or chat in one corner while taking notes or checking your calendar.

The interface change I’m most likely to appreciate: “Smart Text Selection,” in which Android will automatically select all of a street address, phone number or other significant block of text once you start trying to pick it up. This won’t work out of the box (as I saw in a demo phone), because Android will use “on-device intelligence” to build a phone-specific model of the kinds of data you often copy and paste.

By not syncing this personal data to the cloud—as Cuthbertson boasted, “without any data leaving the device”—Google borrows yet again from its neighbors at Apple.

The interface tweak everybody may notice first? A new “EmojiCompat” feature that should end the stigma of an iOS user sending a new emoji that doesn’t appear correctly on Android. Goodbye, blank boxes; hello, taco and unicorn emoji.

Amazon News

Amazon’s Alexa Imitates “The Jensons” With It’s New Ability!

For what was originally supposed to be a mail-order bookstore, Amazon (AMZN) sure is doing a lot of trailblazing.

I mean, Amazon came up with the idea for the Echo—the cylinder that serves as a sort of Siri for the home—all by itself. It invented that product category, putting Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung into the awkward position of being copycat followers.

Now that more than 10 million people have Echo devices, Amazon has just taken another trailblazing step: With a free software update, it has turned them into hands-free speakerphones. Calling Chris is as easy as saying “Alexa, call Chris” from across the room, even if your hands are goopy with flour or you can’t find your phone.

Over at Chris’s house, the ring atop the Echo pulses green, a pleasant chime sounds, and Alexa announces, “David [or whatever your name is] would like to talk.”

Chris says “Alexa, answer,” and the conversation begins.

At the end of the call, either one of you can say “Alexa, hang up” to end the chat.

So whom can you call? Anyone in your phone’s address book who has either an Amazon Echo or the free Alexa app. That’s right: The Alexa app is now an internet calling app, like Skype or FaceTime Audio. Like them, it’s free and doesn’t use any cellular calling minutes. [Update: Not to be outdone, Google has now announced that it will bring hands-free calling to Google Home, its Alexa clone—except those calls go to regular phone numbers. No charge.]

By the way: Although the big-ticket item here is hands-free speakerphone calls, there’s also what Amazon calls messaging. It’s not what you’d think, though. It’s not sending text messages, exactly. And it’s not voicemail, exactly. It’s a cool kind of hybrid.

You say “Alexa, send a message to Chris,” and you’re invited to speak a message. You’re sending an audio recording. The ring at the top of Chris’s Echo glows green and chimes once; when Chris says, “Alexa, play my message,” your recording plays back.

But if Chris opens the Alexa app, your message also plays there, with an automated typed transcript. So it’s kinda like a text message in that way. Within the app, you can also send typed texts.

It’s also kinda like voicemail, in that you can leave a recorded message for someone—but the difference is that you’re in control. You decide to leave a message before you even call, rather than just hoping the other person doesn’t answer.

What it’s good for

At its finest, Alexa Calling is like a Jetsons version of the home phone. Not only is it cordless, it’s phoneless. You don’t have to find a handset, pick it up, press buttons, hold it up to your head; you just speak into the room. You may sound pretty echoey to the other guy if you’re really far from the Echo—but if you’re within a few feet, it sounds great.

And of course, if you’re using your phone instead of an Echo, it sounds just like a speakerphone call.

It’s likely that there are some people you contact often enough that the Alexa calling thing could be handy—a sibling, parent, child, boss, lover. Alexa calling is the communication equivalent of the One-Click Buy button on Amazon.com: It eliminates so many steps, so much friction, that you’re inclined to use it more.

What it’s not good for

There are plenty of limitations and footnotes to Alexa calling. These don’t mean that Alexa calling is worse than our existing communication methods—only that it’s got a different set of pros and cons.

  • Limited calling circle. You can call only people who have an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or the free Alexa app. You can’t call someone who has the battery-operated Echo Tap, and you can’t call someone’s regular cellphone number. You can call only someone who’s (a) in your phone’s Contacts, and (b) has made himself available for Alexa calling. (The setup takes about five taps, and requires typing in a security code that Amazon sends you via text message.) So it’s a pretty small circle—but then again, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Snapchat started with small networks, too.
  • Everything rings simultaneously. When someone calls, all your Echos ring at once, and your phone app “rings.” In other words, you can’t use the Echos as an intercom within your house—but Amazon tells me that feature is coming soon. Very cool.
  • It’s all speakerphone. If you have an Echo, all calls are all speakerphone, all the time. Any family member can hear. Any family member can play back the messages, too. So, you know: sext with care.

Finally, at the moment, there’s no way to block incoming calls from specific people in your Contacts. You can turn on Do Not Disturb for all calls, but you can’t block just one idiot who’s abusing the privilege.

The tech blogs are having a field day with this one, calling it a “glaring security hole” and conjuring up the prospect of unwanted incoming calls from abusive ex-boyfriends and creepy pedophiles.

Frankly, though, the likelihood of this kind of abuse seems pretty slim. Your ex would have to know that you’ve got Alexa calling installed; would have to turn it on himself; would have to call you; and, upon hearing Alexa announce, “So and so would like to talk,” you’d have to say, “Alexa, answer.”

Above all, you’d have to keep your ex in your Contacts. And why would you do that?

In any case, Amazon says that it will add the option to block people within a few weeks.

Chalk up another Amazon invention

I’m already using Alexa calling for quick check-ins with my wife, my mom, and my assistant; it’s just super cool, easy, quick, and free. It’s got elements of a home phone line, a cellphone on speaker, and a walkie-talkie—but it’s not any of those.

Amazon has big plans for Alexa calling. We know that you’ll soon be able to direct calls to specific people or devices within your house. We know that you’ll be able to make video calls using the same steps, once the new Echo Look becomes available in June. (It’s an Echo with a screen and camera.) We know that, with permission from both parties, you’ll be able to “drop in” to peek through another Echo’s camera at any time—to keep an eye on an elderly relative, for example.

And I’ll bet that soon, Alexa will recognize who in your household is speaking (as Google Home does now), and will therefore maintain different message “boxes” for different people.

In other words, I love Alexa calling. It’s free, it’s well conceived, it works flawlessly, and it’s only beginning.