Global experts call for a unified approach to online safety

A global approach to awareness-raising and consumer education about the do’s and don’ts of online safety and security was the focus of a recent meeting sponsored by the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and APWG (formerly the Anti-Phishing Working Group). The meeting, hosted by Microsoft at our Paris office, brought together more than 40 individuals representing government, technology companies, non-governmental organizations and child advocacy agencies from 13 countries. The group assembled to share knowledge and explore ways to collaborate to better protect people as they live out their lives online.

“We’re trying to reach everyone across the globe because we’re all connected to the same Internet and, unless we’re all safer and more secure as individuals, we won’t have a safer and more secure Internet for us all,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of NCSA, based in Washington, D.C.

As Microsoft’s representative to the NCSA board of directors and the current board president, I’ve worked with Kaiser and others, encouraging them to engineer more formally an international extension of NCSA’s signature public-awareness campaign, STOP. THINK. CONNECT. (STC). Last month’s two-day meeting was the first official step in that process. Since its 2010 launch, STC has been recreated or adopted in 12 countries with at least two more acceptances pending, and is being leveraged by nearly 150 organizations, either for their own internal use to help educate employees or to share with customers.

This “working session” featured informative presentations from several of the participants about the compelling initiatives underway in their countries and regions—all aimed at helping individuals and families stay safer when they go online. A few questions emerged during the discussions that were interesting themes in and of themselves. For instance, what precise vocabulary is needed to describe a concerted international effort of this magnitude? Although technology companies and other organizations parse the terms security, online safety and privacy as separate and distinct but inter-related issues, research suggests that consumers see few differences. Rather, individuals focus on outcomes and end-results. For example, they want to protect their personal and financial information when banking online, or they want their children to be “safe.”

The group suggested promoting a “healthy digital lifestyle” or “digital well-being” as one possible approach. As sub-topics under those broader themes, participants identified four other possible joint focus areas: safety on mobile devices, protecting personal information, smarter social networking practices and protecting young people online. Going forward, the group will aim to coordinate around key dates that call for global action and involvement: Cyber Security Month in October, Safer Internet Day in February and perhaps Internet Safety Month in June. The group welcomes new members and organizations to help spread the message, and all were energized to convene again within a year.

Microsoft has supported STC since its conception more than five years ago, not only because we feel we share in the broad responsibility to help protect consumers online, but also because we feel that together—as industry, government, NGOs, child safety organizations and others—we can accomplish more than any singular entity on its own. We applaud NCSA and APWG for the Paris meeting, and look forward to continuing the compelling dialogue and further driving local and international calls to action.