Q&A: Microsoft Joins Nationwide Tour to Help People Get Safe on the Internet

Editors’ Update, May 17, 2006 – Responses below from the executive of the AARP have been updated since publication to correct minor errors.

REDMOND, Wash., May 16, 2006 – Most people understand the importance of being safe online and keeping their computer protected. However, far fewer people feel they actually know how to do so. In an effort to help raise awareness of computing safety and Internet security, leading technology, government and advocacy organizations have launched the Get Net Safe tour, which will combine the resources of 11 organizations to heighten computer safety awareness in communities across the U.S.

The tour will visit 12 cities from May through December, including stops in Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; Detroit; Los Angeles; New York; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. Organizations involved in the tour include AARP, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Geek Squad 24 Hour Computer Support Task Force, GetNetWise/Internet Education Foundation, i-SAFE, OnGuard Online, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), Microsoft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

To learn more about the tour and its goals, PressPass spoke with Mike Nash, corporate vice president in the Security Technology Unit at Microsoft, along with representatives from three tour participants: Jonathan King, outreach director at i-SAFE; Jennifer Leach, senior project manager of Financial Security at AARP, and Staca Urie, manager of outreach for the NetSmartz Workshop, a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

PressPass: From your organization’s perspective, what do you hope to accomplish with the Get Net Safe Tour?

Nash: There are an increasing number of people using the Internet at work and at home– almost 70 percent of Americans are now online. This makes online safety more important than ever before. People need to know how to protect themselves, their families and their PCs. Our goal is to work in concert with government, advocacy groups and industry leaders to help people learn about computer security and Internet safety. During this tour, we are providing education about online threats and how to use basic tools and guidance that can help consumers have a safer online experience.

On this tour, we will be promoting four basic steps for a more secure computing experience. First, every user should use a hardware or software firewall, like the one that is on by default in Microsoft Windows XP SP2, to make sure that there is a protective barrier around their computer to help prevent malicious software from gaining access to their PC. Second, every user should make sure that their software, both at the operating system level and at the application level, is up to date with the latest security updates. Microsoft customers can do this by visiting http://update.microsoft.com or by using the automatic updating feature that is available for Windows, which is accessible through the control panel. Third, users need to make sure that they have up-to-date anti-virus software, to protect their PCs from viruses and worms. Up-to-date anti-virus signatures will negate the latest threats that are circulating on the Internet. And fourth, users should use anti-spyware technology to make sure their PCs are protected against spyware and other unwanted software like pop-ups. The no-charge anti-spyware beta known as Windows Defender is available at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx.

Leach: From a national and state perspective, the AARP is interested in getting reliable information to our members on matters that affect them most. While we don’t know that people age 50 and over are more vulnerable than anyone else when it comes to online safety – it’s more about awareness than age – we do know that the 50-plus group is the fastest-growing group of Internet users. Between 1998 and 2004, the proportion of people 50 and over who say they use the Internet grew from 20 percent to 53 percent. Among ages 65-74, the proportion grew nearly four-fold, from 12 percent to 45 percent, and 75-plus usage grew from 4 percent to 23 percent. So you can see that older Americans are using the Internet more than ever before. At the same time, Federal Trade Commission data indicates that identity theft and Internet-related fraud make up a significant share of complaints from consumers over age 50. That’s one of the reasons AARP wanted to be involved. The Internet puts the world at our fingertips and we want our members to benefit from the information and resources they can find online, but get there safely.

King: i-SAFE is focused on bringing online safety information and resources to classrooms. During the Get Net Safe Tour, we will hold two school assemblies in each city, one parent program and one professional development program. The assemblies are 45-minute interactive media presentations providing an understanding of safe and responsible Internet use. Our goal with them is to develop school i-MENTORS, kids who share what they’ve learned with other students and their communities. Our professional development program trains educators and law enforcement to become certified by i-SAFE, meaning they can help others learn about what it means to be safe and responsible online, and in turn train others on how to be safe online.

On the tour, we will also have meetings with parents, providing them with ways to recognize situations in which kids are at risk, giving them tools to help recognize the threat and remove themselves from the situation, and help them communicate with their child to help them become safe and responsible.

Urie: The Get Net Safe Tour is an amazing opportunity for us to work at our core mission, which is extending the safety awareness of children to prevent victimization and increase self-confidence whenever they go online. According to NCMEC research, one in five children receives an online sexual solicitation, and of those, one in 33 subsequently receives an aggressive sexual solicitation, which can be defined as an approach from someone who asked to meet them somewhere; called them on the telephone; sent them regular mail, money or gifts. This is one of the reasons the NetSmartz Workshop was started, to combat that type of child endangerment. During this Tour, we will be promoting child safety and educating children on how to be safer, providing resources for children ages 5-17, with music, animated characters and age appropriate tools and programs.

In addition to assemblies for students, NetSmartz will also conduct seminars for parents. These seminars will educate parents about current Internet trends; dangers present to children online; as well as provide access to free resources and tips to better protect their children. Parent seminars will end with action items enabling them to leave with tools to better protect their children.

Making Internet safety a community concern is paramount in protecting children. For this reason, NetSmartz is also assisting the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) with a community fair in five of the city tour locations. Engaging parents, children, and community leaders through BGCA is just one way to ensure available resources are provided to all parties concerned with a child’s safety. Together we can help protect children online.

PressPass: Most, if not all, of the partners on this Tour have their own online safety programs. What will be different about the Get Net Safe Tour?

Nash: The great thing about each of these organizations is that they are experienced leaders known for educating their audiences. They are committed to helping consumers and working with us to raise public awareness of online safety issues and practices. We share a common goal of increased computer and Internet security.

Leach: Online safety is an important issue for people of any age – whatever age we are, we live in a community made up of all ages and types of people, and what affects them affects us. This is a broad coalition of groups, so working as a group, we’re each able to reach beyond our regular audience and into the broader community, which benefits all of us. When it comes to guarding against any kind of consumer fraud, the key is awareness, not age, and this tour allows us to focus on awareness at any age. If, as coalition members, we can reach more parts of the community – whether it’s kids, teachers, parents, or grandparents – that will have a huge impact.

Urie: A partnership that includes organizations from government, non-government and the technology industry not only helps show the breadth of organizations working for online safety, but it also helps create consistent messaging to promote safety and security. Message consistency shows a unity between the various organizations, and also helps ensure the messages are more strongly received by the audiences. Additionally, a group of partners like this would attract and speak to a much broader spectrum of people than each partner would individually, so people will be exposed to more information and resources than they might if they connected with just one of the partner organizations.

PressPass: Have you worked before with Microsoft or the other partners in the tour on other online safety programs?

Leach: AARP has trained a group of Fraud Fighters nationwide that go into the community and lead talks on how our members can protect themselves. By popular demand this year we added online safety as a topic. Microsoft helped us develop a training module, including a brochure and 20-minute presentation, on how to protect yourself, your PC and your family. Additionally, AARP’s office in Washington state is taking the lead on online safety with their Cyber Safety Campaign. Their free half-day presentations have been standing room only, which shows the level of interest and demand for this information. Their campaign is a partnership of AARP Washington, the Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft and the Washington Attorney General’s office.

Urie: NCMEC has a major partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, with which we created the NetSmartz Workshop. It has a presence in all 50 states and reaches 3.3 million children. We have partnerships with attorneys general, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Internet Crimes Against Children taskforce, just to name a few, all of which allows NetSmartz to provide materials for use in schools and to conduct training for teachers and law enforcement. Additionally, NCMEC has partnered with Microsoft to distribute AMBER Alerts via MSN Mobile, MSN Hotmail, Windows Live Mail, MSN Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. This means millions of consumers in the U.S. using MSN and Windows Live services will get access to timely bulletins of the most serious child-abduction cases in their communities. This is a powerful use of technology that will allow us to get information about abducted children to more people who can be on the lookout for that abducted child and suspect.

King: i-SAFE worked with Microsoft to take our professional education program and bring it online as i-LEARN. Educators can log in and watch different modules, and by those means earn i-SAFE certification as well. With Microsoft’s support, we also were able to develop the i-Mentor training network, which is the same type of solution as i-LEARN but in this case the audience is students. Microsoft was able to afford us the resources to develop those training programs, enabling us to offer a more substantive online safety education program so that people can become certified authorities right now, without question.

PressPass: What else is your organization doing to promote online safety?

King: We at i-SAFE want to bring Internet safety education to every student in the U.S., but at the same time, we’re also working with Microsoft on an international initiative, creating packages and solutions to provide to other countries. These provide our core messages localized for the area in which the package will be used, letting people there take it and grow the messages from within. Our goal is to provide the resources and nurture the people in these areas so that when they do come online, they can be safe and responsible.

Urie: NetSmartz through a partnership with the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforces (ICAC) provides law enforcement with interactive assembly-style presentations for use with parents and communities, middle- and high-school students, and children in grades K-2 and 3-6. We provide these law enforcement teams with the material they need in Microsoft PowerPoint form to deliver Internet safety messages. Additionally, we post new materials frequently on our Web site at www.netsmartz.org – most recently, we added safety information on use of social networking sites, cyberbullying, and how to UYN: Use Your NetSmartz.

Leach: AARP has a collection of information at www.aarp.org/netsafe that connects users to other work that AARP has done. There’s useful information to help you protect yourself, your computer and your family, whether you’re shopping online, job hunting, or simply want to be sure that your computer’s secure. And we will continue to provide our online safety forums to help our members directly with information and guidance.

Nash: Computer security and online safety is a top priority for Microsoft and is fundamental to everything we do. Our approach is to use a combination of technology innovation to achieve security in our software, guidance and education to enhance user knowledge, and participation in partnerships like Get Net Safe to amplify that knowledge through community support.

On the technology side, we will launch a number of security technology solutions in the coming months, including Windows Live Family Safety Settings, Windows Live OneCare and the Windows Live Safety Center. These will provide consumers with the resources, guidance and advice they need for a better online experience.

In addition, throughout the tour we will be promoting www.Staysafe.org, where people can go to get free information and guidance. The site includes activities adults can do with kids, tips for what consumers should and should not do online, as well as advice for teens, parents and teachers.

And of course, we will continue to partner with industry, government and consumer advocacy groups to drive awareness of best practices for protecting families, PCs and individuals online.

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