Posted by Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer, Trustworthy Computing, Microsoft

As noted in a recent post, I spent the spring months on a “listening tour.”  I spoke with prominent individuals both inside and outside of Microsoft, seeking opinions and insights to help inform the strategy and approach for my new role.  While my position and title may be new for the company—and the industry, the commitment to Internet safety is not.

Taking into account the risks stemming from content, contact, conduct, and commerce (“The Four Cs”), a concept I shared in the first part of this post, I’ll focus this second half on how the online safety risk-landscape has evolved, current trends, and where we’re likely headed next.

The Four Cs aren’t inherently negative or dangerous in and of themselves; on the contrary, we derive a wealth of knowledge, productivity, satisfaction, and closeness from informative content, positive interactions, and the ease of online transactions.  Rather, it’s the illegal, inaccurate, inappropriate, and illegitimate “Cs” that adversely impact our otherwise wildly rich digital lives.  The experts I spoke with noted it wasn’t all that long ago that the “content” focus was on adult material, and the contact/conduct debate centered on child predators.  Illegitimate commerce, in the not-too-distant past, was dominated by spam wars and phishing attacks.  Some of those issues remain today, but the overall risk landscape has changed.

Instead of blocking adult content from the view of anyone under age 18, many parents have adopted other approaches, particularly for older kids.  These include first monitoring what teenagers see and do online, before resorting to outright blocking of certain sites and activities.  In terms of online commerce, spam filters have helped rid our inboxes of unwanted email and, phishing filters—and our own savvy—have made us more astute when reviewing missives from so-called “foreign princes.”  Industry innovations coupled with consumers’ sound digital hygiene have reduced the number of debilitating worms and viruses compared to a decade ago.  

While some of these Internet ills may have peaked in the past, many will continue to evolve (notably, online fraud and scams), continuing to target the most vulnerable members of our global society.  Others are perhaps being replaced with newer concerns like online bullying, digital-reputation management, over-sharing online, and over-exposure to technology and screen-time.  Moreover, mobile computing opens the door to bad actors in more venues. Indeed, in our “always-on,” constantly connected world, criminals will continue to “follow the numbers”—of people, that is—to mobile devices, app stores, popular social-networking sites, and whatever happens to be computing’s “next big thing.” 

Still, some things remain constant: public awareness-raising and consumer education continue as key tools to help defend against risks.  Further, the multitude of stakeholders needs to collaborate in new and inventive ways to help stay ahead of the risk curve.  Microsoft will continue to partner with organizations like the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Family Online Safety Institute, and promote their worthwhile programs, including STOP. THINK. CONNECT., National Cyber Security  Awareness Month, and A Platform for Good.     

In the words of one expert from a U.S. telecomm company, “The terms ‘cyber-space,’ ‘virtual reality,’ and this Matrix-like thinking are out of date.  That now is reality.  It’s all about responsible use of the tools.  What are you doing with technology?  Are you using it safely?”                              

The good news is we continue to make progress—in the areas noted above, as well as a number of others.  For instance, we’re arming parents with useful tools so they can know how often, with what, and with whom their children are interacting online.  We’re developing new technologies to help combat online child exploitation, and working to put behind bars those who would do our children and others harm.  We’re encouraging social and emotional learning in schools, so that kids and others are most inclined to “live The Golden Rule” both online and off.  And, we’re continuing to conduct research and offer prescriptive guidance about avoiding and combating online risks.

These are all steps in the right direction.  Still, no one individual, company, or entity can make the web safer on its own; it takes all of us, and it will continue to do so.  Learn how you can do your part by regularly visiting our Safety & Security Center.  Because in the end, we all want the same thing:  to harness the amazing power of the Internet to do whatever it is we do every day – only bigger, faster, easier, and … safer.