Softpedia Exclusive Interview: Jacqueline Beauchere on Microsoft’s Security Efforts

Cyberbullying, online threats, security tips and more, all from a Microsoft official

It’s a well-known fact that both users and their files are highly exposed when browsing the web, not only because they’re not protected by a comprehensive security tool, but also due to the growing number of malicious attempts that take place online.

To better understand how to protect ourselves after launching a web browser instance, we had a short interview with Jacqueline Beauchere, director of Trustworthy Computing Privacy, Accessibility & Online Safety Communications at Microsoft.

In addition, we’ve also contacted Microsoft for some inside information on the security improvements available on the new Windows 8 operating system. All answers are available just underneath Jacqueline’s comments.

Softpedia: Please introduce yourself to our readers and talk a bit about your role at Microsoft.

Jacqueline: At Microsoft, our long-term commitment to Trustworthy Computing includes efforts that advocate for online safety and foster digital citizenship, which is the responsible and appropriate use of technology. As the Director of Trustworthy Computing Privacy, Accessibility & Online Safety Communications, it’s my job to ensure that Microsoft’s approach to online safety includes technological tools; education and guidance; and partnerships with government, industry, law enforcement, and other key organizations to help create safer, more trusted computing experiences. We provide resources and guidance to help create a safer digital world for people of all ages and abilities.

Through the company’s investment in consumer awareness about using products and the Internet more safely, I see the strides that have been made in helping influence consumer attitudes and behaviors for the better.

But there is still more work to be done. That is why I am also Microsoft’s representative to, and the Vice Chair of, the Board of Directors of the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a collaborative effort among the industry, the non-profit community, academia, and government that provides free resources to help secure cyber space.

I also travel extensively to hear first-hand from parents, educators, policymakers, industry leaders, and others about what they need to help them keep themselves and others safer online.

Softpedia: The recent online survey conducted by Microsoft revealed that teens and gamers in particular are very exposed to online scams. How is Microsoft planning to reduce the number of teens who become victims of this kind of malicious attempts?

Jacqueline: Microsoft is constantly working to help reduce the number of teens who become victims of online scams. When kids download games from less-than-reputable sites or through links in email, instant or text messages, they may also be getting offensive content, spam, or malicious software.

Some “free” games may require the creation of an extensive profile, and then the site illegally rents or sells the child’s data. We encourage kids to tell their parents if anything unsettling occurs; not keep it secret, or pretend that it’s okay. We urge parents to teach children to trust their instincts, and how to respond to and report objectionable and improper behavior and content. For example, on Xbox 360, they can use the file a complaint option.

There are other simple ways parents and educators can help teens be better “digital citizens.” One way is to defend the computer against Internet threats by installing antivirus and antispyware software, which Microsoft can help with at our Safety and Security Center (see how to boost your malware defense and protect your PC).

Also, adults can get more immediate help from technology by using family safety settings to specify the games a child can play (by rating), monitor to who children talk to and how, set time limits for play, and control what they see and share online.

We have many other useful tools and easy ways to help safeguard children online in our Play It Safe Gaming Online Brochure.

Softpedia: Cyberbullying remains a main concern for both parents and educators and is even considered as big an issue as smoking and drugs. Do you have any advice for those involved in the fight against cyberbullying?

Jacqueline: Preventing online bullying has been a focus area for Microsoft for the last five years. We recently discovered through our Global Youth Online Behavior Survey that four in 10 children (ages 8 to 17) say they have experienced what adults might consider online bullying.

The survey, which was conducted in 25 countries, also showed that children want to talk to parents about the issue, but only 29 percent of kids say their parents have talked to them about online bullying. What’s more, according to the results, there is not one common step taken by parents to help address the problem.

Our research shows that promoting empathy and kindness can be a powerful way to help stop the cycle of bullying. One of the most effective ways to prevent online bullying is through social and emotional learning—the process through which we learn to build strong relationships and develop healthy boundaries and self-perceptions.

One way to do this would be to start a kindness campaign at home, school, or in your neighborhood. This could be as simple as each family member agreeing to do one kind thing a day, or broader in scope, developing a program to challenge a culture of criticism at school.

Teaching kids to be good “digital citizens” is one way to drive positive “upstander” behavior, and instill strong ethics and online etiquette. Microsoft also partners with organizations like iKeepSafe, iLookBothWays and the Anti-Defamation League to provide professional development for teachers and school staff with courses in online bullying.

We have additional guidance in our Help Kids Stand Up to Online Bullying Brochure, and we encourage parents to take our Stand Up to Online Bullying Interactive Quiz.

Softpedia: Social networks are getting more popular these days, and so are the scams involving these online services. As lots of children are attracted by social networks, how could parents make sure their kids are on the safe side?

Jacqueline: As families live more of their lives online, it’s becoming increasingly important that they are armed with information and tools to help them stay safer online. At Microsoft, we are committed to helping protect customers’ privacy and enabling a more trustworthy online experience.

Unfortunately, some of the information kids post on social media can also make them vulnerable to phishing scams, cyberbullying, and Internet predators. There are several ways to help their kids use social websites more safely.

One tip is to communicate with your children about their experiences, by encouraging them to tell you if something they encounter makes them feel anxious, uncomfortable, or threatened. It’s important to stay calm and remind your kids they are not in trouble for bringing something to your attention. Let them know you will work with them to help resolve the situation for a positive outcome.

There are many other useful tips about social networking and keeping kids safe at our Safety and Security Center, including how to help your kids use social websites more safely.

Softpedia: Does Microsoft plan any campaign to teach teens about the risks they’re exposed to when browsing the web?

Jacqueline: Each year, Microsoft supports Safer Internet Day (SID), a global campaign that promotes a healthy Internet for everyone, teens included. Part of that campaign is to instruct best practices for teens exploring the web.

For SID 2012, Microsoft and AARP conducted research to gauge perceptions of safety related to online technologies and devices. The survey group spanned the generations, including American teens, young adults, parents, and older adults.

We discovered that online communication and social networking are helping family members keep in touch, enriching their relationships, and connecting generations in new and exciting ways. However, as more and more of us go online, people of all ages are increasingly concerned about Internet risks and want to learn more about staying safer online.

We are currently planning a new campaign for Safer Internet Day 2013 in early February.

Softpedia: Do you have a message for our readers or maybe an advice on how to stay away from online scams?

Jacqueline: Online scams are a problem for a number of reasons, but the biggest concern is they are increasingly clever in their presentation and authenticity, and can effectively trick even the most alert user.

These scams evolve to stay a step ahead of users – much like spam evolved to break through sophisticated filters. Scammers use social engineering to gain access to your sensitive personal information, to steal money and even your steal online identity.

Like a good spam filter, people need to apply a high level of discretion to every pop-up text box, instant message, email and website so they don’t get tricked. Microsoft offers these simple tips to help prevent people from falling victim to online schemes:

1. Reduce spam in your inbox.

- Set spam filters in your email service to Standard or High. In Windows Live Hotmail, for example, click Options and then More Options.

2. Save banking, shopping, and other financial transactions for the home computer.

- Avoid sharing sensitive information in email, instant (IM) or text messages. They may not be secure.

3. Look for signs that a webpage is secure and legitimate.

- Before entering sensitive info, look for signs a webpage is secure: “https” in the address bar and a closed padlock.

4. Protect your computer and your accounts.

- Keep all software (including your browser) current with automatic updating. Install legitimate antivirus and antispyware software.

- Protect your wireless router with a password, and use flash drives cautiously.

5. Think before you click.

- Pause to think before clicking links or calling a number in a message, even if you know the sender. If you’re unsure, make contact on a different device or account.

And here is the mini-interview with a Microsoft spokersperson on the security features of the new Windows 8 OS:

Softpedia: Windows 8 is considered one of the most secure Windows versions ever released. How do you see the security improvements bundled into the new operating system?

Microsoft: This blog post outlines several of the new security features in Windows, including Windows Defender and SmartScreen. In addition to those features, Microsoft also reengineered the Windows boot process in an effort to help protect customers. Read more about it in this post on the Building Windows blog.

Softpedia: The new Windows Defender, the one introduced in Windows 8, offers much more than its predecessors and gets closer to a full-featured security product. Do you think it’s able to provide full protection to Windows 8 users when browsing the web?

Microsoft: Windows Defender is working in concert with Microsoft’s SmartScreen filter. Since its release, the SmartScreen filter has used URL reputation to help protect Internet Explorer customers from more than 1.5 billion attempted malware attacks and over 150 million attempted phishing attacks.

Application reputation, a new feature added to SmartScreen in Internet Explorer 9, provides an additional layer of defense to help you make a safer decision when URL reputation and traditional antimalware aren’t enough to catch the attack.

Telemetry data shows 95% of Internet Explorer 9 users are choosing to delete or not run malware when they receive a SmartScreen application reputation warning. You can read more about SmartScreen and Windows Defender here.

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