In June of 2009, a group of stakeholders representing industry (including Symantec), government, academia, and the nonprofit sector came together to create a unified message for cybersecurity awareness. The messaging convention, as the group became known, had a goal parallel to President Obama’s call for a Smokey the Bear-type campaign for cybersecurity. The group eventually grew to be 28 companies, seven federal agencies, and several nonprofits, and was led by the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Antiphishing Working Group.
Collaboration and consensus were the keys to creating a message that could be used by a diverse group of stakeholders - from technology companies, to the retail industry, to government - with the goal of unifying and clarifying safe online practices for computer users. Rigorous evaluation was also essential to create a message that would resonate with computer users. In the spring of 2010, the convention engaged in in-depth research, surveying over 1,000 Americans to better understand how they perceived online safety and security. What we found was that Americans are extremely concerned about identity theft and financial loss. They report being as concerned about these issues as they are about losing healthcare benefits or jobs. They also report a strong understanding of their own role in protecting themselves, and are aware that the measures they take to protect themselves also protect others. By October of 2010, the group had created a message that was consumer-friendly, action-oriented, and versatile enough for a wide range of outlets. This message is STOP | THINK | CONNECT.
Our research told us that computer users wanted advice that was commonsense and within their control. STOP | THINK | CONNECT is easily implemented:
- Stop: Before you use the Internet, take time to understand the risks and learn how to spot potential problems.
- Think: Take a moment to be certain the path is clear ahead. Watch for warning signs and consider how your actions online could impact your safety, or your family’s.
- Connect: Enjoy the Internet with greater confidence, knowing you’ve taken the right steps to safeguard yourself and your computer.
The goal is to have the message become cemented into Americans' public safety vernacular, in the same way as, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” and “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” If Americans gradually incorporate this message into their daily lives, it will soon become second nature, much like buckling a seat belt or looking both ways before crossing the street. It is a message that can be taught by anyone to anyone without any technical knowledge and can be used across the Internet landscape.
President Obama said it best, in his proclamation of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month early in October:
"Through [the 'Stop.Think.Connect'] initiative, Americans can learn about and become more aware of risks in cyberspace, and be empowered to make choices that contribute to our overall security."
I encourage all of you to bring this message to your friends, family, and co-workers. To learn more, and for specific tips on using this message, visit the Stop | Think | Connect website.
Michael Kaiser is the Executive Director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.