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Microsoft Releases First Annual Computing Safety Index

Microsoft is introducing an online tool to help Web surfers gauge how well they are protecting their online content and surfing experience, and it turns out consumers are doing an even better job of protecting info than they know, though work remains to be done.

The computer giant's Trustworthy Computing Group, which is focused on educating consumers about safe Web use, released Thursday its first annual Microsoft Computing Safety Index. October is Cyber Security Month and the company plans to issue a new index each October. "I see it as very much of a living index," Jacqueline Beauchere, director of Trustworthy Computing for Microsoft, told B&C/Multi. "This is going to evolve over time as the threats evolved and the protections evolve.

The index scores countries' Web users  -- five countries were studied -- with a total of 100 points possible in three categories, 1) foundational actions -- "using newer operating systems, keeping anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date, turning on and leaving on firewalls, using automatic updates, and connecting via secure wireless networks"; 2) technical actions -- "hiding one's PC ID, actively managing online information, using privacy settings, and limiting information-sharing"; and 3) behavioral actions -- "creating strong passwords, visiting reputable websites, and conducting self-education about online reputation management and identity theft."

"The higher the score, the more habits and practices people are adopting," says Beauchere.

The U.S. Web surfers scored a 37, which is actually the second best behind Brazil and in a range, 20 to 79, that it says has the basics covered but need to "take it up a notch." Beauchere says that "everybody is pretty good at doing some things, but we have a lot of room to grow." She says the U.S. score compares to an average 34 across all five countries studied, which also included France, Germany and the UK.

Key findings for U.S. viewers were that while 55% reported they used automatic updates, it turned out 85% actually did. And while 50% said they use a firewall, that number was actually 79%. In both cases Microsoft asked the question, the followed up by walking them though the process of determining whether they actually were using the protections.

Microsoft has created an abbreviated version of its index survey, which can be taken at

The Index is all about education and self-empowerment, but Microsoft has also backed baseline online privacy regulations.

"Microsoft does support federal comprehensive privacy legislation and has done so since 2005," says Beauchere. "But from the education perspective we think that self-regulation by the industry is the way to go and we think that consumers showed us in our research that a lot of the onus rests with them. They are taking and accepting the responsibility of keeping themselves safer online. There is a role for government, and in some cases it will be legislative or regulatory, but we caution that that be done as carefully as possible so as not to impede innovation. And industry has a responsibility to create these simple, useful tools that are actually going to help people and keep life simpler for them. And the individual has a responsibility as well."