Microsoft takes legal action against COVID-19-related cybercrime  | Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft takes legal action against COVID-19-related cybercrime  | Microsoft On The Issues

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia unsealed documents detailing Microsoft’s work to disrupt cybercriminals that were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to defraud customers in 62 countries around the world. Our civil case has resulted in a court order allowing Microsoft to seize control of key domains in the criminals’ infrastructure so that it can no longer be used to execute cyberattacks

To further protect yourself against phishing campaigns, including BEC, we recommend, first, that you enable two-factor authentication on all business and personal email accounts. Second, learn how to spot phishing schemes and protect yourself from them. Third, enable security alerts about links and files from suspicious websites and carefully check your email forwarding rules for any suspicious activity. Businesses can learn how to recognize and remediate these types of attacks and also take these steps to increase the security of their organizations

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Microsoft launches initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a COVID-19 economy | Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft launches initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a COVID-19 economy | Microsoft On The Issues

Around the world, 2020 has emerged as one of the most challenging years in many of our lifetimes. In six months, the world has endured multiple challenges, including a pandemic that has spurred a global economic crisis. As societies reopen, it’s apparent that the economy in July will not be what it was in January. Increasingly, one of the key steps needed to foster a safe and successful economic recovery is expanded access to the digital skills needed to fill new jobs. And one of the keys to a genuinely inclusive recovery are programs to provide easier access to digital skills for people hardest hit by job losses, including those with lower incomes, women, and underrepresented minorities.

To help address this need, today Microsoft is launching a global skills initiative aimed at bringing more digital skills to 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year. This initiative will bring together every part of our company, combining existing and new resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft.

Read more about the initiative on the Official Microsoft Blog and at https://aka.ms/skills.

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Increasing election security monitoring in cloud computing | Microsoft On The Issues

Increasing election security monitoring in cloud computing | Microsoft On The Issues

Today, we have an exciting announcement we believe will help increase election security while enabling election officials to take advantage of the advanced capabilities of cloud computing.

For years, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and state and local governments throughout the United States have worked with the non-profit Center for Internet Security, Inc. (CIS) to monitor the security of election-related data. This is enabled by Albert Network Monitoring, which examines internet traffic and connection attempts on networks owned and run by election officials – including voter registration systems, voter information portals and back-office networks.

Albert provides network security alerts for both basic and advanced network threats, helping organizations identify malicious activity such as attempted intrusions by foreign adversaries or cybercriminals. Data from these sensors is sent in near-real-time to the CIS Security Operations Center, which is monitored around the clock every day by expert cybersecurity analysts.

To date, cloud computing providers, such as Microsoft Azure, have not been compatible with Albert sensors. This presented election officials with the difficult choice of selecting powerful, secure and cost-effective cloud computing options, or hosting the data on local servers if they wanted to take advantage of the added security of Albert. Today, through a partnership with CIS, we’re providing a new choice by making Microsoft Azure compatible with Albert for the first time.

We’re starting this journey through a pilot, which will begin this week, with 14 county Supervisors of Elections in Florida. Moving forward, Microsoft and CIS will look to open the capability to states and jurisdictions across the United States.

Today’s announcement is the result of collaborative work between Microsoft’s Azure Global engineering team and CIS’s engineering team, in partnership with Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program. In the coming months, we look forward to sharing more details about our work to help secure the 2020 elections and future elections in the U.S. and around the world.

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A Supreme Court ruling upholds the rights of the nation’s Dreamers  | Microsoft On The Issues

A Supreme Court ruling upholds the rights of the nation’s Dreamers  | Microsoft On The Issues

Today’s sunny morning in Seattle brightened even further with the good news from the United States Supreme Court that restores legal protection for nearly 700,000 Dreamers, including more than 60 Microsoft employees. It was on their behalf that, in 2017, Microsoft filed a lawsuit with Princeton University and a Princeton student, Maria Perales Sanchez, to object to the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. We acted quickly because we saw firsthand this issue’s importance to the nation’s talented Dreamers and DACA’s critical benefits for every part of the American economy.   

Little did we know in 2017 that this case would bring Microsoft to the steps of the Supreme Court for the fifth time in little more than a decade. This has been a good week at the Supreme Court for the rights of people who live in the United States. As a company that has brought a wide range of important issues before the Court, we constantly appreciate the hard work that takes place within its four walls. Today’s decision marks an important milestone, and we’re gratified that the Court once again has provided a thoughtful and fair outcome to a complicated legal issue. 

We also appreciate that today’s decision, while critical, is but one more step in a long and winding road. The DACA debate will continue, and the big question now is what comes next. 

Our plea is for a national discussion that involves more light and less heat. A path that starts with a recognition of the Dreamers’ collective importance to our country. A conversation that brings people together in a bipartisan spirit in a creative search for common ground. A discussion that encourages the White House and Congress to work together. An approach that gives people the time and space to be thoughtful. A route that avoids precipitating another crisis in a year that has already had more than its share. 

Some may suggest that this path sounds more like a dream itself. But it’s what the nation and our economy need. 

Consider this: While Microsoft was the only company in the country to file a lawsuit to contest DACA’s rescission, when the case reached the Supreme Court, we were no longer alone. By 2019, 145 businesses signed amicus briefs supporting DACA. And the business community was joined by an even broader group that included 210 educational institutions, 129 religious organizations and 109 municipalities. All of us stood together to underscore the Dreamers’ talent and importance to the economy and the country. 

And that was before anyone had heard of COVID-19. 

The past few months have provided even more dramatic evidence of the role that DACA registrants play in our country. More than 30,000 of them work in the healthcare space alone. They are nurses, lab technicians and respiratory therapists who serve Americans from all backgrounds as our country responds to a pandemic that is unique in our lifetimes. Another 200,000 Dreamers provide other essential services, working in pharmacies and grocery stores and delivering vital goods to our front doors. In the middle of a pandemic, any step that puts Dreamers at risk can put all of us at risk. 

We filed this lawsuit because we believed at Microsoft that it was important to stand up for our employees. To make clear that we had their backs. But along the way, we’ve come to appreciate even more clearly how important the Dreamers are for all of us.  

The summer of 2020 comes in a year of crisis, but it provides a potential inflection point for the nation’s future. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’s a time to reflect on and recommit ourselves to racial equity and justice, especially for the country’s African American and Black populations. It’s a time that calls for thoughtful action to protect the rights of people in a fair manner. It’s a discussion that needs to bring people togetherwhile making room for the nation’s Dreamers. 

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New tools to secure democracy | Microsoft On The Issues

New tools to secure democracy | Microsoft On The Issues

In recent months, we’ve worked closely with political campaigns and parties who are protected by our AccountGuard threat notification service and conducted hundreds of security trainings ahead of the 2020 elections. We’ve heard one repeated request throughout these engagements: Those involved in the democratic process want more protection for what we call identity management, or the ability for their staff to securely log into their accounts and access their email and files while preventing unwanted intrusions. Greater security in this area would help prevent the “hack-and-dump” scenario where cybercriminals or foreign governments steal a campaign official’s emails and release them online.

Starting today, we’re bringing Microsoft’s enterprise-grade identity and access management protections to AccountGuard members in the U.S. at no cost to further help secure them ahead of the 2020 elections. We’re also announcing a new partnership with Yubico to provide phishing-resistant security keys to AccountGuard customers. For political campaigns and committees, these services will be offered through Defending Digital Campaigns, a non-profit and non-partisan organization that has been authorized by the Federal Elections Commission to provide campaigns with free or low-cost technology from a variety of companies. Our Defending Democracy Program will also work directly with democracy-focused non-profit organizations and think tanks enrolled in AccountGuard to help them use these protections.

There are a range of identity and access management protections we’ll offer as part of this, but five examples, which we believe are protections that benefit all campaigns, include:

Multi-factor authentication: While all Microsoft business and consumer email services support multi-factor authentication, what we’re announcing today contains extra protection against phishing for those using this important feature. Customers can now use the Authenticator app on their phones or hardware keys from Yubico as another factor for identity protection.

Single sign-on: This feature enables one set of credentials to be used securely across hundreds of cloud apps, making it easier for a staffer or campaign official to access the apps they need with a high level of security but also more quickly and easily.

Conditional access policies: This is the ability for a campaign to help ensure only the right people are logging into their network by setting conditions such as the behavior people can use to navigate to their accounts, where they are physically located, what kinds of devices they might be using and what applications they might be using.

Privileged identity management (PIM): This includes security features enabling campaigns to manage, control and monitor access to important resources in the organization. PIM will provide time-based and approval-based authorization to access certain resources and lessen the risk of excessive, unnecessary and misused access permissions to sensitive resources.

Access governance: Campaigns have vendors, staffers and volunteers who come and go, and this set of features helps automatically terminate access when they depart an organization or complete a project, shrinking the number of entry points for a hacker.

Our new partnership with Yubico, the recognized industry leader in physical security keys, will provide YubiKeys to AccountGuard customers for defense against phishing and other cyberattacks. Yubico will provide 10 YubiKey 5 Series security keys, to be used on compatible computers or phones, to any AccountGuard-covered organizations for free, for a limited time, plus up to an additional 40 keys at a 50% discount.

We know that many political campaigns do not have dedicated IT support staff, and today’s news comes with hands-on help for those that need it. Deployment assistance for the technologies in today’s news will be provided to AccountGuard customers as an included benefit through our FastTrack program or through our FastTrack-ready partners. A dedicated team of deployment engineers will be available to help provide remote assistance and guidance, and Microsoft partner Patriot Consulting Technology Group will offer additional onboarding support, integration and trainings.

Any AccountGuard-eligible customer can learn more about enrolling in AccountGuard or taking advantage of the tools announced today by contacting AccountGuard@microsoft.com. While we’re offering this to U.S.-based AccountGuard customers ahead of the 2020 U.S. election, we will explore offering it in other geographies in the future.

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Social contact as the new scarce resource | Microsoft On The Issues

Social contact as the new scarce resource | Microsoft On The Issues

In any time of uncertainty, it is critical we leverage data-driven approaches when solving problems. About a decade ago, we wrote on this blog how we used a data- and model-driven approach to guide us to the cloud as the future of enterprise computing. Today, we’re applying the same foundational approach while benefiting from the power of our cloud and AI capabilities to unpack today’s source of great uncertainty: COVID-19. In the white paper we are releasing today, we outline a policy framework to help governments think through the impact of COVID-19 and recovery strategies. We have also included an economic model that quantifies economic impact.

Economic impact framework

As the white paper highlights, our economic impact model is built on a large dataset of economic signals and takes insights from economics and epidemiologists to define scenarios and estimate GDP impact. We ingest real-time data as well as traditional economic data, use our Azure AI capabilities to drive insights, our Azure cloud to run calculations, and we update the latest numbers weekly on our Power BI dashboard. We continue to evolve and improve the model as we ingest new signals and learn more from others through our discussions with policymakers and NGOs. But policymakers don’t merely predict GDP; they help shape it. As we engaged with them, we saw the need for a framework and data that helped them navigate this.

covid strategy graphic

Social contact budget

“Social contact” used to be something we didn’t have to think about. It was a byproduct of going to the store or the gym, often viewed as a positive byproduct. Since the start of COVID-19, it comes at a high price. Today, it can perhaps be compared to carbon emissions: an unwelcome byproduct of economic activity. One can lead to pollution; the other to infection. In economic terms, social contact has become a scarce resource. It has become the linchpin between managing infections and protecting the economy – it is what is driving up infection rates but is also needed for economic activity. By treating it as an economically scarce resource, it raises three critical questions that we began to address in the paper in a data-driven way:

  1. How much room do we have to open the economy (“social contact budget”)?
  2. How do we best spend the budget (“return on social contact”)?
  3. How do we grow our social contact budget over time (“reducing cost of social contact”)?

On the first question, the lower the transmission rate “R” (R being the average number of secondary cases per infectious case), the greater the social contact budget and thus the more room there is to open up parts of the economy while avoiding a second wave of infections, which is very costly from a health and an economic perspective. Second, as is true with any budget, we must spend it wisely. Depending on what a policymaker optimizes for (e.g. GDP, employment, avoiding bankruptcy), we created data-driven views on how to optimize return on social contact. Industries that can work from home should work from home, as the ones who cannot need the social contact budget more. For the ones who really depend on social contact, we should use data to inform decisions. For example, the figures below compare various industries on their propensity to drive social contact vs. GDP.

cost of social contact graph

Finally, over time, the budget can be expanded through changes in behavior as people adjust to the “cost of social contact” and through measures such as massive testing and contact tracing. These measures essentially weaken the relationship between social contact and R. They ensure that social contact happens between healthy people that do not carry the virus so, over time, we can essentially make social contact free again, as it should be.

This crisis is unprecedented, and no single person or organization has all the answers. New perspectives often appear by recognizing and connecting patterns across silos. We’ve been working with epidemiologists whose work focuses on the potential loss of lives. Economic models and scenarios highlight the loss of livelihoods. As we started discussing this with NGOs and global policymakers, we became aware of the synergies between these workstreams, and we sought an integrated perspective.

In the paper, we detail this framework and share data we have been collaborating on with policymakers. It is by no means perfect. We are already collaborating with a number of organizations on improving this work and getting additional data. Our hope is that, by publishing this work, we can invite others to contribute and leverage it so that we can bring more perspectives to bear on one of the great challenges of our lifetime.

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Fighting child exploitation as an industry | Microsoft On The Issues

Fighting child exploitation as an industry | Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to child online protection. We’ve developed and shared technologies such as PhotoDNA and a grooming detection technique, we’re investing in research to help better understand the problem, we’re participating in collective action and are working to educate consumers about keeping kids safe. We also know this problem will not be solved by one company and that it requires us to work together as an industry and across society.

We are proud to be a founding member of the Technology Coalition in 2006, but the world has changed since then. Technology is more advanced, and there has been an explosion of new internet services and companies around the globe, including mobile and online video streaming. The number of people online – more than 4.5 billion in 2020 – has added to the challenge of keeping the internet a safe place. As a result, the technological tools for detecting and reporting child sexual exploitation and abuse content have become more sophisticated, but so too have the forms of abuse we are seeking to prevent and eradicate.

This week, we joined leading technology companies in announcing Project Protect, a strategic vision for the future of the Technology Coalition focusing on five key areas:

  • Tech innovation: Microsoft is proud to have contributed important technology including PhotoDNA and a grooming detection technique to this fight, and recognizes the importance of accelerating development and usage of groundbreaking, interoperable technology to address new abuse vectors.
  • Collective action: Convening tech companies, governments and civil society to create a holistic approach to tackle this whole-of-society issue. We all have a role to play and believe collaboration must be a catalyst for deeper commitment. Our recent efforts include developing a series of targeted public announcements to help parents, caregivers and children stay safe at home – and stay safe online – during the challenging times of COVID-19.
  • Independent research: Funding research with the End Violence Against Children Partnership to advance our collective understanding of the experiences and patterns of child sexual exploitation and abuse online, and learn from effective efforts to prevent, deter and combat it.
  • Information and knowledge sharing: We recognize that abuse often starts on one platform and migrates to others. By facilitating information, expertise and knowledge-sharing among companies, we can advance our ability to respond to these challenges and, importantly, help small and mid-size companies advance the fight.
  • Transparency and accountability: Increasing accountability and consistency across the industry through meaningful reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse content across member platforms and services. This will be done in conjunction with WePROTECT Global Alliance.

These focus areas are the result of significant research and expert consultation conducted by Technology Coalition member companies as well as what each of us have learned through fighting this horrific problem on our respective platforms. We know this announcement must be followed by hard work and concrete action, and we at Microsoft look forward to making contributions in these areas alongside the other companies in ways that produce real results.

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Microsoft invests $2.5M in CREATE, a new center for accessible tech at the University of Washington

Microsoft invests $2.5M in CREATE, a new center for accessible tech at the University of Washington
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The University of Washington is launching a new Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences (CREATE) and Microsoft is helping to fund the effort with a $2.5 million inaugural investment.

Microsoft and the UW have long been aligned in a shared commitment to accessible technology and a world that is more accessible through technology. With a leadership team from six campus departments in three different colleges, CREATE will build upon the UW’s existing work in education, research and translation.

“This is the next step in a long-standing journey to empower people with disabilities with accessibility and technology advancements,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a news release Thursday. “UW has truly embedded accessibility as part of their culture and we’re proud to support their next step to drive thought leadership on accessibility to empower people with disabilities.”

Microsoft and the university have worked together in the space for more than a decade, driving innovation in accessibility research. This partnership has led to student internship and career opportunities, and ongoing research engagements with the Ability Team at Microsoft Research.

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COVID-19 has only intensified the broadband gap | Microsoft On The Issues

COVID-19 has only intensified the broadband gap | Microsoft On The Issues
Microsoft Photo

We are living in a new world, a world racing online as social distancing forces many of us to work, communicate and connect in new ways. In the United States alone, state and local directives have urged 316 million Americans to stay in and, when possible, work from home. As communities around the world adapt to a world with COVID-19, broadband connectivity and access are more critical to our lives and livelihoods than ever before.

Broadband already powers much of our modern lives, but COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant, a fuel of sorts that has driven many essential activities online. All learning, services, commerce, most workplaces and daily interactions online require a high-speed connection to the internet. Those without access to this online world – more that 18 million Americans with 14 million living in rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission – risk falling farther behind. While 18 million is a big number – more than the entire populations of Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee combined – a new study has found that the actual number of people lacking access to broadband in the US is closer to 42 million.

A problem intensified by COVID-19

Lack of broadband for rural populations, both in the United States and in the developing world, just can’t be ignored. That’s why, in the last three months, we’ve doubled down on our Microsoft Airband Initiative to expand the number of people reached. As of March 31, we’ve helped provide 1.2 million people with access to broadband in rural, previously unserved areas of the United States. This is almost double our total from December 31, 2019, and up from 24,000 people in the whole of 2018. We’re doing the most recent work by donating hotspots and wireless connectivity equipment, and expanding our digital skills offerings by developing COVID-19-specific digital skills offerings for rural communities.

The COVID-19 virus has created a national crisis. But it has also created an important opportunity. It’s time to galvanize the nation and recognize the obvious. Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century. Well before the end of the 20th century, we recognized that no American should live without electricity. As we embark on the third decade of the 21st century, every American deserves the opportunity to access broadband…

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New AI-powered knowledge hub to fuel social innovation | Microsoft On The Issues

New AI-powered knowledge hub to fuel social innovation | Microsoft On The Issues
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One of the defining aspects of COVID-19 is its disproportionate impact on underserved communities and the harsh spotlight it shines on existing social equity issues around the world. From access to quality education, jobs or affordable healthcare, COVID-19 is magnifying virtually every inequality in our communities.

Never has there been a more important time to capture the moment to create the solutions the world needs to make a positive and lasting contribution to the social inequity issues of our generation. Solutions will come from all corners and technology innovators will need to play their part.

Microsoft Video

In this environment of collective problem-solving, we need an easy way for developers to identify the greatest unmet needs, whether through cholera detection or COVID-19 treatments, where technology can play a critical role in helping address these challenges. Similarly, we need to map these social challenges to available funding sources and collaborators to fully understand the opportunities for solution creation…

X4Impact will help social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, citizen developers, funders and foundations identify where they can deploy their time and talent to collectively build a better world. Leveraging the power of AI, X4Impact aggregates content from hundreds of thousands of IRS 990 and 990-PF filings, private investing filings with the SEC and active grants from the federal government, foundations and private companies, in addition to content from over 5,000 trusted sources. The result is over 30 million units of knowledge indexed under the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and 231 impact indicators. With access to this market intelligence, we can collectively build much-needed solutions at a new level of scale and impact…

While the platform will launch this July, we call on tech trailblazers to join the public interest movement now by registering at x4i.org to receive an invitation to demo the platform. This work builds on our current offers for all nonprofits and we recommend reviewing our COVID-19 Resource Guide for Nonprofits to learn about additional support.  At Microsoft, we are committed to learning how to better drive social innovation each day while evolving our social business model to help move nonprofit missions forward and drive social good.

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Statement on the recent Greenpeace report | Microsoft On The Issues

We agree that the world confronts an urgent carbon problem and we all must do more and move faster to reach a net zero-carbon future. The reality is that the world’s energy currently comes from fossil fuels and, as standards of living around the world improve, the world will require even more energy. That makes realizing a zero-carbon future one of the most complex transitions in human history.

We’re up for the challenge. That’s why we have committed to be carbon negative by 2030 and to removing all the carbon we’ve emitted since our founding by 2050. We will shift to 100% supply of renewable energy for the carbon-emitting electricity consumed by all our data centers, buildings and campuses by 2025. Technology can accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon future, so we are helping our customers reduce their carbon footprints and co-innovating low-carbon solutions. We’re also using $1 billion of our capital for climate innovation, including developing new technologies for carbon capture and removal. We are also supporting policies that advance an inclusive transition to a low-carbon future.

We’re encouraged by the growing number of energy sector commitments to transitioning to cleaner energy and lowering carbon emissions, but they can’t do it alone. Businesses, governments and civil society can rise to the challenge to meet the world’s growing energy demands and achieve a net zero carbon future.

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Staying safe and smart in the internet-of-things era | Microsoft On The Issues

Staying safe and smart in the internet-of-things era | Microsoft On The Issues

Today, the Cybersecurity Tech Accord announced its resource hub for internet of things (IoT) device security – “Stay Smart. Stay Safely Connected.” Do you have a smart speaker? Smart TV? Smart doorbell? Or any of others on the growing list of internet-connected devices? This resource is for you. Truly, it’s for all of us.

Increasingly, every device and home appliance is internet-connected, and it’s not hard to see why – they’re very convenient. Being able to monitor progress on a fitness tracker or to set and adjust appliances such as a thermostat from one’s phone or by simply talking to a speaker makes life easier and more enjoyable. However, the simplicity of these connected devices, which can be as easy to set up as plugging them in and picking a Wi-Fi network, often belies their security risk. Consumers may feel like they have to choose between using modern devices on the one hand and protecting their privacy and security on the other. Not so.

Addressing this misperception is what the “Stay Smart. Stay Safely Connected” campaign is all about. Developed in collaboration with Consumers International, the resource hub on the Cybersecurity Tech Accord website features simple and straightforward security guidance that is intended to be accessible to all consumers. It includes best practices for IoT security, including:

  1. How to secure your home network – through actions such as strategic router configuration, placement and network naming
  2. How to secure device access – by avoiding common passwords, changing any default passwords and enabling two-factor authentication
  3. How to avoid insecure networks – by not connecting to suspicious public networks and even setting up a dedicated IoT home network.

In addition to this general advice, the website drills down to give specific security guidance for the most common internet-connected devices – including smart speakers, TVs, doorbells, baby monitors and many more. The guidance is comprehensive, easy to follow and empowers all technology users to be in charge of their own security. It even provides “beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced” levels of security advice for each device, so no matter your level of expertise, you are able to identify concrete steps to keep yourself and your family safe…

Now including more than 140 technology companies from around the world, the Cybersecurity Tech Accord is the largest ever industry commitment to cybersecurity principles to protect users and customers everywhere. And protecting the digital ecosystem today doesn’t just mean securing personal computers and phones and the infrastructure of the internet; it also includes protecting the 20 billion connected devices that now make up our internet of things. Thankfully, the Cybersecurity Tech Accord’s advice includes expertise from across the technology industry – including leading chip and device manufacturers as well as software developers – allowing for a 360-degree view of IoT security and the best ways that customers can keep themselves safe.

Microsoft has been proud to be a signatory of the Cybersecurity Tech Accord since it was launched in 2018, and to have seen it grow and advance cybersecurity through a number of initiatives in the years since. I am particularly grateful that we have been able to help support this project, however, as it combines so many of the values of the Cybersecurity Tech Accord – working across industry and collaborating with civil society partners – to drive user awareness and better security where it is needed most.

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How leaders can bring employees together during COVID-19

Microsoft Blog Post Image

There is a saying in technology, “Eating Your Own Dog Food”. Here is an example in these trying times.

(“Eating Your Own Dog Food,” 2020)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and his leadership team wanted to bring Microsoft together after asking company employees to work from home in response to COVID-19.

“We wanted to be able to bring everyone together virtually in a way that would allow our leaders to share their thoughts with employees, but also to address many of the hard questions that we knew employees were asking,” says John Cirone, director of employee communications at Microsoft. “We wanted to share a moment where we could talk about how we were mobilizing our response to COVID-19 across our employees, customers, and our communities…”

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Microsoft releases biannual digital trust reports | Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft releases biannual digital trust reports | Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft has released its latest biannual digital trust reports on the Microsoft Reports Hub. These reports consist of the Law Enforcement Requests Report, U.S. National Security Orders Report and Content Removal Request Reports.  We continue to strive towards building and maintaining trust in technology, and we know that transparency is a key component to that trust. Our digital trust reports are intended to help our customers understand how Microsoft responds to government and law enforcement requests for data and for content removal.

When Microsoft receives a law enforcement request – from any government – we review the request to ensure it is consistent with controlling law and our Microsoft principles. We disclose customer data only in response to a legally valid warrant, order or subpoena and only after we confirm the request specifies specific accounts or individual identifiers. We object to improper legal demands — even through litigation when necessary…

Law Enforcement Requests

The Law Enforcement Requests Report encompassing the period from July to December 2019 remains largely consistent with previous reports:…

U.S. National Security Orders

The U.S. National Security Orders Report, which encompass the period from January to June 2019,  is largely consistent with the previous reports:…

Content Removal Requests

The latest Content Removal Request Reports details acceptance rates regarding requests received from governments, copyright holders, individuals subject to the European Union’s “Right to be Forgotten” ruling, and victims of non-consensual pornography.

Looking ahead: Digital Safety

As part of our responsibility to create software, devices, and services that advance digital safety, we are committed to identifying and making available additional information related to this work in transparency reports. In February 2020, the U.S.-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) released its 2019 CyberTipline report of suspected online child sexual exploitation with data breakdowns by electronic service provider, including Microsoft. In January 2020, Microsoft assumed the role as Chair of the newly independent Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism working with civil society, governments, and other technology companies to prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting digital platforms. We look forward to providing further insight into our approach to addressing digital safety in fall of 2020.

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On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our environmental commitments are as crucial as ever | Microsoft On The Issues

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our environmental commitments are as crucial as ever | Microsoft On The Issues

Every Earth day serves as reminder to give thanks to the incredible benefits nature provides to people, and to recommit ourselves to building a sustainable future for us all. This Earth Day, its 50th anniversary, is taking place in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Quite rightly, this is a time when ensuring the immediate health and safety of people around the world is the priority issue of the moment and the year. Yet, through this crisis and beyond, we must remain dedicated to building solutions to the environmental challenges that face us all.

Five decades ago, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from my home state of Wisconsin, had the idea for Earth Day as a way to give a voice to the rising awareness about environmental concerns. He brought together a group of diverse organizations – advocacy, religious, education and civic society – that wanted to increase awareness about the health of the planet and inspire people to live in a more sustainable way.

Now, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I am reflecting on the enormity of those challenges and how technology can help address them. My passion for the environment was ignited as a child exploring the woods by my home with a sense of wonder and fascination about how the natural world worked. My love of science and belief that technology provides an opportunity to move faster than environmental decline brought me to Microsoft, where sustainability is a core operating value. Now, the urgency of the environmental crisis has reached new heights and we need to rapidly address climate change to avoid the catastrophe that will come from complacency…

I had planned to spend this 50th anniversary of Earth Day paying homage in person to Senator Nelson’s legacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s institute that bears his name – the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Those plans, like those of so many people’s plans around the world, have changed due to the COVID-19 crisis, but they have not been canceled. I will join participants from around the world, virtually, for a celebration of the impact of Earth Day. And I will help lead discussions about how we can learn from the successes and failures of the past to build a better future. Because, as the COVID-19 crisis reminds us every day, to be a healthy society we must have a healthy planet. Working together, we can have one – and technology can help us get there.

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Closing the data divide: the need for open data | Microsoft On The Issues

Closing the data divide: the need for open data | Microsoft On The Issues

Today, Microsoft is launching an Open Data Campaign to help address the looming “data divide” and help organizations of all sizes to realize the benefits of data and the new technologies it powers. We believe everyone can benefit from opening, sharing and collaborating around data to make better decisions, improve efficiency and even help tackle some of the world’s most pressing societal challenges.

The goal of our campaign is to advance a much-needed discussion about how the world uses and shares data. To start, today we’re announcing three steps:

  • First, we’re publishing new principles that will guide how Microsoft itself approaches sharing our data with others.
  • Second, we’re committing to take action by developing 20 new collaborations built around shared data by 2022. This includes work with leading organizations in the open data movement like the Open Data Institute and The Governance Lab (GovLab) at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering. And we’ll seek to lead by example by making our Microsoft social impact initiatives “open by default,” beginning with sharing data on broadband access from our Airband initiative and combining it with data from others to help accelerate improvements in broadband connectivity.
  • Third, Finally we’ll invest in the essential assets that will make data sharing easier, including the required tools, frameworks and templates.

What do we mean by the “data divide” and why now?

Despite the enormous growth in data and AI, both are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies. Indeed, fewer than 100 companies now collect more than 50% of the data generated by online interactions (based on analysis of similarweb.com, appfigures.com and alexa.com) and around half of all people with technical AI skills work in the technology sector (according to figures from LinkedIn). Not surprisingly, these businesses are then able to reap the enormous benefits of data and AI while others are left at a disadvantage. This data divide poses a serious challenge for society and, if left unaddressed, could lead to huge economic power flowing to just a few countries and companies. Based on current trends, for example, PWC predicts that around 70% of the economic value generated by AI will accrue to just two countries: the USA and China. But we do not believe that an ever-growing data divide is inevitable. By doing more to open up and share data, organizations can unlock value, share expertise and make data more useful for all, allowing everyone to benefit in ways they are not able to by going it alone. By acting now and joining together, more civil society organizations, governments and businesses of all sizes will be able to realize the full value of data.

Charting a principled course

To help guide our own efforts on open data, we are adopting a set of principles to inform how we at Microsoft open and share data in a responsible way. We’ve learned through our work on protecting privacy, responsible AI and sustainability that it is valuable to define a clear set of principles when engaging with important and complex societal issues. We hope these principles will inform the broader conversation on open data and that others can build on and improve them…

Committing to new collaborations

In addition to charting a principled course, we believe success will depend on building deep collaborations with others from across industry, government and civil society around the world. We want to try and lead by example and do more to learn firsthand about the challenges and solutions around open data. To this end, Microsoft is committing to launching 20 data collaborations by 2022, building partnerships to tackle the major challenges of our time. To help seed these collaborations, Microsoft will make its social impact initiatives “open by default” and explore whether our data related to initiatives such as Airband, AI for Good and our work on sustainability and accessibility might be able to be opened up and built on to help solve major challenges. We are excited to be partnering with the Open Data Institute in this effort, working together to develop our initial collaborations and share the lessons we learn with others so that they may also benefit…

Making data sharing easier and safer

Closing the data divide is a big challenge. But the benefits for organizations of all sizes, and the broader community are significant if we can work together to make progress on open data. We’re committed to making our contribution, and we look forward to working with, and learning from, others so that everyone can realize the benefits of data.

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Microsoft commits patents to help fight COVID-19 | Microsoft On The Issues

Microsoft commits patents to help fight COVID-19 | Microsoft On The Issues

I am very pleased to announce that, today, Microsoft is committing to the Open COVID Pledge by making its patents available free of charge for use in efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic and minimize the impact of the disease.  This step joins our other efforts to use technology and innovation to help track the disease and develop solutions, such as mobilizing AI for Health to fight COVID-19 and the Bing COVID19 Tracker. Additional information about Microsoft’s COVID-19 efforts can be found here.

We are always looking for ways we can use our patents to contribute to positive outcomes, and the fight against COVID-19 is one of the most urgent issues of our time. Pledges and open licensing of this kind can help spur innovation, especially in a crisis like this one. Researchers, scientists and others working to fight the virus should be able to develop and deploy effective solutions at scale without obstacles such as being threatened with patent litigation.

The terms and conditions of Microsoft’s COVID-19 patent license, which are effective immediately, can be found here. We encourage other intellectual property holders, including other technology companies and universities, to also commit to the pledge and ensure that their intellectual property is working for, and not against, efforts to stop the pandemic.

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Preserving privacy while addressing COVID-19 | Microsoft On The Issues

Preserving privacy while addressing COVID-19 | Microsoft On The Issues
Microsoft photo accompanying the Blog post.

Microsoft has joined with national, state and local healthcare authorities and providers, researchers, non-profit organizations and governments around the world on our shared mission to develop solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a Coronavirus self-checker tool, worked directly with hospitals to protect them from ransomware, launched a Coronavirus tracker on Bing, provided AI to decode immune system response to COVID-19 and will continue to embark on many other scientific, technical and logistical efforts to help the global community navigate new challenges and needs…

We need to fight COVID-19 and protect privacy

Addressing global problems of this magnitude understandably creates an urgent need for innovative uses of data to fight the pandemic, and we believe these measures must take privacy into account. The good news is that, today, we have more tools and methods than ever – such as differential privacy, federated learning, decentralized identities, privacy-preserving contract tracing protocols and open source repositories, and other techniques for managing data privacy – to allow society to use data for good and be confident that personal information is kept private.

In the U.S., the need for this conversation in the midst of a pandemic underscores the urgency for a strong federal privacy law. An updated legal framework placing obligations on businesses that collect and use personal data would help provide the necessary guardrails for companies to know how to protect and respect personal data as they create tools and technologies to address urgent societal needs.

Considering the bigger picture

In the context of rising excitement about the possibility of leveraging computing technologies to help with mitigating the pandemic, we note that the issues with, and opportunities for, helping with COVID-19 are complex. Technical advances, such as the use of mobile phones to collect data of various kinds, need to be considered in the larger context of the complexity of the world, such as how comfortable people will be sharing data, the availability of testing resources, the efficacy of the methods under realistic situations of usage, and evolving local and national policies. Concerns over any technology or program include inclusion and the potential for systematic discrimination based on numerous factors. For example, different populations may face different challenges when attempting to participate in health-centric programs based on access to, and familiarity with, technology, depending on race, age, education and income levels. These are also vital issues to address as we move forward.

Privacy and ethical concerns must be considered as we move forward to use data responsibly to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft is committed to serving as a constructive partner in this fight.

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A healthy society requires a healthy planet | Microsoft On The Issues

A healthy society requires a healthy planet | Microsoft On The Issues

In January we launched Microsoft’s carbon initiative, setting new goals for our company to become carbon negative by the end of this decade. While COVID-19 has upended daily life for almost all of us since then, sustainability issues have become no less urgent or important. That’s why today we’re announcing the second step in our sustainability efforts for 2020, focusing on preserving and protecting the biodiversity and health of the world’s ecosystems.

Nature and the benefits that it provides to people are the foundation of our global economy, our culture, and the overall human experience.  We depend on clean air, water, food, medicine, energy, and building materials that nature provides, but these very ecosystems are threatened or already in decline. Maintaining nature for the benefit of current and future generations is one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Deploying technology to support this global effort is one of ours.

Microsoft’s new biodiversity initiative is multi-faceted. Perhaps most importantly, it aims to put data and digital technology to work, including through an ambitious program to aggregate environmental data from around the world and put it to work in a new “Planetary Computer.” We will combine this with new work to enable partners and customers to use the resulting output to enhance environmental decision-making in their organizational activities. We’ll also use it to speak out on ecosystem-related public policy issues and take responsibility for Microsoft’s own land footprint.

Read the full announcement here.

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Protecting healthcare and human rights organizations from cyberattacks  | Microsoft On The Issues

Protecting healthcare and human rights organizations from cyberattacks  | Microsoft On The Issues

We’re deeply concerned about cyberattacks impacting workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. News reports have shown recent criminal or nation-state attacks targeting Brno University Hospital in the Czech Republic, Paris’ hospital system, the computer systems of Spain’s hospitals, hospitals in Thailand, medical clinics in the U.S. state of Texas, a healthcare agency in the U.S. state of Illinois and even international bodies such as the World Health Organization. Our teams at Microsoft have also detected and responded to attacks targeting the healthcare sector in many countries, and we know they are coming from criminals and multiple nation-states. In addition, our threat intelligence teams have identified nation-state attacks against human rights organizations around the world for some time, both prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why, starting today, we’re making our AccountGuard threat notification service available at no cost to healthcare providers on the front lines as well as human rights and humanitarian organizations around the world. Healthcare organizations can sign up here, and human rights and humanitarian organizations can sign up here.

Every patient deserves the best possible healthcare treatment, and we all need to thank and applaud the truly heroic work by those risking their own health to help those who are sick. Their work is challenging enough but is being made more difficult by cyberattacks, now or in the future. Some attacks, such as the one on Brno University Hospital, have resulted in delays in COVID-19 testing, new patients being turned away and treatments being postponed. Others, such as the attack in Illinois, have held up access to critical COVID-19-related healthcare guidance.

In addition to making AccountGuard available to those working directly in the healthcare field, another important part of today’s announcement is the availability of AccountGuard for worldwide human rights and humanitarian organizations. Today, nearly every human rights or humanitarian organization is focused on protecting the rights of people impacted by COVID-19 whether it’s supporting hospitals in conflict zones, amplifying the voices of medical professionals, helping to ensure elections are conducted safely in new ways or helping children who are out of school. In many instances, nation-states and cyber criminals use attacks to gain intelligence on these organizations and the people who these groups protect, or to disrupt their work…

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