Consumer Reports' New Cyber Initiative Aims to Give Consumers New Digital Security Tools

The effort, launched with a $5 million grant from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies, will help people protect themselves from ransomware, phishing schemes, and other threats

Illustration of hand entering password into a locked phone with digital security icons surrounding it Illustration: Tim LaPalme/Consumer Reports, Getty Images

Consumer Reports announced today that it is launching a new program with the goal of helping consumers protect themselves and their communities from cybersecurity threats.

Under the initiative, which is being funded with a $5 million grant from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, CR will expand its security evaluations of consumer products and services, provide new tools people can use to protect themselves from digital threats, and organize public campaigns to advocate for both companies and the government to raise standards for cybersecurity. 

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“Today, we know that consumers are increasingly vulnerable to cyberthreats, and the tools to secure our data are often complicated, or they don’t even work,” says Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports. “This new initiative will help us educate people so they can better protect themselves, and stand up to demand that industry and government do better.”

The announcement comes three years after CR launched the Digital Lab, also with support from Newmark, to create standards for evaluating the privacy and security of internet-connected products and to promote consumers’ rights in the digital world. CR’s resources for consumers include privacy and security testing of products such as password managers, routers, TVs, security cameras, and VPNs (virtual private networks). The CR Security Planner is a tool that enables people to devise a personalized list of steps to protect their privacy and security. 

In addition, Consumer Reports advocates for stronger consumer data protections on the state and federal levels, and conducts investigations on how technology companies handle consumers’ personal data, on algorithmic bias, and on other ways that technology companies’ business practices affect both individuals and communities.

This new initiative is one of a series of cybersecurity efforts made possible by Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist and the philanthropic organization that bears his name. Newmark, who is also a former CR board member, has pledged more than $50 million for organizations to build civic infrastructure, policy frameworks, and security tools in what he is calling a “cyber civil defense” plan for people in the U.S.

“Consumer Reports has a long and remarkable history of exposing hidden hazards in everyday products—from cigarettes and unsafe cars to smartphone apps that put our personal information in jeopardy,” Newmark says. “I’m excited that now they’re going to put their expertise to work for cybersecurity, and help us shield our homes and communities from attacks. We all have a role to play, and it starts with shining a light on what’s at stake for our democracy, and bringing people together for the sake of our country’s safety.”

Newmark cybersecurity grants are going to several organizations in addition to CR, including the Global Cyber Alliance and the Ransomware Task Force at the Institute of Security and Technology, which are all members of Nonprofit Cyber, a new global coalition of nonprofits that are collaborating on cybersecurity and working to increase action and awareness among consumers, businesses, and others. In addition to this grant, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Ford Foundation provide ongoing, critical support for CR’s digital rights efforts, including this new cybersecurity initiative and other innovative work performed by the Digital Lab.