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Yum! In The News

40% of elementary school kids talk to strangers online, but these employees are on a mission to stop that

Published on January 22, 2020

A cartoon cat with a love for lasagna and the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell are teaming up this school year to teach kids about cybersecurity. While Garfield, Yum! Brands and technology might seem like a peculiar pairing, it’s actually spot-on according to the latest research.

Today, children are online more than ever before. Nearly 70% of 12-year-olds own a smartphone, and almost a quarter of 8-year-olds carry one. As these kids get older and have a craving, data reveals that they’ll most likely order their food online.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a restaurant company, a bank or the NSA; we have access to so much customer information that we have to be armed and ready to protect it and build trust with our customers,” said KFC Director of Global IT Security Rich Sands. “We also have a duty to educate the youth, especially when we have a skillset that they don’t have yet.”

Katie Williams, Patrick Green, Caleb Hoch, Rich Sands and Elim Horton at Uplift Triumph Preparatory in Dallas.

Yum!’s desire to share cybersecurity know-how with the next generation began in 2018 when Sands, who’s certified in cybersecurity through (ISC)², spotted an ad in the group’s Infosecurity Magazine. It promoted Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures (GCSA), which is the joint venture of (ISC)²’s charitable arm, the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, and Garfield creator Jim Davis.

Christina Johnson, program development specialist at the nonprofit, says the program originally consisted of PowerPoint presentations targeting senior citizens, parents and kids of all ages, but in 2017, the center conducted its own research, which found that 40% of elementary school children were talking with a stranger when they’re online, and of that 40%, half were giving their phone number to that person.

“What’s even scarier is that 11% of those kids were going one step further and meeting with the stranger, so we found that if you’re teaching your kids about how to stay safe online in middle school, it’s too late,” she said.

That’s why the program shifted its focus toward a younger audience under the guidance of director Pat Craven, who happened to be friends with Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis. Davis already had a passion of educating kids about math and science, so cybersecurity was “just a natural extension of his current efforts.”

So far, it’s proved effective. GCSA easily equips anyone from teachers to parents to IT professionals with Educator Kits that include a 30-minute lesson plan complete with stickers, comic books, videos and more. Now in its third year, Garfield and his friends — including new additions of Siamese Cat Dr. Cybrina, who is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and her sidekick BISB (as in, Basic Internet Safety Bot) — have given over 170,000 cyber safety lessons around the world.

“The last thing kids want to do is listen to adults stand up in front of a classroom with a PowerPoint and have us wag our fingers at them,” Johnson said. “But they’ll sit still long enough to watch a 15-minute cartoon and learn how Garfield and his friends work their way out of an online situation in a safe and correct way.”

Sands says that’s why Global Technology Risk Management and other Yum! Brands employee volunteers will deliver lessons to elementary school students in cities in which they’re located, including Irvine, Calif., Woking, England, Louisville, Ky., and Dallas. Through GCSA, they’ll walk students through the programming, teaching them about safely posting online, internet privacy and cyberbullying through spring 2020. The company has also donated to GCSA’s Cyber Safety Days in Tampa Bay, Fla., and New Orleans, La., which will allow 2,650 students to experience the program in their schools.

“At Yum! Brands, we care about our community and regularly volunteer to hunger relief, literacy, youth education and other causes,” Sands said. “But our team has been wanting to give back in a way that’s relevant to what we do, so the partnership just made sense.”

Plus, it’s personal to him, he says, having a niece and a nephew who practically live their lives online.

“My sister’s kids, they’re not ready to drive yet, but we’ll teach them defensive driving techniques and make sure they pass the test before giving them a license,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. We want to make sure we equip kids to know how to handle themselves on the internet. It’s a crazy chaotic world out there, and we need to arm them with the skills to be able to navigate it.”

According to Johnson, students on average increase their cybersecurity knowledge by 36% after just one half-hour Garfield lesson, so if even one child remembers not to talk to strangers on the internet, that’s time well spent for both Johnson, Sands and the Yum! Brands volunteers.


Garfield and other marks are registered trademarks of Paws, Incorporated. Garfield images reprinted with permission of (ISC)².


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