Get Safe Online membership costs revealed

The government has been charging up to £150,000 to companies who joined its Internet safety initiative in return for marketing opportunities

A Word document sent in error to silicon.com, ZDNet UK's sister site, has revealed that the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) has specifically been consulting only with security and online fraud experts willing to pay between £50,000 and £150,000 in order to raise funds for its latest Get Safe Online initiative.

In return, the sponsors are offered the opportunity to use the public sector-run campaign to drive sales and promote their own products and services to the consumers and businesses which the secure computing initiative is targeting.

According to the prospectus, intended only to be seen by potential sponsors, those companies already on board, including BT, Dell, eBay, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, MessageLabs and Microsoft, will be paying £150,000 each for a founding sponsor's package. With nine private sector companies already on-board it's likely the initiative has already raised £1.35m in pledged support.

The prospectus says Get Safe Online represents an "opportunity to demonstrate corporate social responsibility" as well as "exposure for your brand to at least 10 million active, unique internet users in the UK".

An email from Tony Neate, industry liaison at the NHTCU, told silicon.com the ability to stump up cash is a primary concern in signing up sponsors.

"This is a 'not for profit' initiative," wrote Neate. "At the present time we are looking specifically for participants who can provide financial sponsorship."

A spokeswoman for the NHTCU later confirmed the email had been sent to silicon.com in error.

Some may fear that a favouring of 'deep pockets' over a broad knowledge base may be detrimental to the end user as it might create a ring-fenced knowledge pool that could have been larger.

Richard Starnes, UK president of the Information Systems Security Association, said he is concerned that industry bodies such as his own have so far not been contacted, though he added he would gladly work with Get Safe Online once it has been launched and would encourage his members to do likewise.

Starnes said of bodies such as the NHTCU: "They're coming up with some good initiatives. But I don't think they are going about it the right way. They need to keep this from becoming an old boys club."

However, one outspoken security expert, who even admitted his own organisation is keen to join the initiative but unable to afford to do so, said this need not be the case.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said: "Companies like Sophos have been in regular contact with competing vendors like MessageLabs [one of the founding sponsors and the only security firm on-board so far] for years sharing knowledge, advice and tips. So Get Safe Online isn't a closed gene pool.

"The way I see it, Get Safe Online is mostly an awareness campaign. If you're a sponsor you get your logo on their marketing material and good luck to you for that. I think it's unlikely that they will spread advice which only supports the interests of their sponsors.

"However, if we feel Get Safe Online is doing a poor job we'll be sure to say so."

Founder sponsors also get links from the Get Safe Online website through to specified parts of their own site, allowing for cross-selling of products and services. They are also entitled to host events affiliated with the initiative and get their logo included on all marketing and promotional materials related to Get Safe Online.

Two other sponsorship packages are offered - a partner sponsorship at £100,000 and a member sponsorship at £50,000 though both offer fewer marketing opportunities.