Microsoft TechSpark grant funded training

CHEYENNE – The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce now houses the first two Cybersecurity Business Counselors (CBC) in the nation, Alexandra Farkas and Justin Gorman.

As part of a Microsoft TechSpark Grant awarded on March 7, the Chamber and CyberWyoming teamed up to train local, business-minded human resources to respond to the need for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) project.  

“It is an incredible honor to be one of two Cybersecurity Business Counselors in the nation,” said Alexandra Farkas, Communication and Operations Specialist for the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce. “Justin and I aren’t tech people per say….but being a part of this revolution and securing our members and our business community and making our community safer is a great privilege,” she continued.

Cybersecurity Business Counselors are a new profession which CyberWyoming defines as people that speak business language who are in a personal and local trusted position to walk small business owners through a cybersecurity checklist.

“We consider Cybersecurity Business Counselors to be the social workers in technology,” said Laura Baker, CBC trainer and Executive Director of CyberWyoming. “There is a documented problem with most small business owners avoiding the tech world and it is rooted in psychological distortions, so we train the CBCs to motivate, engage, and translate,” continued Baker.

The training is for 5 full days and includes recent cybersecurity studies and why Wyoming businesses are at risk; Wyoming state statutes regarding internet crimes, data privacy, and computers; how to facilitate creating a cyber leader in a business; threats and attack terminology;  tools to identify malicious email addresses, IP addresses, and URLs; stereotypes prevalent in the technology world and how to combat them with soft skills, diversity, and language; identifying the full cybersecurity team,  not just I.T; industry standards in data privacy; technology literacy; security policy writing; hands-on and theoretical training on the human-centric Made Safe in Wyoming program, processes, and brand protection; TruSTAR threat sharing training; and other national tools, standards, and programs available to the CBCs and Wyoming businesses so they can match the right program with the right business.

“It is important to build a cyber secure community because we have such a tight knit community here [in Cheyenne] and these threats that are international can hit close to home at a moment’s notice,” said Justin Gorman, Director of Partner Services for the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.

The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce is a 5 star accredited Chamber of Commerce, one of only 100 across the nation.  There were four areas of accreditation that the Chamber had to pass:  Advocacy, Civic Trusteeship, Sustainability, and Workforce Culture.  The process was very positive, so the Cheyenne Chamber decided to bring this process back to their members.    However, the national accreditation process didn’t include cybersecurity and, thus to add this important topic, the partnership was formed between the Chamber and CyberWyoming to win the Microsoft grant.

“We feel it [the extra cybersecurity leg in the accreditation process] is that important to put an emphasis on cybersecurity knowledge and training and so that is why as we roll out this accreditation process to our partners [members], we are stressing cybersecurity,” said Gorman.

One of any chamber of commerce’s strengths is bringing the business community together.  The Cybersecurity Business Counselor meets this function specifically for technology and cyber issues, but is trained to provide added educational and program support for business owners. 

“CBCs can point business owners to password templates, tools that list the software installed on a computer and whether it is up to date, self-led programs, and more to create a cyber leader in the office that can manage and facilitate the cyber team,” said Baker.  “The CBCs bring tech professionals, accountants, attorneys, insurance agents, and local/national programs together to the benefit of the business.  It is natural for Chamber staff to do this – they know networking,” continued Baker.

The idea for the collaboration formed in October when Patrick Wolfinbarger and Laura Baker, Co-Founders of CyberWyoming and Dennis Ellis, Microsoft TechSpark Manager, met with Stephanie Meisner-Maggard of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce to discuss an idea to build Wyoming’s cybersecurity awareness level. 

“The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce is always looking for ways to provide businesses with resources. With the modernization of FE Warren being around the corner, it is vital for businesses to focus their attention on cybersecurity. CyberWyoming’s Made Safe program is a great solution that we have decided to integrate into our Business Accreditation Program,” said Meisner.

The scope of the project is to increase small business cybersecurity advocacy, education, awareness, and adoption of best practices in the Cheyenne community by training a cybersecurity business counselor (CBC) who will assist businesses and reside in the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.  According to the Cybersecurity Small Businesses by Paulsen in 2016, nearly half of cybercrimes are targeted at small to medium sized businesses.  Yet the 2016 CSID/Experian Small Business Security Report’s states that 51% of small businesses are not allocating any budget to cyber risk mitigations, so it is clear that there is a gap between need and adoption of cybersecurity best practices. 

“Our research tells us that this gap is strongly affected by the soft aspects of decision making.  Most business owners  lack trust in technology or tech service providers, are in denial that an attack will affect their business, and push off the risk management in favor of more immediate needs,” said Baker. 

The program is designed as an outreach program to small businesses.  Both Farkas and Gorman will help businesses walk through cyber checklists, provide educational materials and presentations, manage a cybersecurity committee that all Chamber members can access, and provide tools and resources to businesses to meet best practices in cybersecurity.

For more information about the program, call the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce or email CyberWyoming at  “Cyber threats are constant… Building a strong community that shares awareness practices and provides outside assistance when necessary is the best way to be prepared to defend against these continually moving targets,” said David Powell, Vice Chairman of CyberUSA.


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