Ann Westerheim is a doer. The author of “Cybersecurity for Main Street,” Ann makes continuing contributions to her industry through active participation in the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and through serving on the Advisory Councils of industry-leading providers ConnectWise, Scalepad, and ThreatLocker. She also serves on the Lemelson-MIT program screening committee, as well as the MIT Alumni Association where she earned her Ph.D in engineering, the Forbes Technology Council, and the Infragard cybersecurity partnership between the private sector and the FBI.
A serious, very busy, very accomplished doer!
In 2001, Ann founded Ekaru, a consulting company with the mission to provide enterprise class IT services to small and medium businesses (SMB). From the beginning, Ekaru has remained focused on that SMB market. As Ann herself describes it, “The consulting company is really all about leveraging technology and getting it out to “Main Street.”
Today, Ekaru is a Microsoft Certified Partner, Dell Direct Solution Provider, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, and a Comcast Business Solutions Authorized Provider.
Ann acknowledges that she had been thinking about writing a book about cybersecurity specifically for her SMB audience and refers to it as a “mission” of hers. At last year’s CompTIA Channel Council forum, she found herself jotting down the idea of organizing the book around 21 tips to keep it as simple as possible.
The “21 tips” turned into helping readers become “Cyber Fit in 21 Days” and just happens to consist of 21 chapters, each chapter building more understanding upon the previous. The text is very accessible to even the least tech-savvy reader, and the Randy Glasbergen cartoons enliven every chapter and keep the reading fun.
In one cartoon, one of the characters asks, “How can I check the cloud on a sunny day?”
Ann explains that the book is written to be readily relatable to her company’s target audience, small businesses and individuals. One of her goals was to encourage her readers not to take out their ire on their IT departments when they have to figure out multi-factor authentication or how to change passwords. Her promise to readers was, “Just follow this program and you’re gonna learn a lot. It won’t be too intimidating, and during this process you’ll learn how to take action and become cyber fit in 21 days.”
Ann gives copies of the books to her clients with the goal of building their confidence and proving they can work in a cyber fit way. “You won’t be a world-class expert on the subject of encryption,” assures Ann. “but you’re going to know a lot and you’ll arrive at a worthwhile destination in about three weeks.”
After more than two decades, Ekaru’s guarantee to customers is that they, “will do what it takes to make your technology work! When you need technology help we’ll be there for you.”
A big part of their ability to fulfill that promise is based on how seriously they work to define their preferred “stack” of technologies. For example, they have selected Zorus as their preferred platform for DNS protection. This level of consistency serves their customer base well.
When asked about the role of cyber insurance in her stack, Ann points out that the losses companies face go way beyond money. She points out reputational damage, loss of business and customers, and more, that all cannot be covered by insurance. Ekaru regularly assists clients in filling out the cyber insurance application forms that have become significantly more extensive and complex as insurers have realized far more significant losses than they anticipated.
“You can do some really simple stuff that doesn’t break the bank to be more secure online,” says Ann Westheimer.
Ekaru was launched in 2000 as a consulting firm at a time when most technology companies were still focused on reselling products and providing attached services. Clearly, the most important tool they provide to their clients is information. Most critical is that the information be readily accessible to even the newest users with little or no technology familiarity. The book is written that way, presenting easily understood concepts in plain language and offering excellent recommended actions that any user can immediately put to use.
The final chapter of Cybersecurity for Main Street focuses on cybersecurity education, which clearly illustrates Ann Westheimer’s philosophy and Ekaru’s approach.
Ekaru stresses the pivotal importance of cybersecurity education to every client, encouraging weekly “micro-training” to accelerate the creation and development of a true culture of cybersecurity in the company. For them, security is truly the responsibility of every employee of any company.
“When the conversation gets into a whole bunch of buzzwords that just goes over somebody’s head, they think one of two things. When they hear somebody explaining stuff in the most complicated way possible, they think, ‘Wow, you must be a genius. I’m gonna do everything you say!’ or, ‘Wow, I don’t understand anything you’re saying, and that means it must not apply to me,’” explains Ann.
Ekaru works to make it all relatable. “For example,” she continues, “Hey, when you’re using the same password at multiple places and one place may get breached through no fault of your own. But if you’ve used that same password at your bank, they’re going to try that in a nanosecond.”
When asked what she means by “simple stuff,” Ann cites major incidents, like the Colonial Pipeline breach, that have been in the news recently. “There was a VPN account for a user who was no longer there that didn’t have multi-factor authentication (MFA) on it. Many of the really big headlines boil down to some really simple stuff and that’s what I want people to feel empowered about.”
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