SHERIDAN — Local businesses are joining a statewide initiative to raise awareness about cyber threats to local businesses and educate business owners about steps they can take to protect themselves.

Ptolemy Data Systems Chief Operating Officer Jesus Rios said he and Tyler Neeriemer, the IT Administrator for First Federal Bank and Trust, began developing strategies to educate local businesses about cyber security when it became clear there was a lack of focus on the topic in the community.

“It’s intended to be kind of an educational outreach effort to ensure that people have just a working language of, what are the risks and what are the ways to mitigate risk?” Rios said. “The key for us was, we wanted people to get something out of it that they could apply in their daily work environment.”

The pair has partnered with Made Safe in Wyoming, a group affiliated with the national cybersecurity initiative CyberUSA, to develop workshops and educational seminars about cybersecurity practices.

Laura Baker, co-founder of Made Safe in Wyoming, said the local effort fits in with her group’s broader mission to promote cybersecurity across the state.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to bring community involvement and community awareness into cybersecurity,” Baker said.

“…We demystify cybersecurity for (businesses) and teach them basic tools they can use to protect their company.”

For small businesses, improving cybersecurity does not necessarily require implementing technical solutions like hiring more IT staff or installing robust firewalls.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center, Wyoming lost more than $2.3 million to internet-related crimes in 2017. Significantly, most of those crimes were cases of fraud resulting from a lack of education rather than insufficient technical protections. The FBI’s database also shows that people older than 50 are more likely to be the victims of cyber crimes than younger demographics.

“A lot of it is education — knowing what not to click on, remembering to change your passwords and that type of thing,” Baker said.

Rios said he and Neeriemer want to gear local education efforts towards implementing no-cost precautions which will drastically reduce a business’s chances of being hacked.For instance, hackers will often try to gain a foothold in a network through social engineering, a tactic used to manipulate people into divulging sensitive information or creating vulnerabilities in their cybersecurity network. By guarding against these tactics, or simply protecting information that hackers can utilize, businesses can limit their exposure to cyber threats.

“We want to develop a framework of, what are the things a hacker is going to look for before they even start the process of trying to hack your network?” Rios said.

There are technical steps businesses can take to protect themselves as well, and Rios said the partnership with Made Safe Wyoming will give business owners a resource to consult with on the best, most cost-effective technology solutions they can implement into their businesses.

Rios added that he and Neeriemer plan to kick off their local efforts at the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce’s Ignite Your Business Conference May 23.