UWF alumna establishes successful cybersecurity company

September 12, 2017

Michelle Ward
Michelle Ward

Pensacola Magazine’s September issue is on the newsstands and Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, director of the University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity, graces the cover.

El-Sheikh is featured in the Women in Cyber section of “The State of Tech” issue. One of her former students and a UWF alumna, Michelle Ward, is highlighted in the section, too. 

Ward graduated from UWF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in computer science. She then spent 11 years in information security as a software developer before venturing on her own and founding Cyber Safe Workforce LLC in 2015.

“I always wanted to do my own thing at some point,” said Ward, the Cyber Safe Workforce CEO. “I took the boot-strap startup self-approach.”

Cyber Safe Workforce is in its third year of operation, but every day is still a crash course for Ward on management.

“It’s chaos. It’s a constant learning curve,” she said. “It’s almost as if you always have to be looking at the bottom line and making small adjustments. Everything is an experiment. If it’s not working, pivot to something else.”

The start-up company educates employees on computer security basics and information handling responsibilities. This takes the burden of producing training material off of the IT department or information security manager. Ward said her clients include county and city governments, public schools, higher education institutions and small businesses.

Cybersecurity dangers lurk around virtually every corner. Ward cited phishing – sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies to lure individuals into revealing personal information – as particularly troublesome.

“Chances are, if you’re on a social network and you have a decent amount of connections, you know someone who said, ‘Oh, my Facebook account got hacked’ or ‘My taxes got filed and it wasn’t me,’” she said. “… The more dangerous situations are IRS phishing scams around tax time. That’s going to cause a great deal of headaches.”

Ward said she benefited tremendously from her computer science courses, but she studied at UWF before the term cybersecurity entered the public consciousness. UWF students today benefit from the opportunity to earn a degree from an institution that is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. UWF was also recently named as the NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence Regional Resource Center for the Southeast U.S.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Ward said of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity. “You’re seeing new degrees out of the cybersecurity field. It’s in great demand in the region, nationally and internationally.”