Karen Evans is the former chief information officer for the Department of Homeland Security. (Department of Energy/Donica Payne)

The Cyber Readiness Institute, a collection of free resources for small- and midsized enterprise cybersecurity, announced a new managing director this week, Karen Evans, former CIO of the departments of Homeland Security and Energy, and former assistant secretary for cybersecurity, energy security and emergency response at the Department of Energy.

"I'm really excited about the opportunity because I really look at small and midsize businesses as the economic driver of the country. That's where we see a lot of innovation come out," Evans told SC Media.

Evans replaces Kiersten Todt, who was recently named chief of staff at the CISA.

Evans, a long-time West Virginian, sees small business needs as especially important today, as various elements of the economy look to reinvent itself for the modern age — including her home state, which is dependent on the coal industry. That rebirth will come from fostering small businesses she said, despite the unprecedented dangers SMBs face from cybersecurity. Her most extensive previous experience advising small businesses is even more local than the Mountain State — her husband, a dentist, was a small business owner until his retirement.

While interest in cybersecurity has grown, most of the focus in the media and at the government level has been on large, national companies that contribute to critical infrastructure risk — the food or energy supply chain, for example. But ignoring small businesses can be perilous, said Evans.

"Small businesses can be key in an economic area, in the geographical area. They may not be a part of critical infrastructure or the national supply chain overall, but they can provide a key service to a geographical area. And if they go down in a geographical area, that's their livelihood," she said.

The Cyber Readiness Institute offers a variety of educational products, toolkits and even a new certification program in cyber leadership. A press release issued with the announcement says the group has aided more than 90,000 individuals and groups in the past two years.

Evans said small business digital transformation would be a key focus for her, helping companies ready themselves for a shift to the cloud where they could leverage some of the advanced security features they would not be able to afford for themselves on-premises. She also wanted to help small businesses navigate the increasingly complex world of cyber insurance, which has seen rate and coverage fluctuations that often come at businesses' detriment.

Evans marks the second consecutive managing director for CRI with substantial homeland security experience before joining the institute. She said that's probably not an accident.

"[With homeland security], you have an opportunity to really be able to see the landscape across the board, and then be able to then see where can you make the greatest impact and who needs the help the most," she said.