Sandra Estok is the founder of Way2Protect, author of the international bestselling and award-winning series Happily Ever Cyber! And the Cyber Safety Children Literacy Series, with over 20 years of experience in Cybersecurity, IT, and Data Privacy in the US, Latin America, and Europe working with Fortune 500 companies, private and public organizations.

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.
My name is Sandra Estok, and I am the founder of Way2Protect, author of the international bestselling and award-winning series Happily Ever Cyber! And the Cyber Safety Children Literacy Series, with over 20 years of experience in Cybersecurity, IT, and Data Privacy in the US, Latin America, and Europe working with Fortune 500 companies, private and public organizations.

How did you get into the cybersecurity space?
When I was 11 years old, after being bullied, I promised myself to choose happiness no matter what because we are the architects of our own life. I built a successful career in technology and in 2005, my family and I were transferred from Venezuela to the United States. During the first year of my relocation, I went to visit my mom in Colombia. I was returning home, and when we landed in Miami, Homeland Security officers walked me off the plane and my passport was revoked. I had my first lesson in cybersecurity: identity theft and cybercrime can happen to anyone. A Cybermonster in China was smuggling women into the US using my identity. 

For six years, I had to prove I was “the real me” every time I traveled. As I was going through this nightmare, this situation impacted my marriage, my career, and even my mental health. 

Once I became a US citizen, with my new passport and name I regained control over my life and new doors opened up for me. Shortly thereafter, I said Yes to a new opportunity in the Cybersecurity field and everything clicked once I started to learn all the dangers that exist in the world of cybercrime, beyond identity theft.

I understood the what, who, why, and how of cybercrime. As I retraced my steps about my identity theft, it was clear what to do and what not to do.

Going through identity theft prepared me for a greater mission: helping strong, driven women like me and like you to become cyber savvy, take charge of your cyber safety and live Happily Ever Cyber! 

Tell us about
Remembering once again my promise to choose happiness and to take action for what I wanted to see in my life and in the cyber world, I left my successful corporate job, and founded my own company, Way2Protect.

The mission of Way2Protect is to change the way women perceive the cyber world.. We can simplify cyber safety by leveraging personal stories that relate and connect us to protect what matters most against hackers, scammers, and Cybermonsters.

Our vision is “To Live Happily Ever Cyber! A world where you thrive using your technology. A world where you feel inspired and encouraged. A world where you are in charge!

At Way2Protect™ our company values and commitments drive everything we do. We are committed to:
– Choose Happiness no matter what; even if we are facing tough times;
– Take action. Dreams and declarations are important, yet it is our actions that make them possible;
– Inspire and encourage our customers, our partners, our employees, and our communities to change the way we perceive this cyber world;
– Foster integrity. Honesty, open communication, and loyalty are the pillars for everything we do;
– Create win-win partnerships. Our partners, vendors, and sponsors align with our commitment to protect individuals, communities, and the environment;
– Thrive together. Being a reliable, responsive, engaged, and fun team, focused on protecting what matters most to you;
– Be Happy, Healthy, and Wealthy!

Tell us, how did the Pandemic affect
The pandemic has been an impactful event in the world, impacting our personal and business lives. My heart goes to everyone that lost someone, I personally did.

For Way2Protect, the pandemic changed our plans for 2020. We had forecasted  speaking engagements, corporate sponsorships, and publishing 7 How-to books of the Happily Ever Cyber! series as a main source of revenue. Because most of those opportunities disappeared, our financial resources were impacted, yet we invested the time and resources to focus on the message, to narrow down exactly who we are serving and new ideas were born. One of the outcomes of this process was  writing, illustrating, and publishing the Cyber Safety Children Literacy Series, featuring fairy tale stories kids already know and love to learn cyber safety concepts.

“The 3 Little Pigs and The Power of a Strong Password,” “Little Red Riding Hood and The Dangers of Impersonation,” and “Hamelin and The Pied Piper Scammer,” are currently in print, and we will publish a total of 7 titles this year, in both English and Spanish.

We are very optimistic at Way2Protect and 2021 has already been an incredible year. We are grateful for all the opportunities ahead of us.

Name one of the biggest challenges you see families facing today?
Many families have suddenly had to rely more and increase their technology use. Working from home has become a new reality, and kids have switched to virtual schooling, and the physical isolation accelerated the need to interact in the online world. The increased online activity has inevitably intensified the opportunities for hackers, scammers, and Cybermonsters to perform their criminal activities. Many official industry reports show a much larger number of cyber attacks, ransomware, Covid scams, video-conference bombs and disruptions in virtual classrooms and meetings across the nation, and so much more.

I believe now more than ever it is important for families to lean on each other and take charge of their cyber safety, as they incorporate cyber safety practices that can become second nature over time, like looking both ways before crossing the street.

What does work-life balance look like for you?
In my former corporate career, the words “work-life balance” were always an important topic. At the time, I thought “work-life balance”  definitely meant not working excessive hours, full nights or weekends. However, being always on call or available during off-hours is something any professional in the area of technology is expected to do.

In both my corporate and  entrepreneurial careers, what I have learned is that balance is not a matter of dividing  life and work activities in a 50/50 ratio. Drawing a line to separate them is sometimes challenging. Instead, if we focus on blending work and life in a way that is meaningful and that allows you to enjoy what you are doing can significantly increase your productivity and feelings of fulfillment – whether you are working or spending time with yourself, family, and friends.

When I think about work life balance as it relates to cyber safety, we cannot draw a line either, because cyber safety is integrated in everything we do. If you think about it, even when you are sleeping, your home WiFi services may be working. Your company’s technology certainly continues to run and hackers, scammers and Cybermonsters do too.   

Is work-life balance achievable or is it a myth?
It is a matter of choice and then to plan accordingly to fit different schedules and family dynamics.

In my family, we incorporate a few practices in the morning that allow us to start the day with energy and happiness, and to feel balanced throughout the day. One of our morning routines takes less than 5 minutes and we practice it as soon as we wake up. We call it the 7-1 routine: the first one who wakes upstarts the routine with a big loud: Thank You! Gracias! or Köszönöm! Together, we say seven things we are grateful for. These could be as simple as being grateful for waking up to a brand new day, for having a roof over our head, for the weather, for our food, for breathing, for having running water in the house, or for having a toilet, just to name a few. This has changed our lives significantly, especially during times of sorrow and it has strengthened our family resilience.   

I also believe in integrating practices when using technology that reminds us to balance the protection of our information. 

In our home, we schedule a time to update our phones, computers, tablets, and any other electronic devices at the same time, so we spend the time it takes for the updates to enjoy a fun activity together. We also invest at least 5 minutes every day to discuss a cyber topic so we keep up with the tactics Cybermonsters are using and, together, we take the necessary action steps to protect ourselves. For example,  changing or updating a particular password, strengthening the privacy of our social media accounts, or removing apps from our devices.

What can companies do to encourage work-life balance?
Promoting and encouraging work-life balance practices whether employees are working from home, the office, or using a hybrid model between office and virtual interactions is an important aspect of a healthy environment.  Companies can incorporate and encourage practices such as self-care routines to reduce stress, breathing techniques, flexible schedules, remote team building or virtual social interactions, and mindfulness exercises at work, just to name a few.

Companies that invest in work-life balance practices already know that when employees are happy, appreciated, feel motivated in their jobs, they are more likely to be engaged, committed and loyal to the organization. Having balance promotes mental clarity which boosts productivity and creativity.   

Similarly, in the cyber world, companies can provide cyber safety tools and practices that employees can apply regardless if they are at work or at home.

Do you have a personal work-life balance story you can share with us?
It was an early morning in 2012, I was in my car driving to work. I got so much in my head. I gotta call this person, I gotta attend this meeting, I got a project due tonight. How am I going to get all of this done? Why did I say what I said yesterday? Did I close the garage door? I can’t remember… Did I already have breakfast?

I had no balance in my life, I was living my life on auto-pilot.

A few months later, I was staring at the ceiling, laying on the ICU bed, plugged  to so many machines, trying to figure how I got  here and what I did wrong.

There is a saying: “Nobody knows what they have until they lose it” and it was so true for me because I enjoyed good health my entire life and I took it for granted then it was just gone.

Losing my health was one of the many wake up calls to shift my lifestyle . Incorporating wellbeing practices like breathing techniques, mindfulness, and self-care allows me to balance my life and I feel grateful I regained my health, and to focus on what matters most to me.

What were the biggest lessons you’re taking away from 2020?
One of the biggest lessons for me in 2020 is that when you are clear on your true north, vision, and mission and you have a clear roadmap, changes in your circumstances are easier to manage.
Unexpected events and challenges can be architected to become opportunities by the choices we make every day.

Strategies or ideas to help us start our own work-life balance routine.
1- Use self-assessment tools to identify opportunities for improvements in your work-life balance approach. Prioritize and start with one area that matters most to you.
2- Incorporate simple tools and fun practices involving your family. Using breathing techniques and mindfulness, contemplating nature, and taking time off (even taking a few minutes does wonder!) to recharge yourself.
3- Allocate time in your calendar to your top priorities and practice self-care routines such as cultivating gratitude, appreciation, and reminding yourself over and over that one thing that matters most to you!

 Anything Else To Add?
Work-life balance is not a one-time goal or activity but rather a cycle of continuous self-assessment and improvements. Whether you decide to implement one or multiple recommendations, I invite you to celebrate every effort you are making, because progress is progress toward what is most important to you.