What is a virtual CISO (vCISO)

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Are you thinking about bringing a cybersecurity expert on board for your company? While you might be considering adding a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to your executive team, this can be a challenging and time-consuming process.

Instead, many organizations are opting to engage with a virtual CISO (vCISO) or utilize vCISO services. This approach offers a fresh solution to an enduring challenge. By partnering with a vCISO, organizations can tap into the necessary expertise to achieve their cybersecurity objectives, without the complexities and expenses associated with hiring a permanent, in-house cybersecurity leader.

What is a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)?

Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are responsible for overseeing cyber and information security within a business. As key members of the C-suite, they have a wide range of strategic and operational duties.

CISOs are often involved in:

  • Developing information security policies, procedures, and guidelines
  • Representing the team at executive or board meetings
  • Managing and optimizing the security stack
  • Aligning cybersecurity goals with business objectives
  • Various other information security-related tasks

Despite their extensive responsibilities, the role of CISO is relatively new compared to other C-suite positions. Initially, cybersecurity was often handled as a side task by IT staff. However, as cyberattacks became more prevalent, threat surfaces expanded, and regulations and frameworks emerged, many businesses recognized the need for a dedicated information security department and leader.

Depending on the company’s size, CISOs may report to a Chief Information Officer (CIO) or directly to a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). CISOs typically have years or even decades of IT experience, often hold a degree in a related field, and possess various certifications.

Finding a full-time CISO can be challenging, especially for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) that may struggle to offer competitive pay, benefits, or perks. Even large enterprises can find it difficult to retain a CISO due to the high stress of the role and the competitive job market. The average tenure of a CISO is only 18-26 months, much shorter than other C-suite positions.

Recruiting and onboarding a full-time internal CISO can be a lengthy and expensive process, which is why many organizations are turning to virtual CISOs (vCISOs) instead.

What is a virtual CISO (vCISO)?

A virtual Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is a cybersecurity expert who offers the same high level of knowledge and advice as an in-house CISO but usually works remotely and on a flexible schedule.

This model of cybersecurity management is particularly beneficial for companies that may not have the resources or requirements to hire a full-time CISO.

Virtual CISOs bring a wealth of experience and best practices from working with a variety of organizations, which can be advantageous for companies looking to enhance their cybersecurity posture. Additionally, the remote nature of the vCISO role allows for greater flexibility in scaling security efforts based on the organization’s needs, making it a cost-effective solution for improving cybersecurity resilience.

What can a vCISO do?

A virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) functions similarly to an outsourced security practitioner, leveraging their extensive industry experience to assist organizations in enhancing their security posture.

Engaging a vCISO provides access to independent and impartial cybersecurity expertise, methodologies, and resources. This professional can conduct cyber risk assessments, establish objectives, develop programs and initiatives, assess third-party vendors and partners, and perform various other information security tasks to reduce your cyber risk.

The vCISOs are capable of aligning your strategy and actions with established cybersecurity frameworks, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework 800-53, Centre for Cyber Security Baseline Controls, and Cyber Assessment Framework. They can also help establish policies, guidelines, and standards to ensure compliance with industry- or location-specific regulations, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What are the benefits of a vCISO?

A significant advantage of engaging a virtual Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or utilizing a vCISO service is its flexible and cost-effective approach to cybersecurity. Unlike a full-time CISO, a vCISO can be brought in as needed, depending on the complexity of the security issues at hand. This on-demand engagement helps reduce onboarding and administration costs.

CISO turnover rates are high, and the expenses associated with recruiting and training new personnel every few years can be substantial. For small to medium-sized businesses, a vCISO offers the opportunity to access the expertise of a highly skilled cybersecurity professional without the financial commitment of a permanent, full-time hire.

In organizations with existing IT teams or even a single security analyst, a vCISO can provide leadership, direction, and guidance. They can ensure that the team has the necessary resources, budget, and authority to perform their duties effectively. Additionally, a vCISO can assist in coaching or upskilling current analysts, aiding in the recruitment of new team members, and fulfilling other supportive roles.

Some companies opt to engage a vCISO to assist their permanent, full-time CISO by assuming critical responsibilities such as board presentations or leading compliance initiatives. In cases where a company’s incumbent CISO is on an extended leave of absence, a virtual CISO can step in to bridge the gap.

While the advantages of vCISO services are considerable, it’s essential to recognize the signs indicating that your organization may benefit from such services.

Signs a vCISO is right for your business

Deciding between a virtual or full-time, in-house Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) can be a daunting task for businesses. To aid in this decision-making process, let’s explore five compelling reasons why opting for a virtual CISO may be the ideal choice.

1. You have budget restraints

The demand for Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) is currently soaring. The escalation of cyberattacks and the implementation of data privacy regulations have placed cybersecurity at the forefront of organizational concerns. Studies indicate that 61% of businesses have identified the enhancement of IT security as their top priority. Naturally, businesses require a leader who can establish appropriate information security objectives and devise programs to achieve them.

However, the demand for CISOs exceeds the available supply, making the hiring of a full-time CISO a considerable expense. In contrast, most virtual CISO (vCISO) services operate on a consumption-based model, ensuring that you only pay for the services you require. Additionally, as the role is virtual, there is no necessity to hire someone locally, which can be a limiting factor for organizations located in smaller or more remote areas. This eliminates or significantly reduces recruitment, onboarding, and relocation costs.

2. You need a cybersecurity pro to lay the groundwork

One of the most daunting aspects of cybersecurity is the initial setup. It requires the establishment of appropriate policies, standards, procedures, and guidelines, followed by diligent adherence to these frameworks.

Virtual Chief Information Security Officers (vCISOs) bring extensive experience from working with a variety of organizations, often across different industries and sizes. This breadth of experience positions them well to develop a robust, high-quality cybersecurity program tailored to your business’s specific needs. If you’re seeking a professional to kickstart your cybersecurity initiatives, a vCISO could be the ideal choice.

Your vCISO can craft and implement cybersecurity and privacy policies and frameworks that align with your organization’s objectives. They can also create an incident response plan to provide clear, step-by-step guidance for handling future incidents, conduct thorough risk assessments, and establish a foundation for long-term cybersecurity success.

3. Your IT team requires strategic leadership

Another compelling reason to consider a vCISO service is if you require assistance in managing, guiding, or enhancing the skills of your existing information security team.

If your employees do not require a full-time leader but would benefit from professional guidance in departmental direction, goal setting, or training and mentorship, then engaging a vCISO would be a beneficial solution. They can step in to ensure that your team has the necessary resources and budget to fulfill their responsibilities effectively.

Additionally, your virtual CISO can act as a liaison for the team, engaging and aligning with executive management, boards, investors, and even government agencies as needed.

4. You need someone for a niche task

The vCISO service providers often boast a team of experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences, making them an excellent choice for addressing specific needs or skill sets.

For instance, if you already have a well-established cybersecurity program but have acquired another company and need to adjust your processes, a vCISO with relevant experience can be brought in to develop or modify existing policies, guidelines, and frameworks to accommodate the changes.

5. You need help with cybersecurity compliance

Information security and data privacy regulations have become increasingly stringent in recent years. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has set a benchmark many countries strive to meet or surpass with their own legislation. If you’re uncertain about whether your business complies with cybersecurity regulations specific to your industry or location, engaging a vCISO can be beneficial.

Specializing in regulatory compliance, virtual CISOs can evaluate your current cybersecurity stance and identify areas that require enhancement or alteration. They can then devise and execute a plan to ensure your business meets compliance standards. This proactive approach helps mitigate the risk of facing substantial noncompliance penalties in the event of a security breach.

How to hire a vCISO for your business

Before engaging in a vCISO or selecting a vCISO service, it’s crucial to clearly define their role and responsibilities. Aligning expectations between you and the potential vCISO is key to ensuring a successful and productive partnership.

Consider what specific tasks you require the vCISO to fulfill. Do you need them to develop a comprehensive cybersecurity policy from scratch or perform an annual risk assessment? Will their role involve providing daily guidance to your existing information security team or solely representing security matters at monthly board meetings?

Choosing a virtual CISO service provider with a track record of serving businesses similar to yours is advisable. For instance, if you’re a startup, your cybersecurity needs may differ significantly from those of a large corporation. Look for a provider who understands your business and the unique challenges of your industry.

Put our virtual CISOs to work for you

RedGlow Cyber represents the best in the cybersecurity industry and technology sector. Behind our vCISO service is a team of cybersecurity leaders and innovators with decades of unmatched hands-on experience defending some of the world’s most critical, complex, and fast-paced security environments.

The beauty of our virtual CISO service is its flexibility. Whether you need a vCISO to set goals, develop strong cybersecurity programs, support IT staff, assess cyber risk, align with security frameworks, or ensure compliance with a long list of regulations—we’re here.

Curious to learn whether a vCISO might be right for your business? Schedule some time to chat with our experts at RedGlow Cyber for a no-obligation security consultation.