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1. Define: VCISO

A Virtual Chief Information Security Officer, or Virtual CISO or VCISO, is a C-level security professional who applies their years of cybersecurity and business experience, on a part-time, consultative basis, to assist firms in establishing or enhancing their information security programs. How an organization uses a VCISO depends on the business itself. The organization’s structure, products and services, markets, and IT context all factor in.

On this page, we will detail the role of a Virtual CISO and how this role can be incorporated seamlessly into any organization. We will also answer a compelling question: Is a Virtual CISO the right solution for you? It's an important question because a VCISO, in order to be effective, invests time and expertise in your business on an ongoing basis, over time, rather than on a single project basis. Strategic vision, best practices, and robust cybersecurity are not achieved overnight.

2. The Role of a Virtual CISO

In today's world, managing cybersecurity is indescribably difficult. Many business leadership teams are not resourced to effectively manage cybersecurity. Others haven't considered the value that engaging third-party expertise can bring to their information security strategy. Still others don't believe that their businesses warrant an executive-level information security officer.

Most businesses, regardless of size and industry, employ technical staff and/or contractors who handle their day-to-day information security and technology requirements. But who in the corporation is looking at the bigger picture of cybersecurity?

Often, this individual is an executive who already juggles a full spectrum of responsibilities. Sometimes the strategic information security role falls on a Chief Information Officer (CIO), a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), or even a Chief Operations Officer (COO).  Typically, these leaders lack the time and expertise to effectively direct their company's cybersecurity program, regardless of how well-intentioned they may be. This is a common disconnect that exposes your organization to unnecessary risk. However, there is an effective solution to this strategy-level expertise gap.

A CISO is a member of the senior management team. The CISO is responsible for establishing and maintaining an organization's security vision, strategy, and programs. The job entails ensuring that information assets and technology are properly safeguarded. To meet their cybersecurity needs, most large firms employ a full-time CISO. Smaller and mid-sized businesses may not be able to play such a role. It's a recipe for disaster to put a non-security professional in charge of security!

2a. The Roles and Responsibilities of a VCISO

A VCISO is a problem-solver as well as a leader. He or she is extensively involved in developing a complete information security program that considers the information security family triad: "Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability," or "CIA," stands for "confidentiality, integrity, and availability."

  • Confidentiality refers to the steps that a business must take to ensure that data and information remain private.
  • Integrity is concerned with the data's life cycle and ensuring that it is always correct.
  • Availability refers to a company's hardware and software systems being available at all times and being well-maintained.

Let's look at the following key VCISO tasks and responsibilities with this in mind. After all, they provide expert security advice by doing the following:

  1. Serving as a trusted advisor to senior management in the development of a Company-Wide Security Risk Management Process to ensure best practice control.
  2. Providing recommendations regarding prioritization of systems security investments that mitigate risks, strengthen defenses, and reduce vulnerabilities.
  3. Advising on the necessary policies/procedures/processes pertaining to Risk Management.
  4. Drafting and proposing a remediation plan, or corrective action plan (CAP), based on the recent risk assessment/gap analysis / internal risk mitigation.
  5. Understanding potential and emerging information security threats, vulnerabilities, and potential control techniques and communicates this information to senior management.

 

To view a comprehensive infographic of the roles and responsibilities that a VCISO provides, click below to view and download our infographic!

Roles and Responsibilities Marketing Graphic-1

 

3. Why Are VCISOs Growing Increasingly Popular?

The concept of a VCISO has grown in popularity among organizations. Whether it is due to external forces or the increasing need to go virtual, there are various reasons for having a VCISO. Regardless of the size of your organization:

  1. CISOs Are in High Demand — Cybersecurity has risen to the top of the organization's priority list. With the surge in cyberattacks, data breaches, attack complexity, and a laser-like concentration on an organization's data, companies that wish to implement a comprehensive set of controls and technology need a CISO. Without going through the hiring process, a VCISO allows an organization to fill a CISO role immediately.
  2. CISOs Are Costly – The typical CISO pay is above $200,000 per year, according to salary.com. While almost every company requires a CISO, not every company can afford one. Organizations can avoid the cost of hiring a full-time CISO by using a V-CISO and just paying for the services and time they use.
  3. VCISOs Can Work from Any Location — Rather than hiring someone locally (which limits your possibilities) or providing assistance pay for a candidate to relocate, the VCISO works as a consultant and can work from almost anywhere, allowing the company access to a broader pool of candidates.
  4. VCISOs Are a Pay-As-You-Go Service – While not every V-CISO is the same, this is a contractor who will complete duties based on a scope of work that has been agreed upon. In essence, you are paying them for the services you want.

To view a comprehensive infographic of our VCISO model and what you will get out of it, click below to download our infographic!

Our VCISO Model Marketing Graphic

 

4. Who Should Hire a VCISO?

Let's go over a few reasons why a VCISO might be a suitable fit:

  • The Firm Handles Sensitive Data — This applies to almost every organization today, regardless of size, industry, or other factors. The question is whether the company is serious enough about protecting that data (and itself) to hire an expert to assist in the development and implementation of a program that keeps precious data safe and secure.
  • The Organization Has a Restricted Budget - Organizations with a limited budget should consider hiring a VCISO. A VCISO is projected to cost 40-50% less than a full-time CISO.
  • The Organization Has Specialized Information Security Needs — It's possible that the goal is not to completely utilize a CISO but to focus on a few specific duties. This includes things like developing necessary security rules, assisting with data classification, addressing procedures and policies to fulfill compliance goals, conducting a risk assessment, and more. A VCISO is an ideal solution when the focus isn't on fully developing and implementing an information security program, but rather on a part of it.

5. The Benefits of a VCISO

The main advantage of employing a VCISO is that you obtain the same level of competence and capability as if you hired a full-time CISO. However, your organization may lack the overhead, rewards, and training that come with it. Prioritization, risk assessment, and training can all help a company meet its security objectives. Your organization would see security improvements sooner with the proper VCISO services. It will take less time to get this virtual specialist up to speed with your firm than it would for long-term new hires.

Any firm that values virtual security will see the value that a VCISO can bring to the table. However, not everyone is looking for a part-time CISO. As a result, a VCISO program can be used year-round for long-term security.

A VCISO can help your company eliminate typical information security risks, whether it's changing its website infrastructure, trying out a new server layout, or changing another piece of technology that's critical to your everyday operations. Few corporations are now considering hiring for VCISO positions, and as a result, many of these companies are putting themselves in danger.

Some businesses are satisfied to sit and wait for problems to arise, but this attitude can be dangerous. When it comes to the initiative, a VCISO may assist a company to be proactive.

6. Do You Need a VCISO? 

The number one question that gets asked by cynics everywhere is: why would you need a VCISO when you could simply hire a real CISO on a permanent basis? The response varies from person to person and is not always the same. For starters, highly ranked full-time CISOs are hard to come by; they often stay in their jobs for two years or fewer, and, more importantly, can charge six-figure salaries, especially for smaller organizations.

VCISOs, on the other hand, are anticipated to cost between 40% and 50% less than a full-time CISO and are available on demand. The advantages outweigh the costs. VCISOs normally don't need any training, can get right in, and aren't obligated to play nice with office politics. It's all about the numbers in this approach, and any VCISO up to the task will give adequate KPIs and reporting.

While individual VCISOs will have varied skill sets, many should be capable of handling a wide range of responsibilities, from the tactical to the strategic. They can be able to assist in the development of security policies, guidelines, and standards. This could include everything from understanding HIPAA or PCI compliance to staying on top of vendor risk assessments. They could also assist with recruiting, developing security plans, procuring solutions, resolving issues, and laying the groundwork for ISO 27001 and 9001 compliances. They could also help with BYOD policy and enforcement, as well as educating newly appointed CISOs and managing the board relationship while full-time CISOs "keep the lights on.

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