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1. What is a Virtual CISO?

A Virtual Chief Information Security Officer, or Virtual CISO (or VCISO) is an executive-level security professional who applies their years of cybersecurity and business experience, on a part-time, consultative basis, to assist you in establishing or enhancing an information security program for your organization.

How an organization uses a Virtual CISO depends on the business itself. Your  organization’s structure, products and services, markets, and IT environment 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 common question: Why hire a Virtual CISO? It's an important question because a VCISO, in order to be effective, invests time and expertise in your business on an ongoing, albeit part-time, basis. Strategic vision, best practices, and robust cybersecurity are not achieved overnight.

2. The Strategy Gap in Cybersecurity

In today's hyper-connected digital world, managing cybersecurity is difficult and complex, and sound strategic direction can be hard to come by. There are three reasons for that, including: (1) many business leadership teams are not resourced to effectively manage cybersecurity, (2) others haven't considered the value that third-party expertise can bring to their information security strategy, and (3) still others don't believe that their organizations warrant an executive-level information security officer. They haven't yet asked themselves the critical question, "Why hire a virtual CISO?"

Often, this is because many organizations, regardless of size and industry, employ lower-level technical staff and/or contractors who handle their day-to-day information security and information technology requirements. These professionals are expected to effectively attend to the daily detail rather than the higher level strategy. So, who is looking at the bigger cybersecurity picture?

Sometimes, the answer is "no one is." Sometimes, to check the box, the strategic security responsibility is assigned to another C-level executive, such as a Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), or even a Chief Operations Officer (COO).  Typically, however, 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.

This is one reason the Chief Information Security Officer role was created -- to address the strategy gap in cybersecurity. Establishing and maintaining an organization's security vision, strategy, and programs is a primary role for any CISO, although not the only role.  Many organizations also lack a security governance committee. And it's surprising how few have established, tested, and actively maintain incident response programs to guide employee actions when a data breach or other incident occurs.

To meet the full spectrum of their cybersecurity needs, many enterprises and large organizations employ full-time CISOs. Generally, however, their smaller counterparts (SMBs) aren't able to justify a full-time CISO. We've also witnessed, in the past few years, an increasing number of large organizations opting out of full-time, in-house CISOs in favor of hiring part-time, contractual, consultative solutions. These are known as virtual CISO services.

2a. Why Hire a Virtual CISO:  Roles and Responsibilities

Your VCISO will quickly become your trusted partner in cybersecurity strategy, vision, and tactical deployment. He or she will be extensively involved in developing a complete information security program for your company, based on the three pillars of information security: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA).

  • Confidentiality refers to a variety of actions any organization must take to ensure that information remains private and only accessible to authorized individuals.
  • Integrity is concerned with ensuring the accuracy, soundness, and reliability of data throughout the data life cycle.
  • Availability requires that an organization's hardware and software systems be well-maintained and safeguarded so that data is always accessible to those who need it.

With these pillars as their foundation, following are the six central responsibilities of a VCISO. When you ask yourself, "Why hire a virtual CISO?" these points will help in answering that question.

  • Serving as a trusted advisor to your organization's senior management in all aspects of cybersecurity, based on extensive experience, expertise, and credentials in cybersecurity and compliance
  • Guiding development of a companywide security risk management process, to include a risk status reporting mechanism and a security awareness training program
  • Recommending priorities for investing in security systems and tools that remediate risks, strengthen defenses, and reduce vulnerabilities
  • Advising as to the necessary policies, procedures, processes, and best practices addressing risk management
  • Drafting a corrective action plan (CAP) based on your most recent security risk assessment, security gap analysis, and internal risk remediation list 
  • Communicating with senior management to ensure their understanding of current and emerging information security threats as well as effective security controls and other preventive techniques

Clearly, a virtual CISO will bring enormous value to your organization, without the obstacles that sometimes deter companies from hiring a full-time, in-house Chief Information Security Officer. 

For an at-a-glance view of the roles and responsibilities of a VCISO, click below to download our VCISO infographic

Roles and Responsibilities Marketing Graphic-1


3. Why Are VCISOs Increasingly Popular?

Hacking and other cyberattacks continue to exploit vulnerabilities in the networks and systems of organizations of all sizes. Ransomware is relentless. Phishing schemes prey on unsuspecting employees who haven't been trained to recognize evolving social engineering techniques.  IT teams are overwhelmed even as IT budgets have been reduced. Against this backdrop, there are four here-and-now answers to the question, "Why hire a virtual CISO?" 

  1. CISO Expertise is in High Demand — Cybersecurity is one of the top three priorities of nearly every organization in the U.S. today. Hundreds of firms continue to be embarrassed each year by data breaches made public. Companies who wish to steel themselves against the constant barrage of threats are looking for the strategic capabilities and high degree of expertise only a CISO can deliver. By hiring a virtual CISO, you can fill the CISO role immediately, without enduring the months-long recruiting,  interviewing, vetting, and hiring process.

  2. Full-time CISOs are Expensive – The typical corporate CISO earns upwards of $200,000 per year, according to salary.com. And while almost every company requires a CISO, not every company can afford one at this rate. By hiring a virtual CISO, you avoid the expenses and perks associated with a full-time CISO and pay only for the time and services you contract for. Hiring a VCISO provides you with a predictable, fixed cost that enables accurate budgeting.

  3. VCISOs Can Work from Anywhere — A VCISO is, by definition, a part-time consultant who accomplishes most of your work remotely, using on-site visits as needed to meet, present, and report to senior management. Hiring a virtual CISO prevents you from having to hire a full-time CISO locally, which limits your candidate pool. It also avoids your having to provide a relocation budget to entice a candidate to move.  Your VCISO gives you a much higher degree of flexibility than a standard CISO. 

  4. VCISO Services Are Pay-As-You-GoSeveral pricing models are available when you hire a virtual CISO, ranging from subscription plans to project-based and deliverable-based models to contingency plans that provide for extra work you may desire but didn't anticipate. And while the experience and expertise of individual VCISOs will vary, all operate as cybersecurity consultants who will complete their contracts based on a scope of work you have agreed on in advance. Why hire a virtual CISO? One compelling reason is that you'll pay only for the services you want, when you want them.

Learn more about our time-tested Virtual CISO model and how it can deliver for you. Click below to download our infographic.

Our VCISO Model Marketing Graphic


4. Who Should Hire a VCISO?

We've reviewed the reasons why so many organizations can benefit from hiring a virtual CISO, regardless of their size or industry. Now, let's take a closer look at three distinct factors that might drive a decision to hire a virtual CISO.

  • Your Firm Handles Sensitive Data — Whether you're responsible for employee and payroll data, customer or patient data, shareholder data, intellectual property, or other sensitive information, you are obligated to protect it. Organizations who take that obligation seriously, whether for their own protection or the protection of others, will make the decision to hire a qualified virtual CISO to ensure the job gets done right. 
  • Your Organization Has a Limited Budget - Large organizations who have experienced budget cut-backs, and organizations with limited funds, are excellent candidates for leveraging the benefits of a virtual CISO.  The cost associated with hiring a VCISO is 40% to 50% less than the cost of retaining a full-time CISO on staff. The cost savings alone can make the case for hiring a virtual CISO.
  • You Have Specialized Information Security Needs — Two of the VCISO pricing models address  organizations who need to occasionally focus on specific projects or specific deliverables. These may include activities like developing security controls; guiding data classification; developing procedures and policies to meet compliance goals; conducting a security risk assessment, and similar finite activities. Hiring a VCISO is an ideal solution when your immediate focus is on completing a cybersecurity project or obtaining a specific security deliverable.

5. Other Benefits of Hiring a Virtual CISO

The main advantage of hiring a virtual CISO is that you can access the same level of expertise and experience you would have with a full-time CISO, but at a fraction of the cost. And the executive-level nature of this role normally means that your VCISO will have a very brief learning curve and can ramp up quickly. 

But there are other answers to the question of the day, "Why hire a virtual CISO?" Below are five other great reasons why.

  • Fresh Perspective. Retaining the services of a VCISO brings the value of a fresh pair of eyes to your cybersecurity program. Whether your VCISO visits once a month, once a quarter, or on some other schedule, he or she will be able to make observations about important issues that could go unnoticed by a full-time counterpart who may be distracted by daily fire drills.
  • Complete Team. When you retain a VCISO from a full-service cybersecurity firm, you automatically enjoy the expertise and experience of their entire cybersecurity and compliance team. Each team member carries various professional certifications and has different areas of specialization. This brings additional depth and breadth to your security program.
  • Get the Work Done Sooner.  Your VCISO will not become mired in the day-to-day security operations of your business. So, if you are focusing on a particular project or deliverable, chances are excellent that you will see it completed much sooner than if your permanent security staff were responsible for it.
  • Immediate Availability. Another benefit that may be extremely important, depending on why you are seeking the services of a VCISO, is immediate availability. A full-service cybersecurity firm will be able to begin your program in short order. For example, 24By7Security can usually get started in as little as two weeks. 

Having access to a VCISO can also help your company eliminate typical information security risks. That's because you can receive expert guidance in a variety of security-related decisions, such as changing your website infrastructure, trying a new server layout, or upgrading a crucial piece of technology.


6. Is a VCISO Right for You? 

We've explored a wide range of aspects of the virtual CISO position. Roles and responsibilities. Pricing models. Key indicators that your organization can benefit from VCISO services. And situations in which you might particularly need these services. 

We've pointed you to links to other blogs that are highly relevant to the question, "Why hire a virtual CISO?" As you've seen, there are a number of compelling cases for hiring a virtual CISO.

Then there is the reality of employing a permanent, in-house Chief Information Security Officer, which includes the fact that highly ranked full-time CISOs are difficult to find, attract, and retain. Many in this corporate role stay in their positions for two to three years and then move on, lured by bigger salaries and better perquisites.  Generally, there is not much loyalty in the C-suite at most corporations. 

VCISOs, on the other hand, are part-time consultants under contract for a finite period of time or set of services. Qualified VCISOs deliver results, report metrics and KPIs, and are otherwise accountable to the senior management of your organization. They have all the capabilities of a CISO, without the downsides. 

While individual virtual CISOs possess varied skill sets, qualified VCISOs are capable of handling a wide range of responsibilities, from the strategic to the tactical. They can assist in the development and review of security policies, guidelines, and standards. They can assist with recruiting security staff, developing security plans, procuring security solutions, resolving security issues, and providing cybersecurity training to your employees. Those with expert compliance backgrounds can also assist with HIPAA compliance, payment card industry security compliance, defense contractor compliance and more. You can even hire a VCISO to help your newly-hired permanent CISO adapt to your unique organizational culture. 

So, is a virtual CISO right for your organization? At this point, you have all the information you need to make the optimal decision and answer the important question, "Why hire a virtual CISO?"

If you'd like to talk it over with a live, experienced VCISO, we're here. Give us a call today to schedule your complimentary consultation. 

Hire a virtual ciso