Silver Linings Blog

5 Benefits of Hiring a Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO)

by Tom Neclerio and Keith Gosselin

As digital initiatives and supply chains extend attack surfaces and increase exposure, modern organizations face unprecedented security challenges. Grim statistics illustrate the urgent need for strong and strategic cybersecurity efforts under the guidance of a seasoned leader. But hiring a full-time chief information security officer (CISO) is not always possible for organizations – nor is it always needed. Read on to learn why you might want to consider a virtual CISO (vCISO), and the benefits that come with that decision.

An executive-level security leader, the CISO uniquely straddles both the technical and business sides of cybersecurity. This essential role requires an individual who is experienced in defining and overseeing the organization’s security policies, processes, and infrastructure – but also who can represent the organization’s cybersecurity program in the board room.

With the global shortage of talent, though, full-time CISOs are in short supply – and often come with high price tags.

Outsourcing the role to a vCISO is an opportunity for companies to fill the gap and cost-effectively access the critical cyber leadership and guidance they need. These contracted experts offer a depth of experience that many companies otherwise would not be able to access.

Just as their full-time counterparts would, vCISOs apply their insights to define and guide the strategy for an effective cybersecurity program – including security policies, infrastructure, compliance, threat detection, response, and recovery. As part of the organization’s executive leadership, vCISOs also have a seat at the executive and boardroom tables to translate the impacts of cyber risk on the business – and advise on the performance of the organization’s cybersecurity program against that risk.

The responsibilities handled by a CISO – full-time or virtual – vary depending on an organization’s needs and industry. But as an outside resource, vCISOs must take a stepped approach to first understand the existing cyber efforts and then develop and implement appropriate plans for adjustments:

Assess Phase – As a first step, a vCISO establishes a baseline for the organization’s existing cybersecurity efforts, assessing overall cyber maturity as well as determining critical gaps. This typically includes a review of the in-place security policies and procedures, data flows, and network architecture. The vCISO also meets with key stakeholders from the organization’s security, operations, and risk management teams as well as with the organization’s executives and board to understand the cybersecurity needs as they relate to the business and its objectives.

Plan Phase – Once a baseline is set and critical gaps are identified, the vCISO develops a risk advisory workflow that implements approved controls to improve the cybersecurity posture. The vCISO meets with executives and the board of directors to socialize the proposal and gain a consensus for the frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) of the communication and reporting details and cadence.

Act Phase – The vCISO oversees the strategic plan and gathers resources from inside and outside the company to help implement the projects that were prioritized, communicated, and agreed upon.

Measure Phase – To assist in determining and managing the levels of risk and the performance of the cybersecurity program, the vCISO establishes key performance indicators (KPIs) and key risk indicators (KRIs). These are communicated regularly to key stakeholders, along with specific metrics that show the program’s level of effectiveness in technical and business terms.

Is a vCISO Right for Your Organization?
As we mentioned, hiring a full-time CISO is not always possible – or necessary. If you are considering outsourcing the role, take into account these 5 key benefits that a vCISO can offer your organization:

  1. Expertise
    vCISOs are individuals who typically have a decade or more of experience in cybersecurity and information technology. Many have worked in various industries as security leaders and have the expertise to fill short-term project needs – as well as drive the development of an entire cybersecurity program.
  2. Cost-Effectiveness
    Cybersecurity specialists often command six-figure salaries due to the high demand for their services. The cost, combined with the ongoing talent shortage, can make it challenging for organizations to find the right person with the proper skill set – and the depth of experience – to guide their cybersecurity efforts. Leveraging a vCISO allows the company to cut out some of the costs of a full-time hire, such as benefits, ongoing training, and onboarding requirements – as well as by-pass the limitations imposed by the skills gap.
  3. Flexible
    The tasks a vCISO performs often change based on the organization’s evolving needs. As an outsourced resource, a vCISO’s time can be scaled easily to support additional efforts such as board meetings, an audit, a cyber incident, or ad-hoc needs such as completing third-party risk assessments.
  4. Objective
    A vCISO is hired to meet specific cybersecurity goals but is not burdened by company bureaucracy. As a result, the vCISO can remain objective while being fully integrated into your business, committed to your success, and delivering on responsibilities that include critical strategic direction, insights, and guidance for the organization’s cybersecurity program.
  5. Access to a Strong Resource Pool
    Often, a vCISO is part of a company that provides other cybersecurity resources as well. This expertise can be leveraged — as needed – to provide a holistic approach to secure an organization’s network and data.

With your attack surface increasing and the threat landscape continuing to evolve in sophistication, it is crucial to have someone leading your cybersecurity efforts. The guidance, strategy, and insights provided by a seasoned CISO cannot be underestimated. While a full-time resource may not be accessible, a vCISO may be the answer to a more affordable and flexible fit for your organization – with a similar outcome.

Are you considering a vCISO for your organization? SilverSky can help. For more information about our vCISO offerings, contact us.

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