Do You Need a Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO)?: Here’s What You Need To Know

Companies of all sizes could stand to benefit from the additional support of a virtual chief information security officer (vCISO), including large enterprises, new startups and small and medium-sized businesses. In particular, the following types of organizations may see the greatest boost from taking on a vCISO:

  • Businesses that don’t have the budget necessary for hiring a full-time internal CISO or other formal cybersecurity leadership positions.
  • Companies that don’t anticipate a need for a formal CISO position because of their size or owing to a lack of complexity within their cybersecurity landscape.
  • Organizations that simply don’t yet realize the true value a talented CISO can bring to the table.

In particular, vCISO offerings provide flexibility. These solutions can be used to augment your existing cybersecurity staff, perhaps even including an in-house CISO, by providing as-needed support. Alternatively, a vCISO may be used to perform tasks that are currently unassigned because the company does not have an official CISO on staff.

Another popular use for vCISOs is to serve as a temporary consultant. The reasons for bringing on an outside consultant can be varied. In one highly visible example from 2020, Zoom tapped Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer of Facebook and Yahoo, for consultancy help with security and privacy functionalities, Stamos wrote in a Medium post.

Adding on a vCISO for outside consulting help as your company experiences new growth — or emerging issues — can help you course correct.

Signs you need a vCISO

If you’re wondering whether or not your company should seek the support of a vCISO, there are some situations that indicate this kind of role could be quite valuable for your needs.

The first indicator is that you know your business has an IT posture or operating environment that is immature overall. In this situation, senior IT leaders at the company may reach out to a vCISO to get a more strategic, focused and organized perspective on how they can implement improvements.

You may also realize that additional help is needed after experiencing a cybersecurity incident. Ideally, your business will be able to reach out after detecting vulnerabilities, but sometimes businesses only get a wake-up call after they’re hit with internal or external attacks, a breach or data loss. News of other businesses like yours undergoing incidents could also serve as a stark reminder that it’s time to upgrade your cybersecurity protections.

Some companies decide that they want to take a proactive approach to security without having the budget necessary to hire a full-time CISO or make other permanent expansions to the security team.

It may also be the case that the organization begins exploring how a vCISO could assist the business from a compliance perspective. Some regulations may stipulate that the company is required to have certain senior security leadership positions filled. In these situations, contracting a vCISO won’t necessarily satisfy the staffing requirement, but your partner will be able to help your organization mature its operations to assist with achieving compliance.

External milestones and goals could also indicate that vCISO might be helpful. For example, as businesses get ready for a merger or acquisition, or prepare to go public, they often realize that the company will soon become exposed to a broader range of threat vectors.  

Finally, your company may believe that having a full-time CISO on staff would be ideal. However, if you don’t have the approved budget for such an outcome, a vCISO can help you elevate your security strategy for the time being without the price tag required for a permanent addition to the staff.

How a vCISO can help

While security advisers and consultants have performed vital duties for some time, working with a vCISO is a comparatively new concept. This solution has grown in popularity in recent years as companies look for cost savings while simultaneously seeking to improve their security strategy. A vCISO appeals especially to businesses that don’t have the budget to hire a formal CISO yet.

What a vCISO is

You can count on a qualified vCISO to be very knowledgeable about current cybersecurity best practices. Ideally, you should look for a partner who’s experienced in your particular industry and well informed about concerns associated with your company’s background, including your size as well as your status as a public or private entity. 

It may be wise to work with a vCISO who has experience across an array of different industries and types of companies, so they can help you pursue growth opportunities or pivot into new sectors. Most CISOs don’t have such a wide-ranging perspective, as their tenure typically includes between one and three companies.

Importantly, a vCISO can provide you with prescriptive guidance, and they won’t be susceptible to having their suggestions clouded by the internal politics at your company.

Typical vCISO tasks

Your vCISO can help you by performing functions like:

  • Assessing the maturity of your current operations.
  • Helping you build out a roadmap or strategy to improve your overall cybersecurity posture.
  • Reviewing the compliance landscape to help you implement and operationalize appropriate security actions.
  • Advising the organization about best practices related to people, processes and technology.

Offering an impartial, holistic approach to cybersecurity

If you don’t already have a CISO, keep in mind that the vCISO will provide a strategic service that will complement your cybersecurity team members. While your IT management professionals may be focused on specific controls, they may not have experience in creating and implementing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. They also likely won’t possess that same breadth of experience that you can expect from a vCISO, who will give you an independent, outside opinion that’s not as likely to be skewed by conflicts of interest related to their job.

Key features of CFGI’s vCISO offering

At CFGI, our vCISO solution boasts unique attributes like:

  • Development of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.
  • Oversight for security operations.
  • Strategic advising for boards and audit committees.
  • Screening for security engineers and other positions.
  • Support for understanding strategic hires and growing the internal IT team.

CFGI’s vCISO offering provides you with independent, scalable, as-needed strategic cybersecurity support. Our experts are capable of assisting organizations of all sizes and across industries, as they seek to address a wide variety of cybersecurity concerns.

Reach out to us today for a free 30-minute consultation, and find out if our vCISO solution can help you reach your security goals.

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