vCISO = Virtual Chief Information Security Officer

security framework

Introduction to Virtual Chief Information Security Officer

A Virtual CISO plays the same role a full-time CISO would, but in a more cost-effective manner. Handling security on a short-term or limited engagement, they will provide strategy, guidance, and oversight. Operating with an independent voice, they often can avoid the internal politics that plague some organizations.

 vCISOs are becoming common across many industries, including technology, marketing, insurance, retail, finance, healthcare, and manufacturing. Companies that use a vCISO are typically trying to solve one of two problems: time or money. If the company is on a tight schedule, they may not be able to wait to find a candidate, get them onboarded, and bring them up to speed. Bringing in a vCISO can accelerate incident response and other security-related processes, and get the job done quickly.

Companies that have short-term needs or are on a budget can also benefit from hiring a vCISO. Small or medium-sized businesses may not be able to attract or afford a full-time CISO. Other companies may be looking for efficiencies and cost-cutting measures.

Hiring a vCISO allows organizations to engage an experienced pro with the skills they need and do it within their budget. Here are five specific reasons you should consider hiring a vCISO:

1. Expertise & Core Competencies

vCISOs will have the breadth (and depth) of experience and expertise to make sound decisions about your security. Because they are experts, ramp-up time decreases as they can gain a quicker understanding of your security program than someone with a lower quality skill set. This advantage provides a stronger return on investment by decreasing startup time.

When you hire a full-time CISO, no matter what their background, they may not have all the skills you need. Training takes time and money. But a vCISO has access to a team of experts with varied experiences which can act as extended resources when needed. If they required additional training to complete the job, it’s on their dime and not yours.

 

2. Cost Effectiveness

When you add salary and benefits together, the average compensation for a full-time CISO is $267,335 annually. It may cost more to find the right candidate with the right skill set who is available immediately for your job, and not every company can afford to spend that kind of money. Besides, not all companies need a full-time CISO on staff. Hiring a vCISO can dramatically reduce your payroll costs. In addition, you eliminate the cost of benefits and full-time employee onboarding requirements. A vCISO typically costs 30-40% less than a full-time CISO.

 

3. Reduced Business Risk & Flexibility to Work on Projects as Needed

Engaging a vCISO for a short-term relationship poses little risk. When the project is complete, your commitment ends: you are not locked into long-term expenses or payroll costs. If you need more work, services are scalable on short notice by tapping into their network of professionals. Recruiting, hiring, and training your own team is extremely expensive and you may not have the time to wait.

4. Improving Your In-House Team

A vCISO can handle the heavy lifting. By managing the strategic responsibilities and guiding your in-house staff, they can provide training and mentoring. They can also identify strengths and weaknesses in your team, and identify places where you need additional help or training. A vCISO also allows you to free up some of your in-house team’s workload, enabling them to take on other tasks.

 

5. Objective Independence

A vCISO provides an objective independence to evaluate your team and your security. Because they come from outside your organization, they aren’t stuck with “how we’ve always done it,” or burdened by office politics or agendas. They are only as good as their reputation. That means they have to get the job done and done correctly.

Core Tasks Handled by vCISOs

 

While the specific tasks handled by vCISOs will vary depending on your job requirements and your contractual arrangement, they will report to top company leadership and typically provide these core tasks:

1. Setting or directing privacy and security policies, standards, procedures, and guidelines

2. Managing and directing Information Security team

3. Engaging with executive management

4. Running risk assessments on operational security

5. Providing threat intelligence and manage enterprise security

6. Virtual CISOs provide companies with qualified security experts that they might not be able to find (or afford) on their own. Without increasing headcount, a vCISO can solve many of your security, privacy, and compliance issues. They can assess your threats and risks, and help you make smart decisions about your security to align with your business objectives.

vCISO Checklist

vCISO Checklist

National Institute of Standards and Technology