Today, many small and mid-sized businesses find themselves in similar situations when it comes to managing cybersecurity risks — they know there are prominent threats to their organization that they need to take seriously, but don’t have the means or knowledge to do so. 

The first thought that comes to mind, especially with those firms trenched with stringent data-security compliance requirements, is starting an internal cybersecurity team headed by a full-time Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). The reality is, however, that limited budgets restrict certain businesses from making that type of investment. Just one CISO typically costs over $200,000 — not even considering the costs of their employees and department resources. 

Other operational circumstances might also steer an organization away from a full-time CISO. For instance, if you’re looking to create a compliance system, update a security program, or obtain an evaluation on a one-time basis, there’s no reason for a full-time CISO to be involved. 

The solution for businesses with these underlying challenges is simple — hiring an outsourced CISO with the knowledge and resources to specialize in your unique security needs but for a fraction of the cost. Here, we introduce the “virtual” Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO).  

What Does a vCISO Do? 

vCISOs are becoming increasingly popular today because of their versatility and flexible service capabilities. Ultimately, a vCISO is an expert or team that manages a business’ cybersecurity department, only remotely as a third-party service provider. 

While many firms might have internal IT department members who perform specific information-security tasks, businesses can incorporate outsourced services to supplement or improve certain areas. The vCISO takes a high-level role in overseeing the planning and execution of cybersecurity strategies, just as a full-time CISO would. 

Some of the primary responsibilities a company would hire a vCISO for include: 

  • Policy and Procedure Implementation: Evaluating and incorporating management processes and policies such as security awareness training, employee password management requirements, and user access privileges. They also would help advise and plan for incident response, disaster recovery, and business continuity scenarios.   
  • Compliance Management: Assessing and adhering to data-security compliance and regulatory requirements. Additionally, they would act as communicators with risk management leadership, legal personnel, and other C-suite executives involved in compliance-related matters, assist during system audits, and help review cyber insurance policies.    
  • Cybersecurity Program Development: Assessing a firm’s current threats, vulnerabilities, controls, governance, and compliance requirements to develop and implement a full-scale program. Typically responsible for selecting a framework such as Zero Trust or National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) security.   
  • Technology Advising: Reviewing technology assets and recommending a firm’s software tools and systems to protect, detect, and respond to potential threats. 
  • Interdepartmental Coordination: Working and communicating with infrastructure, network, compliance, and IT departments on security program activities while providing information-security reports to executives and IT directors. 

Common vCISO Use Cases 

While a vCISO appears to have a broad range of service capabilities, most businesses will likely only hire them for a few different areas and situations. For example, many companies use a temporary vCISO to fill in a leadership gap while they are in the process of recruiting a full-time CISO. 

Others will use one when they’re roadmapping a new cybersecurity strategy and need help with implementation. Then, heavy-hitting vCISOs are used indefinitely but only on a “fractional” basis to continuously assist with program and compliance management.     

Is a vCISO and Fractional CISO the Same? 

The terms vCISO and fractional CISO are often used interchangeably — and rightfully so. Each describes an individual or team that essentially has the same responsibilities, manages the same functions, and performs the same services. 

The main difference, however, is where the services take place. For instance, as the name implies, a virtual CISO will be fully remote and can assist their clients from anywhere in the world. A fractional CISO typically (though not always) means they are on-site but working in a part-time capacity.   

Why Invest in a vCISO? (Service-Role Tiers) 

While there are numerous reasons to hire an outsourced security professional, organizations typically have categories of needs for why they specifically invest in a vCISO. The prominent roles vCISOs will play to help manage risk include: 

  • Focused Tactical: This tier is exclusively used for cybersecurity needs, often when an organization is in a transition phase for its cybersecurity leadership. A vCISO will perform service deliverables such as policy and control gap analysis’, policy reviews, action recommendations, and presentations to executives and other stakeholders.    
  • Broad Risk-Based: In this tier, a vCISO would expand on a focused tactical service package by reviewing all IT policies, conducting risk assessments, managing audits & risk management programs, and providing awareness training sessions to employees. This vCISO role is ideal for businesses looking to develop a cybersecurity strategy and roadmap to get there.  
  • Transformative Strategic: The most robust vCISO role is when organizations need consistent cybersecurity leadership and program management. In addition to creating the strategy, they take the lead in executing it and overseeing the compliance program, resource planning, and third-party security initiatives. Companies take this route when they need to build a program from scratch or undergo a massive transformation.   

Outcomes of Hiring a vCISO 

Depending on the role you want your vCISO to play in your organization, there are specific beneficial deliverables you can expect that make them worth the investment. In addition to the cost-friendliness and specialty expertise a vCISO offers, here are some specific outcomes that can positively impact your cybersecurity program:  

  • Updated Security Policies: After reviewing organizational policies, procedures, and governance structures for cybersecurity, a vCISO will find gaps and revise those policies.  
  • Sound Action Recommendations to Leadership: Based on an evaluation of a firm’s current and missing security controls, a vCISO will draft and present a plan for improvement recommendations to an organization’s executives.   
  • Quantitative Risk and Impact Assessments: A vCISO will run an in-depth risk and other assessments of an organization to determine vulnerabilities and the financial and operational impact of various threats or incidents.  
  • Streamlined Audit System: By understanding an organization from the inside out, a vCISO can develop an auditing system to self-evaluate the current state of a firm’s technology assets, IT architecture, and cybersecurity program. 
  • Action Plan with Roadmap: After a robust risk and security evaluation, a vCISO will provide the detailed action plan with scope, costs, and timelines needed to implement a specific strategy or framework.   
  • Robust Compliance Management Program: Through working with other legal teams and leaders responsible for ensuring data security, consumer privacy, or other regulatory compliance requirements, a vCISO will develop and help manage a firm’s compliance program. 
  • Process for Managing Third-Party Security Risk: Through understanding company procurement processes and security thresholds, a vCISO will develop a comprehensive system for managing vendor and third-party cybersecurity risks.  
  • Expert Cybersecurity Leadership: In addition to other deliverables, a vCISO will take the role of a leader for the organization to help executive its strategy, manage its cybersecurity program, develop and maintain a resource strategy for the workforce and budget planning, and collaborate with other stakeholders such as the board of directors.     

Find Your vCISO with Ascension Global Technology  

Navigating the cybersecurity and compliance landscape can be tricky, especially for businesses that lack proper resources and expertise. Ascension Global Technology proudly partners with top-quality security software vendors and expert service providers, including virtual CISOs, to find a holistic cybersecurity solution for your organization based on the role you want them to play.  
Contact us today to learn how we can help you start developing or enhancing your cybersecurity program. Also, be sure to check out our blog for updated news and insights on the world of cybersecurity.

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"AGT" offers complete end-to-end security protection through technology tools, cybersecurity strategy, consulting, and project management services. From addressing specific security gaps to a full environment cybersecurity strategy. With services designed to improve any organization’s overall organizational security posture, AGT develops strategies to implement and deploy successful cybersecurity solutions to protect companies from data and financial loss.