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The Value of a Virtual CISO During the Pandemic

Businesses Can Now Hire a Chief information Security Officer On a Part-Time or Virtual Basis

The Chief Information Security Officer in any organization has many responsibilities.In the digital age, with its stockpiles of data and rampant cybercrime, every enterprise has a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) on permanent staff. This important C-level executive is responsible for bringing experienced leadership and strategy to the management of an organization’s cybersecurity risks and for safeguarding the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of its information assets.

Large national and global companies have the advantage of full-time CISOs and teams of Information Security professionals. On the other hand, small to medium-sized companies (SMBs) often lack the resources, or even the need, for a full-time CISO. However, this doesn’t mean that SMBs cannot or should not enjoy the value and benefits of a CISO.

Just What Is a Virtual CISO (VCISO)?

Let’s begin by defining the role of a standard Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) in a large organization. This C-suite executive has many responsibilities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Establishing and maintaining the enterprise vision, strategy, and programs supporting information security and information technologies.
  • Directing staff in identifying, developing, implementing, and maintaining processes across the organization to reduce risks to information and related systems, tools, and technologies.
  • Responding to incidents, establishing appropriate standards and controls, managing security technologies, and directing the development and implementation of policies and procedures.
  • Ensuring compliance with regulations and frameworks governing information security and privacy. These may include ISO-IEC 27001, NIST-CSF, CMMC, SOC-SSAE 18, and SOX as well as other industry-specific regulations and frameworks, such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and GLBA.
  • Protecting the organization’s proprietary information, intellectual property, and data assets, including data related to clients, consumers, employees, partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

A virtual CISO is available by phone, email, or person visitA virtual Chief Information Security Officer is a strategic and well-designed hybrid. A vCISO works with multiple businesses on a third-party or contract basis. His or her role is to provide all of the cybersecurity support that a permanent, inhouse CISO would normally supply, but in accordance with a different and more affordable service model.

A vCISO is a part-time security executive who is available to organizations by phone, by email, or by personal visit, as needed. The payment model may be metered, where you pay by the hour for time used, or subscription-based, where your vCISO is on retainer for a flat monthly or annual fee. It’s a creative solution with a lot of benefits.


The Benefits are Numerous

There are many advantages of using a virtual Chief Information Security Officer, or vCISO, for your business.

  1. No Payroll. The primary advantage is in enabling you to understand, achieve, and maintain a security posture that meets applicable compliance requirements and cybersecurity and information security protocols—without having to invest in a full-time executive-level salary and perks. A vCISO may be available on a per-hour or per-day basis or on some type of retainer arrangement based on a certain number of hours contracted per month. Whatever the scenario, you pay only for what you need.
  2. Ready Access. Having a vCISO on hand provides you with access to proven security expertise exactly when you need it. There’s no reason to wait for days to have a question answered or a problem addressed, because your vCISO is at your fingertips—a phone call or email away. They know you, and you know them, in a relationship of trust and confidentiality.
  3. Expert Guidance. A vCISO provides executive-level guidance over important activities that you or your on-staff specialist may perform. These may include working to install recommended security safeguards, implement required compliance measures, develop mandatory policies and procedures, train and retrain employees, and document your security and compliance programs. This helps you avoid missteps based on your own inexperience and ensures that your program receives expert oversight and guidance.
  4. Avoid Unnecessary Costs. Implementing cybersecurity and compliance programs on your own requires a financial investment in software, hardware, and other necessary tools. Using a vCISO can avoid some of these expenses, since your vCISO will be able to provide a variety of security and compliance services on a third-party or outsourced basis. You’re also much less likely to incur unnecessary expenses when you leverage expert assistance in deciding which tools to purchase or lease.
  5. Help With Incidents. No one ever believes that their network will be hacked, their data stolen, or their integrity compromised. But cybercriminals have become more aggressive than ever in their exploits during the pandemic. When you do experience a data breach or other security incident, your vCISO will be there to help in numerous ways. Depending on compliance requirements, public or private breach notifications and offers of free credit monitoring may be needed. Actions to remediate the causes of the breach will be required. Your vCISO can also help you address potential incidents proactively by developing an effective incident response management plan.
  6. Regulatory Interpretation. Businesses of all types and sizes are subject to an increasing complex web of regulatory compliance requirements. For a small or mid-size business with limited resources, it can be an overwhelming task to try to interpret laws such as HIPAA and HITECH in the healthcare industry, GLBA and FFIEC in the financial industry, PCI DSS in the credit card industry, CMMC in defense contracting, and more generic but universal regulations like NIST, GDPR, ISO, SOX and others. Your vCISO is an expert in regulatory compliance across a variety of industries and knows the letter of the law as well as its intent. There’s no need for you to attend to the myriad details as long as you understand which regulations apply to your business and why compliance is so important.
  7. Security Best Practices. For business owners and executives who already wear many hats, knowing the latest best practices for robust security takes time and energy away from your core business. A vCISO bridges the gap, working on your behalf to develop a complete security roadmap for you to follow, and assisting in its efficient implementation.
  8. Protecting Business Assets. In addition to equipment, inventory, and human assets, your information assets are invaluable and irreplaceable. You know intuitively that protecting customer data, patient information, payroll and personnel data, and intellectual property is vitally important. The cost of losing or compromising that data can be astronomical. When you don’t have time to figure out how to protect your data assets, your vCISO is the perfect resource to handle it for you. And you’ll rest easier knowing it’s been done properly.

When to Use a vCISO

If you are a small or mid-size business, you are a candidate for vCISO services any time you need them. But even regional, national, and global enterprises can leverage vCISO services in specific ways or for targeted purposes.

For example, it makes sense to use a vCISO when:

  • You have no inhouse cybersecurity expertise.
  • Inhouse security staff lack certain areas of security or compliance expertise.
  • You do not have a knowledgeable professional to manage inhouse security staff.
  • You have just experienced a data breach or security incident.
  • You have been fined or otherwise penalized for regulatory non-compliance.
  • You need help fleshing out your cybersecurity and compliance program.
  • Inhouse security professionals are preparing to go on leave or vacation.
  • Inhouse security professionals are being reassigned to special projects.
  • Your organization is searching for a permanent CISO.

There may be other circumstances in which a part-time or virtual CISO makes good sense. Can you think of a few?


A vCISO Can Perform These Services For You

One of the primary values of a virtual CISO is their ability to adapt roles and services to meet each client’s specific needs. Every company is different, and any single organization may have different needs at different times.

Following are some of the services a virtual CISO may perform for any business or organization.

  • Provide professional, experienced leadership in cybersecurity and compliance.vCISO services include developing a security control framework to protect information assets
  • Develop a game plan for implementing and maintaining a robust, complete cybersecurity program, and oversee its implementation.
  • Develop a security control framework for cybersecurity and information technology.
  • Develop a security risk management program, including policies, procedures, and other documentation.
  • Oversee an annual security risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and gaps in current security safeguards.
  • Guide the remediation of those vulnerabilities and gaps.
  • Develop an incident response plan to prepare the organization to cope with a data breach or security incident.
  • Ensure a collaborative environment for inhouse security and IT employees, and ensure checks and balances are in place.
  • Liaise with security partners, suppliers, subcontractors, and government agencies on behalf of the organization.
  • Serve as security advisor and consultant to executive management and the Board of Directors, including presenting reports and recommendations.

Clearly, the value of a vCISO is both broad and deep, with many different services to enrich your business based on your immediate and longer-term needs.

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Chief Information Security Officers are strategic C-level executives at large organizations. At smaller organizations, the same value and services are available through the use of a part-time or virtual CISO.

Large organizations can use vCISOs to round out their cybersecurity programs, obtain expert strategic guidance, and ensure continuity during executive staffing gaps. Smaller businesses can use vCISOs to assist them in implementing effective security safeguards, managing inhouse security and IT staff, responding to data breaches, remediating security risks, and addressing numerous other needs.

In addition to being highly cost-effective, a virtual CISO is highly flexible, with the ability to easily adapt roles and services to meet each client’s specific needs.

If you’re unsure whether a vCISO is the right solution for your needs, ask us about a trial program.

Sanjay Deo
Sanjay Deo

Sanjay Deo is the President and Founder of 24by7Security Inc. Sanjay holds a Master's degree in Computer Science from Texas A&M University, and is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Healthcare Information Security and Privacy Practitioner (HCISPP), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) and PCI Qualified Security Assessor (QSA). Sanjay is also a co-chair on the CISO council and Technology Sector Chief at FBI InfraGard South Florida Chapter. In 2022 Sanjay was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President of the United States. Subscribe to the 24by7Security blog to learn more from Sanjay.

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