Virtual CISO: What’s the Benefit?

Nicholas Foisy
Dec 13, 2019 3:30:48 PM

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is a vital role within most organizations. Tasked with establishing and maintaining the organizational vision, strategy, and program to ensure information technology assets are adequately protected, this individual is often your primary defense against data breaches and malware infections. With this heightened responsibility often comes high salaries and expectations. Over the past decade, many organizations have made the choice to utilize a virtual CISO (vCISO) to either fill this role or compliment their current CISO. A virtual CISO is an outsourced security practitioner or firm that offers their security professionals to fill your CISO role, typically utilizing more than one individual and operating on a remote, part-time basis. Compass IT Compliance offers this solution and currently fills a virtual CISO role for many clients across the US. We’ve witnessed a sharp rise in virtual CISOs over the past decade due to the numerous benefits the solution offers. Those benefits include:

Lower Costs

The first and most significant benefit to a virtual CISO is the cost savings. Full-time traditional CISOs hold a senior role within the organization, answer to the executive board, and often command six-figure salaries for their position. There’s also the additional cost of the search and hiring process for such an experienced individual, especially if you work with recruiters. While virtual CISO costs can vary based on your needs, on average they will cost 30% - 40% less than a traditional CISO annually and require none of the full-time staff benefits. The costs of a virtual CISO also tend to decrease over time as the virtual CISO will spend more hours in the beginning analyzing the IT security situation and standing up various policies and procedures. Most engagements will then enter a sort of maintenance mode requiring less hours, and as a result less cost to the organization. This contrasts with a traditional CISO, who will certainly not be okay with his or her salary being decreased just because there is less work to do.

More Collective Expertise

As previously mentioned, most virtual CISO roles are provided by firms who will utilize a number of security professionals on their staff to fulfill the client organization’s CISO needs. Here at Compass IT Compliance, our team of IT security, audit, and compliance professionals are always on standby, ready to respond to client requests. Our professionals hold numerous certifications such as CISSP, CISM, CISA, and have experience with most relevant standards, frameworks, and regulations such as NIST, PCI-DSS, HIPAA. They’ve previously worked in a wide variety of industries, and some of them have previously held CISO roles themselves and presented to executive boards in the past. There are few security challenges this team can’t overcome. All this collective experience comes with the team approach of a virtual CISO and is a benefit you will not get with a traditional one-person full-time CISO.

No Conflict of Interest

When you hire a full-time CISO, that individual becomes a member of your staff. They integrate themselves with the coworkers, systems, and culture around them. This is certainly a benefit as you’d want your staff to integrate themselves and feel a part of your work family, but for a CISO this can also create situations of conflict of interest or bias. A CISO might be inclined to always agree with an executive’s IT security recommendations to keep them happy. A virtual CISO will have less fear of disagreement with executives, as their paycheck is signed by the provider firm and not the client organization. Many organizations without CISOs will throw security responsibilities on the CIO or IT Manager. This will also create conflicts of interest as these individuals usually see speed and ease of IT functionality as high priority goals and might make security decisions based on this only. Finally, your existing CISO may be biased towards solutions they’ve used in the past. Prior experience should certainly be considered, but in some cases a CISO may overlook a superior security solution in favor of the one they know and have previously used. With a virtual CISO, you have a team of professionals, all with their own prior experiences and thoughts on solutions. Their collective decision-making will result in less bias towards one solution or another, and more focus on the best possible solutions.

Faster Onboarding

As mentioned in the first point, if you’re an organization without a CISO or one who is in between CISOs, there will be a cost and time required to find a new individual for this role. After reviewing dozens of applications, vetting candidates, and negotiating salary, that individual may also need some training on your programs and environment. With a virtual CISO, the onboarding costs and times are often far less. The virtual CISO firm has professionals on standby, ready to hit the ground running. In most cases the firm will also be able to provide resumes and certifications for all staff participating in the virtual CISO role. The virtual CISO may also require less training as they hold a greater amount of collective experience with various environments and programs.

Staffing and Budget Flexibility

Not only are virtual CISOs much faster to implement, but they are also extremely scalable. You may want to budget for a certain amount of weekly hours in Q1, then scale down the weekly hours in Q2. A full-time CISO won’t be likely to agree to such fluctuations in compensation, but this is one of the many benefits to a virtual CISO. You can pay as you go for the hours and responsibilities you need. You might only need them while you’re in between your previous CISO leaving and a new hire coming on. They also carry no complications associated with termination. You can easily end the engagement without the troubles you’d face when letting go a full-time staff member.

Resources Already Created

One of the most overlooked benefits to a virtual CISO is the resources they bring with them. In the case of Compass IT Compliance, we hold a library of documents and tools to immediately implement within your organization. Such tools have already been tested in real world environments. These include but are not limited to: policies and procedures, vendor risk management, business continuity plan testing, incident response plans, asset management, etc. All these tools would require time and effort for a new CISO to create.

Filling Out Security Questionnaires

Chances are if you’ve ever worked in an IT security role, you’ve dealt with a security questionnaire in some capacity. These questionnaires are sent to an organization by customers or partners to ensure they are working with a firm who will properly protect their data. With the rise in vendor-related breaches, these questionnaires are becoming more common across all industries. These documents often include dozens to hundreds of questions regarding your organization’s IT security controls and practices and can also require plenty of follow up clarification questions to the sender. All you may already know, these questionnaires can be very time consuming. A virtual CISO can come in and take over the responsibility of responding to such questionnaires, saving your team valuable time and effort and potentially freeing up your existing CISO for more urgent projects.

The CISO role is extremely vital to the success of any organization in today’s constantly evolving technological landscape. With the emergence of virtual CISO solutions, organizations can now customize their CISO role to have significantly lower costs, greater control over spending, access to a team of professionals with various backgrounds, faster onboarding, complimentary efforts to existing staff, no conflicts of interest or bias, and more eyes watching over the security of your organization. These solutions are best suited for small and medium sized organizations, though large organizations could benefit from the additional support as well. Contact us today to learn more about virtual CISO solutions, pricing, and if it’s the right fit for your organization!

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