As technology, software, and AI become deeply ingrained in our everyday operations, cybersecurity threats are on the rise and the need for cybersecurity roles has magnified. One emerging vital role is that of a vCISO or Virtual Chief Information Security Officer. But what is a vCISO and what do they do, exactly?
In this guide, we’ll explain the roles and responsibilities of a virtual CISO and help you decide if hiring a vCISO is the right move for your business.
What is a vCISO (Virtual CISO)?
A vCISO, or Virtual Chief Information Security Officer, is an outsourced version of a traditional CISO. They’re highly-skilled cybersecurity experts hired to manage and lead an organization’s information security program remotely or on a contract basis.
Operating remotely, a virtual CISO provides high-level cybersecurity expertise, guidance, and hands-on support to organizations. It’s also typical that a vCISO acts as a virtual member of an organization’s executive team, working closely with the board of directors, executive management, and security teams.
With a deep understanding of business objectives, industry standards, and security practices, a vCISO combines cybersecurity expertise and industry experience to help organizations develop and implement effective security strategies, establish security controls, assess and manage risks, and ensure regulatory compliance. By providing expertise and guidance on a flexible basis, vCISOs enable organizations to enhance their security posture and protect themselves from a wide range of cyber threats.
Historically, organizations would have an in-house Chief Information Security Officer to manage cybersecurity. However, the rapidly changing landscape of cybersecurity threats, coupled with the varying compliance and security needs of businesses, led to the birth of the vCISO role.
What Does a vCISO Do?
Acting as the linchpin between strategy and execution, a vCISO wears multiple hats—advisor, strategist, and guardian—to ensure that an organization’s digital assets remain impenetrable and compliant with all security and privacy regulations.
Every organization has a unique set of cybersecurity and compliance requirements. Depending on the level of support an organization requires, a vCISO typically performs a strategic combination of the following tasks to help a business achieve compliance and maintain a strong security posture.
Strategic Security Planning
At the heart of a vCISO’s responsibilities is devising a security strategy that aligns with the organization’s business goals. After learning which technology and assessing the company’s business demands, risks, and data security requirements, a vCISO can identify potential vulnerabilities, create defense mechanisms, and ensure the business remains resilient against threats.
Risk Assessment and Risk Management
Every business has its unique risks. A vCISO conducts thorough risk assessments, prioritizes threats, and crafts a detailed plan to mitigate them. Their insights are rooted in industry knowledge, best practices, and cybersecurity expertise.
Compliance and Regulatory Oversight
With ever-evolving global data protection regulations, companies need to be on their toes. The vCISO ensures that the organization is not only compliant today but stays ahead of upcoming regulatory changes.
Incident Response Management
Despite best efforts, breaches can happen. A vCISO ensures that the organization has a solid incident response plan in place. When the inevitable occurs, they take charge, handle threats, and minimize damage.
Security Awareness Training Programs
Cybersecurity isn’t just about tools and policies; it’s about people. The vCISO fosters a security-first culture, organizing regular training sessions to ensure every team member is a line of defense.
Addressing Stakeholder Security Requests
When B2B organizations sell their software to other companies, they need to prove that they have a solid security posture before they can secure new business. Naturally, potential clients, business partners, and investors that value security want to work with companies that have the right policies and procedures in place to meet all compliance standards and regulations. A vCISO can assist in these conversations and take care of lengthy security questionnaires to speed up the sales cycle, attract investment, and win new business.
“The emerging digital ecosystem is treacherous. In our current digital environment, every company is now a reachable target, and every company, large or small, has operations, brand, reputation, and revenue pipelines that are potentially at risk from a breach.”
— Chuck Brooks, Cybersecurity Expert
Cybersecurity Trends & Statistics For 2023; What You Need To Know
What are the Advantages of Hiring a vCISO?
Startups and small to medium enterprises can’t always afford the salaries of top-tier CISOs. A vCISO provides the same expertise without the traditional employment costs.
Check out Rhymetec’s vCISO pricing to compare.
External vCISOs come without legacy biases. Their fresh perspective can unveil vulnerabilities that might be overlooked internally.
A vCISO typically works with clients across a range of industries, whereas a CISO works with just one. Having insights into the issues that other businesses have faced at various inflection points can help a vCISO foresee issues that may arise in your business long before they are a consideration to your in-house team.
Some vCISOs and vCISO services specialize in a particular niche (for example, Rhymetec primarily works with SaaS companies and startups). This means they have current, firsthand experience in supporting the compliance and cybersecurity issues facing these organizations. If your organization is in the same niche, a vCISO can directly apply their niche expertise to your business, too.
Scalability and flexibility
Every organization’s cybersecurity needs to evolve as the business grows (a startup’s cybersecurity requirements are vastly different from those of an enterprise). vCISOs allow for scalability, adapting to changing requirements, without the need for a business to hire more in-house security experts.
Access to highly skilled cybersecurity expertise
With a vCISO, businesses can tap into a wealth of knowledge that might be otherwise out of reach.
Signs a vCISO is Right for Your Business
It can be tough to decide if your organization needs a vCISO or a full-time CISO on staff. Based on our experience, here are a few signs that indicate a vCISO is the right choice.
Your budget can’t accommodate a full-time CISO
According to Salary.com, the average Chief Information Security Officer salary in the United States is $238,428. If your budget doesn’t have enough room to accommodate the salary and the additional overhead that a CISO hire would bring to your organization, a vCISO is your best bet.
You only need help with a specific task or skill set
Many organizations don’t need the full range of CISO or vCISO services. Instead, they have a specific goal—for example, implementing a specific compliance framework like SOC 2 or ISO 27001—or they need someone with a specific skill set.
In this scenario, hiring a vCISO on a short-term basis is far more efficient than training in-house employees or onboarding new employees to your organization.
Your team needs cybersecurity mentorship and guidance
If your employees don’t need a full-time leader (e.g. a CISO) right now, but they could benefit from the mentorship and input of an experienced cybersecurity expert, hiring a vCISO to provide strategy, set goals, and conduct training exercises can be a great way to guide and develop your team.
If this sounds like it could be helpful for you, check out Rhymetec’s vCISO services and Mentorship plan.
You need a cybersecurity expert to get you started
Getting started with cybersecurity is a huge project that involves introducing policies, procedures, guidelines, and standards. Because vCISOs work with multiple organizations, they can bring a level of knowledge and efficiency to this process that a traditional CISO (a full-time employee that focuses on a single organization at a time) cannot.
An experienced virtual CISO can quickly analyze your organization’s cybersecurity and compliance needs and implement a comprehensive InfoSec Program that meets your organization’s needs. That’s why Rhymetec vCISOs are able to help companies achieve compliance in months, not years.
You don’t have enough work for a full-time CISO
If you’re not sure if you have enough work for an in-house CISO to handle, hiring a vCISO to assess your organization’s needs and create an InfoSec Program is a smart way to make the decision. With a vCISO laying this groundwork, you’ll have better visibility into your needs, and it should be clear whether a vCISO or a full-time CISO is the right choice for completing the work.
You’re an early-stage startup
Startups typically benefit from hiring a vCISO, because it’s cheaper than hiring a full-time CISO, and a vCISO’s services are scalable, meaning the level of support a vCISO provides can grow in line with the startup’s trajectory.
If you still need some help with this decision, schedule a call with a Rhymetec security advisor. We’ll discuss your organization’s current needs and help you decide what’s best: a full-time CISO or vCISO.
“With the number and severity of cyberattacks growing daily, software-as-a-service (SaaS) organizations are under pressure to ensure their defense protocols can withstand threats. The SaaS marketplace, projected to expand by almost 26% CAGR by 2028, is a focus area for cyber defense concerns. For new SaaS startups entering the market, getting regulatory compliance in the industry they intend to serve is vital to show competence.”
— Metin Kortak, CTO, Rhymetec
How SaaS Startups Can Overcome Regulatory Compliance Challenges
vCISO vs CISO: What’s the Difference?
A vCISO is typically a seasoned expert who offers guidance and leadership in cybersecurity without being a full-time, on-site employee, whereas a CISO is a full-time employee that works on-site. The virtual approach offered by vCISOs provides companies, especially startups and SMEs, the flexibility to get top-tier cybersecurity advice without the overhead and (typically high!) salary of a full-time executive.
Why are vCISOs Becoming So Popular?
A rise in cyberattacks and rapid changes to data privacy regulations has made cybersecurity a top priority for companies of all sizes. Especially now, as organizations and startups are building their software in the cloud. Despite this, a global shortage of skilled workers in the cybersecurity space is making it difficult for companies to address compliance.
ISACA’s State of Cybersecurity 2022 report stated that 62% of organizations feel they are understaffed in terms of cybersecurity professionals. The report also found that 60% of organizations have trouble holding onto qualified cybersecurity staff. Understandably, the urgent need for cybersecurity leadership and expertise is driving the demand for vCISOs worldwide.
While the challenges are many, the solutions, especially with a vCISO on board, are effective, flexible, adaptable, and affordable. As threats evolve, so do defense mechanisms, and at the forefront of this evolution is the virtual CISO.
If you’re interested in working with a Rhymetec vCISO, schedule a call with our team.
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