What is a virtual CISO (vCISO): How Growing Orgs Can Scale Their Security Program

Anwita

Anwita

Jan 09, 2024


In a 2023 report by IBM on the cost of a data breach, researchers found that appointing a CISO can help reduce the possible financial loss due to an incident to a large extent. Organizations that appointed a CISO saved $130,086 on average compared to those without a CISO in place per incident. This clearly shows that the cost of appointing a CISO is marginal compared to the growing risk of continuing without having the right team in place. 

However, for bootstrapped startups or even growing companies paying competitive salaries for a CISO can be unfeasible, this is where vCISOs or virtual CISOs can help. They provide much the same services as their onsite counterparts but often engage with multiple firms and can offer a fractional timeshare to help you meet security goals while not having to bear the full cost of a CISO salary. 

Is a vCISO or virtual CISO the right bet for your company, read on to find out. 

What is virtual CISO (vCISO)?

A virtual chief information security officer or vCISO is an external information administrator who plans, manages, implements, maintains, develops, and communicates security programs.

Virtual CISO consultants can be described as CISO-as-a-service solutions. You can hire independent experts or from a managed security service provider (MSSP). A vCISO may work for multiple clients or work part-time for a high profile client. A virtual chief information security officer or vCISO is an external information administrator who plans, manages, implements, maintains, develops, and communicates security programs.

Benefits of vCISOs versus Traditional CISOs

vCISO services offer the much-needed industry experience to mitigate a broad range of security threats, manage cybersecurity incidents, comply with privacy regulations, and implement an effective cybersecurity program similar to traditional counterparts but at a fraction of the cost, here are the key benefits you should expect while hiring a Virtual CISO.

Cost considerations

Despite the changing outlook that increasingly prioritizes security as a growth factor, most upper management folks are reluctant to carve a large budget for security. vCISOs are your easy solution to the cost problem. This is because hiring an internal team for any organization can be prohibitive. vCISOs offer the same expertise and services at a significantly lower cost.

Compliance adherence:

If you process, manage, access, or transmit sensitive customer information, one or more privacy and security frameworks may be essential to your business. In many cases, security certifications are the deal breaker to onboard bigger customers and grow your business. However, implementing and managing compliance frameworks are easier said than done as navigating the confusing clauses and subclauses, controls needed, and continuous updates can be exhausting without the right expertise and guidance. This is where a vCISO can be a huge boost to your compliance adherence and can save you time and money while chasing your next compliance. 

Sprinto takes away the burden (and the burnout) of figuring out security compliances with pre-approved, auditor-grade compliance programs you can launch in a matter of clicks.

  • Adaptive automation capabilities do the job of organizing, nudging, and capturing evidence
  • Tasks are populated in a tiered manner and organized according to compliance and audit priorities.
  • Seamlessly integrates with your cloud setup to consolidate risk, map entity-level controls, and run fully automated checks

Also check: 7 Best Compliance Automation Tools in 2024

Crisis management

Expanding on the previous point, the need for a security administrator’s expertise is not limited to compliance. vCISOs also evaluate your security posture to continuously increase its resilience against breaches. If an incident occurs, you need an expert perspective to assess it, figure out the next steps, ensure business continuity, and investigate it further a Virtual CISO can help you minimize the chance of a breach and the fallout if one exists. 

vCISO Responsibilities: How To Measure vCISO Success? 

vCISOs help you mitigate a wide range of cyber risks, assess the threat landscape, implement the right security controls, create security policies and win compliances for your business. Here are a few ways you can measure the success of your engagement: 

Operational resilience

Security posture is not a one-time activity but a continuous process. Fortifying your security system consists of three main elements – threat detection, threat prevention, and incident response

Threat detection techniques help to identify anomalous behavior and malicious activities in the data flow that can potentially cause damage. Examples of detection functions include log analysis, altering, data loss prevention, SOC operations, data analytics, misconfiguration detection, and more. 

Threat prevention is the process of blocking potential threats at the entry point before it penetrates the system. Network firewalls, vulnerability management, anti-malware systems, DDoS prevention, and data encryption are some common prevention techniques. 

Incident response is the process by which security experts handle threats that have already penetrated the system to reduce its damage and restore normalcy. Response management methods include data breach preparation, forensic investigation, readiness assessment, periodic backups, and more.

Comprehensive Risk Monitoring & Mitigation

Security architecture

A cyber security architecture is the strategic design, methods, and principles of your security infrastructure that is planned to align with your security goals and business objectives. People, processes, and technology form the core components of a security architecture. These are interconnected by: 

  • The basic principles of security based on good practices (defense in depth, principle of least privilege, separation of duties, security by design, and keep it simple)
  • The security triad (integrity, availability, and confidentiality)
  • Identity and access management
  • Network, data, and application security
  • Endpoint security
  • Detection and response techniques

Compliance and audit success

Compliance success is a good barometer of how effective your vCISO is. A vCISO can help plan, select tools, assign roles, implement controls, continuously monitor them, and take corrective action necessary to win your next compliance. Ideally, your vCISO should help:

  • Establish policies and procedures
  • Monitor event logs
  • Maintain audit records
  • Ensure adequate system storage
  • Manage audit logging failures
  • Analyze, review, and report audit records
  • Implement an audit record reduction system
  • Generate timestamps
  • Protect audit information
  • Collect evidence

Risk management

Conducting risk assessments is an integral part of business continuity and improving the overall threat resilience. The end-to-end risk management process involves 

  • Conducting a vulnerability assessment to identify security gaps in your network, assets, and interfaces. Using cyber threat intelligence is a reliable method of identifying the sources. This is a continuous process that should surface the threats unique to your organization. 
  • Creating a comprehensive risk register that reflects the true state of your posture. Update and maintain the register as you scale. 
  • Scoring each risk based on the level of impact to understand if it should be accepted, mitigated, rejected, or transferred. Use industry benchmarks to assess its true impact rather than using guesswork. 
  • Implementing the right security measures and controls to address and minimize the likelihood of an incident. Continuously monitor the controls to ensure that you never fall out of compliance. 

Also Check,

Sprinto helps you add true resilience by leveraging risk intelligence. Learn more.

Identity management

Also called access control, identity management is all about limiting and allowing access to critical information based on the user’s role within the organization. It works on the principle of least privilege – a method that minimizes the amount of access to the bare minimum required to perform their functions. vCISOs use the following controls and processes to implement identity management: 

  • Password based authentication: The user will be required to enter a password, usually a combination of a permanent and a temporary or one-time use password (Multi Factor Authentication). 
  • Encryption: A process that scrambles data into unreadable code. Only an authorized personnel with a key can decrypt it into a readable format.
  • Policies: Create and maintain policies around who can access what, how much, the maximum number of login attempts after which per user, and more. 
  • Automation: Use an automated system to allocate access, revoke credentials, and scan the system for unauthorized access attempts and detect malicious behavior like changing credentials without admin permission. 

Want frictionless access management while staying compliant?  

Drawbacks of vCISOs versus Traditional CISOs 

vCISOs add a plethora of benefits as discussed above. However, they have several drawbacks compared to an internal executive team or full-time employee. Here are some of the disadvantages to consider. 

Reduced accountability:

Ideally, the upper management and board members should accept accountability for an incident. However, employing an external consultant creates an illusion of a shift of responsibility – assuming that the burden of managing and preventing incidents falls entirely on them. However, since the vCISO is effectively a consultant, they have less to lose from an incident as even in case of a ‘firing’ the financial and reputational risk to the consultant is less, than had they been a full time employee.

Multiple priorities:

External consultants usually work for multiple clients. While the likelihood of incidents occurring in two organizations simultaneously are low, it is never zero. In case such a scenario occurs, the consultant must prioritize either of the two. Since security incidents are time-sensitive, this can be a risk that you have to consider when employing any fractional employee. 

Loyalty and continuity:

Remote security administrators offering service to multiple clients may prioritize one client based on previous relationships or payment. Even the tools or services recommended by a vCISO can be based on if they have existing ties with the service provider. 

Hence there should be a clear cut contract between the company and the vCISO that details out terms and conditions, mode of engagement, minimum hours, response times and scope of work as well as responsibilities and obligation in case of termination of contract to ensure a smooth engagement. 

The Sprinto Way: Get Visibility Into vCISO/CISO Success 

Sprinto offers security automation and vCISO organizing tool all rolled into one. This tool connects with your cloud system to power security compliance programs by giving your security team complete control and visibility over risks and regulatory requirements. 

Here’s how it helps you launch an effective cybersecurity program:

  • Sprinto’s integrated risk management module runs on popular integrations and a risk library. It surfaces potential risks with high accuracy, evaluates them quantitatively against industry benchmarks, and scores the risks to help you understand the impact. 
  • Keeps everything organized, smooth, and running without you having to lift a finger. It automatically scans your system for security gaps, recommends corrective actions, and continuously collects evidence. 
  • Sprinto is an intelligent and intuitive security and compliance management solution that connects everything to a centralized dashboard to paint a high definition picture of progress, misses, risks, and much more. 
  • Access a team of in house security and compliance experts who support you from day one to implement the right controls, improve your cybersecurity posture, prevent non-compliance, and figure out the best solution for your organization.

FAQs

What is the difference between a CISO and a vCISO?

A regular or full-time CISO is usually an internal employee whereas a Virtual CISO is an external consultant who works on a contractual, remote basis and may cater to multiple clients. Both offer the same level of security expertise.

What are the three types of CISO?

Three types of security professionals are:

  • Strategic CISO
  • Technical CISO
  • Business Information Security Officer

How much does a vCISO service cost?

Depending on the type of business, location of operation, and services you opt for, you can expect to pay around $1,500 to $20,000 on a monthly basis.

Anwita

Anwita

Anwita is a cybersecurity enthusiast and veteran blogger all rolled into one. Her love for everything cybersecurity started her journey into the world compliance. With multiple certifications on cybersecurity under her belt, she aims to simplify complex security related topics for all audiences. She loves to read nonfiction, listen to progressive rock, and watches sitcoms on the weekends.

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