Organizations in every industry need to conduct regular risk assessments to identify both the vulnerabilities in their systems and threats that could exploit them. This is especially true if your organization’s regulatory frameworks also require assessments. Leveraging vCISO services is one of the best ways to optimize for sound cyberdefense governance.
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How vCISOs Impact Cyber Security Risk Assessment
A chief information security officer (CISO) is responsible for overseeing all cybersecurity measures within an organization, including information security risk assessments. A virtual CISO (vCISO) can optimize assessments and all other security matters, for several reasons:
- Sound internal governance minimizes internal risks while maximizing their visibility
- An experienced vCISO team brings unparalleled insights into external threat factors
- A vCISO will help put cyber risk assessment results to use in future risk prevention
- Risk assessments can be leveraged to meet the needs of regulatory frameworks
Best of all, vCISOs are full-scale teams available on an as-needed basis, providing these benefits at a fraction of the cost of traditional CISOs, who occupy positions on the c-suite.
Internal Vulnerabilities and Cyberdefense Governance
In most cybersecurity contexts, risk is generally defined as a relationship between vulnerabilities and threats. Namely, risk is an expression of how likely it is for a vulnerability to be exploited by a threat and how much harm is likely to occur if such an exploitation were to happen. To assess risk is, by definition, to asses these variables—which begins with identifying vulnerabilities. And vulnerabilities are best understood as absences of defense or weak points in your IT landscape.
CISOs can provide invaluable insights into an organization’s vulnerabilities since it is their responsibility to design, deploy, and manage the security infrastructure that accounts for them.
This is also true of vCISOs. In fact, they are often better prepared to identify vulnerabilities.
For example, consider a situation where your organization works with a vCISO team on security advisory and architecture implementation. The experts who help develop visibility and scanning mechanisms are in a uniquely apt position to leverage them and identify gaps and weaknesses across all your hardware and software. Not all vulnerabilities are internal, but a large proportion of them are. A vCISO will help you identify them and, ultimately, eliminate or minimize them.
The vCISO Difference in Identifying External Threats
The second major variable, threats, is equally critical to assessing and mitigating risk. Threats include both threat actors and threat vectors. Actors are individuals and groups that could harm your organization intentionally or unintentionally by exploiting a vulnerability. Vectors are the means by which they do so, including attack patterns and schemes used to infiltrate systems.
Most threats fall into one of two categories:
- External – These are attackers “outside” the organization, such as hacker groups, who utilize vectors like malware and social engineering scams to steal, destroy, or otherwise compromise sensitive information, typically for financial gain or competitive advantage.
- Internal – These are “insiders,” such as disgruntled current or former employees, who intentionally compromise information or pave the way for external attacks. On another level, there are threats related to negligence, which are unintentional but still dangerous.
Any CISO is expected to carry significant experience in external threat prevention, built up over years of assessing and mitigating threat actors and vectors within one sector, if not multiple.
But what distinguishes vCISOs in this regard is their capacity for a deeper and broader base of experience in threat identification and mitigation across a wide variety of contexts. A vCISO team typically comprises multiple cybersecurity experts who have worked in different industries, locations, and organizational settings. As a team, they’re better equipped to prevent threats of all kinds, but especially insidious ones that would be unexpected due to your specific context.
Mobilizing the Results of Cyber Risk Assessments
Risk assessments are not an end in and of themselves but one of many means needed to achieve effective cyberdefense. To that effect, vCISOs help organizations put their cyber risk assessments to use, integrating results into mitigation tactics commensurate to risks identified.
When your organization identifies vulnerabilities, that detection is only effective if it leads to swift elimination or minimization of the weaknesses in question. That work requires coordination between leadership and other stakeholders, including installing new controls, monitoring any new hardware and software, and training staff on how they can help. Working with a vCISO will help neutralize gaps in your infrastructure with near-immediate patch and update management.
Similarly, identifying threats is not the same as preparing for or preventing them. When an actor or vector is found, cyberdefenses need to be readied for a potential attack or breach. Practices like penetration testing can ensure that, even if an attack were to be launched, its chances of being effective—and the damage that could be caused—are as close as possible to zero.
A vCISO helps conduct risk assessments and then, critically, act upon their results.
In other words, a vCISO can turn a regular risk assessment into a much more comprehensive cyber security maturity assessment, accounting for risks and your capacity to navigate them.
Streamlining Regulatory Assessment Needs
Last but not least, vCISOs help organizations get the most out of cyber risk assessments by catering them to the specific needs of one or more regulatory compliance frameworks.
For example, risk assessments are commonly required in three regulatory contexts:
- Industry standards – Organizations that operate in or adjacent to industries with highly sensitive information may be subject to privacy or security requirements. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires regular risk assessments to detect and minimize threats to protected health information (PHI).
- Government regulations – There are also regulations that apply based on the location an organization operates within or where its clientele lives. For example, there are many state-level laws in the US, like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And, on a global scale, the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to any organization that collects EU residents’ personal data, irrespective of where that organization is headquartered. Both regulations require risk assessments.
- Operations-based requirements – Some regulatory frameworks apply on the basis of business operations, irrespective of industry or location. For example, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) applies to most organizations that process card payments. Risk assessments are required to protect cardholder data (CHD).
Working with a vCISO will help you conduct all the necessary risk assessments to achieve and maintain compliance with all applicable frameworks. Even more critically, they will help you minimize the overlap between their requirements and streamline your overall compliance.
Optimize Your Cyber Risk Assessments Today
Working with a CISO or vCISO is one of the best ways to get the most out of your cyber risk assessments. This is because CISOs leverage their deep and broad experience to identify both vulnerabilities and threats, then develop methods for dealing with them. The best CISOs will also help your organization optimize its regulatory requirements. A dedicated vCISO team offers all of the same functionality, if not more, often at a fraction of the cost of a traditional CISO.
RSI Security has provided vCISO and security program advisory services to organizations of every size and across every industry. Our advisory staff has compiled several decades’ worth of experience in detecting, preventing, and managing risks—beginning with thorough assessment.
To learn more about our suite of vCISO services and how they will help your organization optimize and mobilize your cyber security risk assessments, contact RSI Security today!