In an era where cybercrime is on the rise, one of the most critical roles to a company’s safety is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). However, as businesses continue to seek outsourced solutions for all matters of information technology (IT) and cybersecurity, many are turning to external, virtual CISOs (vCISO) to oversee company IT. Given the central position and wide-reaching influence of a company’s CISO, virtual CISO advantages for executives extend well beyond analogous benefits and ROI of other managed IT services.
Top Virtual CISO Advantages For Executives
For years, evidence has mounted that CISOs may belong in the C-suite of a company and report directly to the CEO to maximize their ability to protect a company. But when virtual CISOs are part of the company’s external team, how can you ensure executives’ time is not wasted?
In short: a vCISO is not a compromise.
In this article, we’ll break down four significant advantages a virtual CISO provides to executives:
- Savings and value compared to a traditional, internal CISO
- The most current, complex, and powerful safeguards available
- Optimal flexibility and scalability, compared to internal CISO
- Enhanced security from an objective, unbiased perspective
But first, let’s define some basic terms, establishing what exactly a virtual CISO is, what to expect from a virtual CISO, and the related suite of services from a managed IT service provider.
What is a Virtual CISO, and Do You Need One?
A virtual CISO is an individual or team of experts contracted on a part-time or as-needed basis to run its CISO role. As a company grows in size and becomes a more attractive target for cybercrime, the need for robust IT and cybersecurity measures grows accordingly.
Management of these services requires leadership up top, not just from a CIO (chief information officer) but a CISO. Thus, all companies will need a CISO, whether right at startup or soon afterward, to cover three main areas of cyberdefense:
- Security awareness – Comprising institutional awareness of all cyber assets, processes, and associated risks, along with training and understanding of personnel
- Security advisory – Comprising initial planning, design, and implementation of protections, then proactive and corrective measures to keep defenses running smoothly
- Incident response – Comprising both planning for and real-time execution of incident management, mitigating damage and maximizing the recovery of compromised resources
While a traditional, internal CISO can certainly deliver on these functions, there are four main reasons a virtual CISO can make your life as an executive significantly easier.
Advantage #1: Savings vs. Traditional CISO
The first and arguably most significant advantage of hiring a vCISO rather than an internal CISO has to do with the bottom line — a virtual CISO tends to be significantly cheaper. This is mainly because of each position’s nature, as an internal CISO is a full-time employee. In contrast, a vCISO is hired on a part-time basis and may be contracted on retainer or paid sporadically.
According to data from Salary.com, traditional CISO salaries break down as follows:
- The average annual base salaries fall between $168,599 and $288,365 dollars.
- The median annual salary is $222,499 dollars, and $270,950 with bonuses included.
- The median total annual compensation, accounting for all benefits, is $354,851 dollars.
A big part of why these salaries are so high is the expertise required to oversee security from a C-suite or C-adjacent level. In contrast, virtual CISOs can be expected to cost as little as 30 to 40 percent of these figures, per CSO Online’s breakdown of when and how to hire a vCISO.
Value Beyond Upfront Virtual CISO Costs
As the breakdown above clarifies, the actual salary paid to a traditional, internal CISO is far from the only reason they cost as much as they do. In addition to salary, you need to account for benefits, talent retention (i.e., bonuses and perks), and the necessary recruitment costs to source another hire. Once hired, CISOs will also incur charges by demanding robust staffing and other infrastructure budgets, including training and insurance for their staff. As such, your effective costs will tend to increase gradually over time with a traditional, internal CISO.
On the other hand, with a virtual CISO, your costs are likely to diminish over time. Work done initially will be more intensive as the vCISO, and their team reviews your company’s IT architecture. But once that preparation is complete, on-demand services are likely to be less expensive.
Advantage #2: Deep, Comprehensive Defenses
Your CISO is in charge of all elements of your company’s cybersecurity. At the most basic level, that means planning out and executing your company’s entire architecture implementation. It’s easy to assume that a vCISO couldn’t be trusted with such a foundational set of responsibilities.
But a capable external service provider can construct your entire defense program, integrating it across all your physical and digital assets and systems. These include but are not limited to:
- Perimeter security, including endpoint management for all hardware and software
- Cloud infrastructure, safeguarding assets hosted outside your physical perimeter
- Network architecture, for all wireless and other networks your company hosts
- Firewalls and proactive web screening to mitigate incoming malware risks
- Mobile device management for smart and internet of things (IoT) devices.
The external service provider gives you access to the most robust technologies, often at bulk pricing that would not be available to your company if purchased by a traditional, internal CISO.
Short- and Long-Term Compliance and Security
One of the most critical cybersecurity infrastructure and architecture construction elements ensures compliance and certification with all pertinent regulatory guidelines. These differ by industry, and many companies are beholden to multiple frameworks at once.
One of the most common frameworks is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for healthcare and adjacent companies (doctors and clearinghouses). The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) for companies that process credit card data and companies seeking Department of Defense contracts must become CMMC-certified.
Regardless of which frameworks (if any) your company needs to adhere to, it may need to build up additional protections in the future. This brings us to the next significant advantage:
Advantage #3: Scalability and Flexibility
A key element of cybersecurity for growing companies building their strategic partnership networks is third-party risk management (TPRM). Virtual CISOs, as third-party vendors or service providers themselves, are uniquely positioned to implement a strong TPRM program.
A robust and vCISO-backed TPRM program that scales up with your company needs to include:
- Onboarding, screening, and ongoing management of vendors and suppliers
- Assessment, analysis, and mitigation of third party vulnerabilities
- Integration with internal risk management and compliance
- Application programming interface (API) optimization
- Customization of partner-facing communications
Risks facing your company compound with each strategic partner you bring in, from straightforward SaaS (software as a service) to other vendors and suppliers. Each one of these businesses harbors its risks and vulnerabilities from their own extended networks.
A TPRM program can be conducted by internal personnel, with direction from a traditional CISO. But, as with other services detailed in this guide, a vCISO offers greater efficiency.
Benefits of Advanced Cybersecurity Measures
As briefly touched on above, external service providers you can contract to handle your CISO functionality offer some of the most robust cybersecurity services, often for a fraction of what your company would pay if purchasing them on your own. This is particularly important for the most intricate measures, like ethical hacking, known as penetration testing.
Penetration testing is a way to bolster your defenses by understanding how a cybercriminal would target your company. An external or “black hat” attack measures how a hacker would infiltrate your defenses, while an internal or “white hat” attack focuses more on what they can do once inside. Hybrid, “grey hat” attacks combine elements of both for the most comprehensive analysis. And in any case, a virtual CISO can easily connect with the pen tester or even conduct the pen test themselves.
Advantage #4: Unbiased, Objective Insights
As penetration testing illustrates, an outside perspective can be beneficial in the most advanced cyberdefense measures. But outsiders’ insights are valuable in all elements of cybersecurity, including the most basic. Internal personnel face inherent conflicts of interest at a fundamental level concerning an accurate analysis of cybersecurity risks and incidents.
For example, consider the following scenarios facing an internal CISO and their staff:
- Biases or insider knowledge clouds judgment, leading to gaps in protection
- Personal dynamics engender favors and a relaxed approach to important rules
- Cybersecurity risks go undetected and are later revealed through an external audit
In any of these cases, a CISO or staff member may conclude it’s in their best interest to misrepresent their own oversights. If retaining their current position or advancing within the company is contingent upon performance, there may be real consequences for their errors.
In contrast, a virtual CISO with no concern for advancement within the company doesn’t have any ulterior motivations. In fact, their reputation depends upon the security results delivered to the client.
Hidden Risks of (Lacking) Internal Accountability
Virtual CISOs and external IT service providers don’t just mitigate the risk of poor performance and incentives. They also reduce the much more significant risks of internal actors intentionally working from within to compromise your security.
According to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 22 percent of data breach and cybersecurity incidents surveyed in 2020 involved errors or misuse. However, 30 percent of all attacks involved internal actors. While the belief that the majority of attacks come from within may be inaccurate, the fact that nearly a third do is cause for concern.
This begs the question: what internal personnel are better positioned to compromise your resources than your CISO and their staff? Since they have ultimate control over your defenses from within, they have the most opportunities to exploit them.
A vCISO minimizes these risks.
What to Look for in a vCISO Partner
Given the advantages highlighted above, opting for a vCISO over a traditional, internal CISO offers optimum ROI for most companies. But not all virtual CISO partners are created equal; certain service providers are a better fit for your company than others.
You need to know what you’re looking for when shopping around and comparing offers. There are six main requirements you should expect a quality vCISO partner to fulfill:
- Comprehensive, real-time cybersecurity operations
- Proactive risk management, including root cause analysis
- Overall cybersecurity architecture design and implementation
- Loss prevention, including training of all other personnel
- Compliance with all applicable regulatory frameworks
- Identity, authentication, and access management
RSI Security’s robust suite of virtual CISO services meets and exceeds these requirements. When you contract with RSI Security, you aren’t just hiring one expert; you’re entrusting your CISO role to a talented team of experts who have provided these services, to businesses of all sizes across different industries, for over a decade.
Robust vCISO and Cyberdefense Solutions
Executives know how critical cybersecurity is to the short- and long-term health of a company. And ultimately, the only way to ensure your IT and cybersecurity run smoothly is through a CISO. Using a virtual CISO is more efficient in terms of upfront and logistical costs, offers the most robust and flexible security, and mitigates internal solutions’ hidden risks.
Given all the virtual CISO advantages detailed above, your company will benefit from RSI Security’s vCISO services. We’ll work with your existing IT team to tailor our services to your needs and means. To see how robust and efficient your CISO and overall cybersecurity can be, contact RSI Security today.