vCISO: a Solution for Small Businesses

Small organizations often lack a dedicated leader to manage their security and compliance needs. Learn how vCISOs can help.

Raised cybercrime and toughened compliance requirements prompt organizations to look for sophisticated information security leadership. The most rational and commonly accepted solution is hiring a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to manage organizations’ information security programs. Yet, an experienced CISO is a luxury, and not all businesses can afford it.

While large organizations and small/medium businesses (SMBs) face similar risks, the latter rarely have the financial capacity to hire and retain high-skilled security experts. At the same time, more than 43% of all security data breaches targeted small businesses, as U.S. Small Business Administration reports. To decrease the financial burden and ensure experienced cybersecurity leadership, businesses can hire a virtual CISO (vCISO). 

Who are vCISOs? 

Most large businesses hire a full-time CISO who is responsible and accountable for securing data and technical assets. 

The Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are charged with a wide range of duties such as creating an information security strategy and developing the organization’s security programs, conducting security risk assessments, implementing controls necessary to mitigate identified risks across the enterprise, ensuring the organization’s compliance with regulatory and contractual requirements. 

However, the abovementioned duties sometimes may be better fulfilled by outside experts – vCISOs.

The Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) is a consulting service that provides part-time or interim help in managing information security and compliance programs to businesses that lack staff with the expertise to take on such responsibilities.

What does the vCISO do?

vCISOs must be as collaborative with their client organization as possible. They should provide the best service and keep businesses updated with the latest threats and vulnerabilities, various compliance requirements, and ways to tackle them. 

The primary purpose of vCISO is to provide strategic leadership to guide cybersecurity and compliance efforts. To achieve this, vCISO combines security, risk management, and compliance duties and provides businesses with the following: 

  • Aligns the cybersecurity and business goals
  • Provides strategic leadership to executives and users
  • Creates a cyber security program and governance framework 
  • Promotes information security awareness culture
  • Works on risk assessments and mitigation
  • Manages cybersecurity incidents

At the same time, businesses should adequately understand their operational needs to integrate the vCISO with other executive team members. Such a collaborative approach would give the best value from the vCISO service and help businesses handle their security and compliance risks properly. 

Who needs a vCISO? 

vCISO is a perfect solution for small and medium businesses (SMBs). And there are several reasons why. First, SMBs often lack the financial, expertise, and leadership capacity to assign an in-house CISO. Second, they typically process data for larger private or federal organizations, and this makes SMBs a great target for cybercriminals. The combination of these factors prompts SMBs to find affordable solutions for cybersecurity leadership. 

vCISO services work similarly to cloud services. Hence, as cloud providers give organizations access to technologies that would be too costly to build in-house, vCISOs provide high-quality leadership and guidance, which may be difficult to achieve from within. These solutions work well and show their effectiveness in practice. 

While vCISO can be highly beneficial for SMBs, it is not a universal solution. When organizations grow beyond a certain point, they should consider hiring a full-time CISO. There is no magic point on when a full-time CISO should be hired as it is different for every organization depending on the industry, size, compliance requirements, security risks, technology footprint, and several other factors.

What are the common SMB’s mistakes?

In the pursuit of the best cybersecurity solution, SMBs often fall into two extremes. Instead of working with professionals, many businesses try to meet their security needs by distributing the CISO duties across their existing staff. Others, in contrast, try to quickly delegate the CISO role to someone from the current team. Both approaches are not much of a good idea.

Distributing the CISO Duties 

The diversified skills approach is appropriate for traditional IT software and systems management, but it doesn’t work well for information security. Security leaders are expected to concentrate on security research, planning, and risk management while distributing duties does not allow them to focus on strengthening and boosting security.

Delegating Someone from Within

Delegating an IT specialist from within to become a “CISO expert” also has its disadvantages. The main issue here is a lack of knowledge and experience. Experts from IT backgrounds often have a general understanding of security since it is usually one of many areas of concern for all IT jobs. Yet vCISO, in addition to knowledge of numerous technology solutions, requires skills to persuade and interact with various stakeholders, integrate security initiatives with business objectives, provide strategic foresight, understand regulatory issues, and experience in assessing and managing risk. Delegated resources from within are likely to lack these skills. 

In fact, neither of the approaches work well as they cannot effectively handle the sophisticated threats posed today. 

Why do SMBs need vCISO?

As we already discussed, SMBs can take advantage of innovative vCISO services that deliver solutions designed to fit their needs and budgets. However, there are many other reasons why vCISO is the best solution for SMBs.

Assure More Data Protection

Weight every word carefully: 43 percent of all cybercrime victims are SMBs. This alarming statistic means that SMBs face more significant risks than ever before. As such, they need to do more to protect data, reputation, and financial accounts. Just like large businesses that have strong and skilled CISOs, SMBs should look into engaging a vCISO to lead their cybersecurity operations, align their business goals, and promote a security awareness culture.

Reduce Costs and Likelihood of a Data Breach

Qualified security leadership is a proven way to reduce the costs and likelihood of a data breach. Hence, proper understanding and following the cyber security program, maintaining compliance, and managing cybersecurity risks lessen the likelihood and severity of possible data breaches.

Access to a Network of Experts

To some degree, a vCISO may appear even more experienced than the in-house one. Having in-house CISOs, organizations entirely rely on their knowledge and expertise while the CISOs capabilities are limited to their own experience. In contrast, the vCISO service enables organizations to access a whole network of security experts who have worked in different environments. As such, by hiring a vCISO, organizations are buying access to the combined knowledge of several professionals with diverse backgrounds.  

Maximize the Results and Minimize the Costs

Talk all you want about cybersecurity, but costs are not the least of the factors. The main aim of all businesses is to maximize results and minimize expenditures, and hiring a top CISO expert is a luxury that many SMBs cannot afford. In this regard, virtual CISOs deliver executive-level knowledge and accountability to several SMBs simultaneously, so companies do not have to incur the cost of a full-time expert’s salary.

As with traditional CISOs, the vCISOs translate complex data security issues into meaningful action plans, directing security investments and strengthening digital defenses. The main difference from the full-time CISO is that with vCISO, businesses can scale the amount of time and effort they need from a vCISO to fit their specific business needs.

All in all

While large organizations and SMBs face similar risks, the former have more resources to hire and retain qualified security experts. Unfortunately, small businesses often lack a dedicated security leader to manage their security and compliance needs. To smooth this inequality, SMBs are encouraged to engage with vCISO services.  

If some questions regarding the vCISO services remain unanswered, please, contact our Planet 9 team, and we’ll be happy to assist!



Phone:  888-437-3646

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