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Guide: Security Operations Center

What Is CISO as a Service (vCISO)?



Contents

CISO as a service (vCiso) is a model that delivers third-party chief information security officer (CISO) and information security leadership services. These third-party providers manage security programs remotely, providing organizations with access to expertise they do not have in-house. vCiso also refers to virtual CISO (vCISO) or fractional CISO.

A vCiso supports organizations in achieving information security and compliance objectives. Like most Anything as a Service (XaaS) offerings, vCiso pricing models include on-demand payments and subscriptions. vCiso providers may offer entirely remote services or a hybrid model in which the provider’s experts collaborate with the organization’s existing security team remotely and onsite.

This is part of our series of articles about the security operations center (SOC).

What Are the Benefits of CISO as a Service?

The importance of IT security became especially apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic. Some organizations were well-prepared and had an established, adaptable security strategy, while others had to institute a new IT security strategy and rearrange their overall business priorities. An organization’s security profile undoubtedly influenced its ability to withstand the changing security landscape during the pandemic. 

Organizations that cannot maintain an in-house CISO can outsource their CISO responsibilities to bridge their security gaps. Many organizations struggle to manage their IT systems internally, and they might not have the required expertise to prioritize their business needs correctly. Some organizations are reluctant to spend money on security measures they don’t deem necessary. The result is that organizations sacrifice security for innovation. 

Organizations must incorporate information security into all operations. A robust IT security strategy investment pays off long term, making the organization more resilient to disruptions. However, IT security is often too large a burden for the IT department, and the more experienced team members might not have the time to deal with all aspects of security. 

CISO as a Service provides added value for comprehensive, proactive security strategies. Outsourced CISOs can also help foster a workplace culture of security awareness, preventing and mitigating various incidents. They use a holistic security approach with immediate and long-term benefits to strengthen and complement the in-house expertise. A virtual CISO can provide unbiased insights, acting as a reliable third-party expert.

The most important benefit of CISO is experience. An outsourced CISO typically has extensive experience with diverse organizations and knows how to implement a robust security strategy across different teams. The CISO can offer a risk-based approach to security, allowing the organization to plan and incorporate new tools and techniques to monitor and control systems and networks.

Another important benefit of a vCISO is its flexibility. Organizations can customize CISO services to their specific needs. For example, they can reduce costs by opting for a pay-per-use model. 

Related content: Read our guide to SOC as a service

Do You Need a CISO as a Service?

Here are the main scenarios in which organizations opt for CISO as a Service:

  • Startups without the resources to hire a full-time CISO can use a vCiso for expertise and cost effectiveness
  • Organizations looking for a new permanent CISO may temporarily hire a vCiso to fill the vacancy
  • Organizations under pressure to meet their security or compliance goals can leverage the on-demand nature of the service
  • Organizations looking to transition from capital to operating expenses can adopt a vCiso instead of investing in a full time position

A vCiso can provide a solution for organizations in the following unique circumstances:

Organization is Not Regulated

Even if a company is not subject to regulations (and this is becoming increasingly rare), it still needs to hire a CISO position. There are many additional risks in the digital environment apart from compliance risks. A CISO acts as a project leader and takes responsibility for the governance and strategic vision required to protect the organization. A vCiso can help fill the gap in this type of organization.

Small Organization

Small organizations are still targets for cybersecurity attacks. For example, widespread ransomware attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya affected all organizations, large and small, and required an urgent security response. In addition, organizations working with technology or business partners can be affected by supply chain attacks targeting their partner. 

A vCiso service can provide a solution for this type of organization, which has limited resources but still needs a protection strategy.

Engineering or Administrator Role in Charge of Security

Many organizations assign an existing technical role as their CISO. Engineers, architects and network administrators might seem natural candidates to manage security operations. However, these individuals have specific technical skills and responsibilities. They do not have extensive security training and may not be aware of all the relevant threats, best practices, and security techniques. In addition, they may not have the time to take full ownership of security. 

In the long term, companies need a dedicated role guiding the security program, and a vCiso can help make the transition from a “filler” role to a full strategic CISO position.

What Should You Expect from a vCISO Service?

Risk and Maturity Assessment

A vCISO service typically begins with a risk assessment and maturity assessment. After evaluating the organization, the vCISO service provider discusses security with the organization’s leadership and understands the goals and aspirations for the security program — in other words, the level of maturity the organization wants to reach. 

This assessment includes past security incident evaluation, the company’s compliance situation, the level of ongoing auditing, and contractual obligations with customers, a factor that many companies don’t incorporate into their plans. 

Security Strategy Plan

Next, the vCISO works with the team to develop a strategic security plan. This includes: 

  • Developing stronger policies and standards
  • Identifying unique threat scenarios affecting the organization
  • Assessing vendor risks
  • Defining remediation procedures and schedules
  • Creating security awareness training programs for employees
  • Creating a compliance plan

The plan is then presented to management and board of directors for non-technical users to understand, make changes and provide feedback.

Operationalize the Security Program

Once the security plan is approved, the vCISO helps the internal CISO, security team, and IT team to implement the plan together and reports to the CRO and executive committee. These regular updates provide organizations with concrete deliverables and clear timelines, as well as the flexibility to adapt to strategic business changes or new requirements.

Overall, the vCISO acts as a strategic partner and provides implementation support to help improve security maturity and attain business goals.

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