Fractional CISO vs. Interim CISO vs. Temporary CISO: Weigh The Pros And Cons

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by John Svazic/ on 24 Nov 2022

Fractional CISO vs. Interim CISO vs. Temporary CISO: Weigh The Pros And Cons

Bringing a CISO on board can be quite expensive. Before you decide to abandon the endeavour altogether, you should look for cost-saving alternatives. A virtual CISO can bring quite a few benefits to your organization, including reduced costs. The only challenge is knowing what kind of virtual CISO to hire since there are so many different types.

A fractional CISO, temporary CISO, and interim CISO can all add tremendous value to your cybersecurity posture. However, each of these types of CISO differs in terms of how they integrate with your organization. At EliteSec, we wrote this article to compare and contrast the different CISO types and help you determine which one is optimal.

What Is A CISO?

First and foremost, the acronym CISO stands for Chief Information Security Officer. As the name implies, this is a position that involves collaboration with the executives of the company to provide security leadership. A CISO usually reports to the CEO or board of directors of your company. Their task is to review your current security program and suggest improvements that better protect your assets from malicious actors.

As you can tell, the roles and duties of a CISO are quite involved. But if you run a small organization and hire one full-time, then the CISO has an expiry date. There are only so many improvements you can make to your cybersecurity before your CISO runs out of things to do. Hence, many smaller organizations have decided to hire virtual CISOs instead.

Invest in a CISO

A virtual CISO (vCISO) is more convenient to these organizations because they won’t need to show up to your organization every day, which means they often aren’t as expensive. They also don’t need to work a full 40 or 50-hour work week which also helps you cut down on costs. Generally speaking, we recommend that smaller teams work with a vCISO part-time rather than hiring one for full-time work. There might be some busy weeks where they need to work the full 40 hours, but generally speaking, you’ll need them for a lot less than that. You can experiment with what kinds of hours work best for you and your vCISO.

If you’re worried about how a vCISO might integrate into your organization, you shouldn’t. After all, a vCISO can collaborate with your team members online, most of the tasks they accomplish relate to IT anyways. It’s easy to do this remotely.

4 Reasons To Hire A VCISO

There are many reasons you could have for hiring a CISO, we’ve narrowed it down to 4 important ones. Above all, a CISO is important because it strengthens your security program while making your security strategies more efficient in the process.

vCISOs Help you focus on your business

When IT teams try to enhance their security architecture independently, it’s quite common to run into roadblocks. Hiring a vCISO is a more efficient use of your time and resources. They can accomplish more in 10 hours than a novice can achieve in 30.

vCISOs Enhance Your Cybersecurity Posture

Navigating the world of cybersecurity can be quite daunting if you’re not an expert. You might have employees that are competent in other domains. However, when it comes to organizing all your security operations, identifying weaknesses, and delegating tasks, you should hire a professional with thorough experience.

vCISOs Help You Scale

Before you expand your business' offerings, you need to ensure that your security architecture is up to standard. That means you’ll need to investigate every aspect of your organization’s cybersecurity defences. That way, you’ll be able to scale with confidence rather than having it backfire on you in the future.

vCISOs Save You Money

Since a full-time CISO usually gets paid 6 figures or more in Canada, then you’ll benefit from the cost savings that a remote vCISO provides. You likely don’t need the vCISO full-time if you’re not running a major enterprise.

How You Can Benefit From A Virtual CISO

From your first consultation with a VCISO, you’ll understand how much they depend upon collaboration. A critical component of their work is to communicate both with executives and your IT team. They need to ensure you set out information security standards from the top down and that you’ve created a process to adhere to them. Not to mention, the vCISO will also need to conduct risk assessments and remedy any issues depending on your organization’s needs and desired risk level.

We’ll look at a few concrete ways that a vCISO can assist your organization.

Risk Management

Unfortunately, any modern company faces IT risks from all directions. It’s inevitable. You could store mountains of customer data, or have secrets of your own that you want to protect. Not only can hackers try to brute force their way into your infrastructure, but there might also be malicious or ignorant actors inside your organization that expose your data. Your vCISO’s job is to identify all the potential avenues for threats.

Of course, you can’t eliminate your risk. That’s why you need to determine an amount of tolerable risk collaboratively and instruct your vCISO to follow that risk model.

Develop A Security Strategy

After getting to know the technology team in your organization and understanding your needs, the vCISO has enough information to begin improving your cybersecurity posture. They will keep up with all the best practices in your industry and look to other organizations to observe their security habits. They won’t transform your company overnight, but any vCISO worth their salt should be able to outline the key objectives and metrics they’ll use to track their progress. Then, they’ll report back to you periodically and keep you abreast of their work.

vCISOs are highly collaborative

Conduct Penetration Testing

Information security relies substantially on penetration tests to find the vulnerabilities in your security architecture. During pen tests, a CISO or some other ethical hacker will attempt to hack into your assets including your networks, hardware, websites, and applications.

Pen tests will uncover the main flaws of your security architecture so you can take measures to fix these issues. You’ll also get to understand exactly how effective your response measures were and ameliorate those in anticipation of a real attack.

Compliance Auditing

You need to ensure that your security standards are compliant with standards that apply to your company. If you operate overseas, then there are a lot of different regulations for you to juggle, especially in the EU.

Plan Your Budget

Once a CISO is done reorganizing your security practices, they can begin looking toward the future. With new systems in place, you will need to fund them. Who better than your CISO, who is responsible for these systems, to suggest a budget allocation for your organization?

Coach Your IT Team

Education is another important aspect of a CISO’s work. They will communicate with your IT teams and even work directly with unrelated parties in your organization to ensure that everyone follows cybersecurity practices. Most organizations fail to communicate their security standards properly, but a CISO understands how best to educate your users.

Get everyone on board

Comparing The Three Types Of CISOs

Now that you have a better idea of what CISOs do, you can understand why they’re in such high demand. We’ve already established that permanent CISOs are more suitable for a large company. But if your company is small to mid-sized, then you’ll benefit from one of these 3 types of CISO, your only issue is determining which one is right for you.

Regardless of what type of CISO you choose, the CISO should be a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). This indicates that they have the prerequisite education to handle all the challenges thrown at them in such a role.

What Does A Fractional CISO Do?

A Fractional CISO is a CISO that works for you but is not a full-time employee. Hence, the name ‘fractional’ since they’re only there for a fraction of the time. Not to mention, you can hire one at only a fraction of the cost. Note that since the fractional CISO is only working for you part-time, they usually provide their services to multiple organizations at once. This can be advantageous since they get to learn all the different security problems that an organization might encounter a lot quicker due to having a wide range of clients.

The work of a fractional CISO begins with a gap analysis where they learn about all your current cybersecurity practices and your business’s goals. Then, they’ll create a plan for you to implement and help you budget for other professionals to bring in throughout their work to secure your company.

What To Expect From A Fractional CISO

A fractional CISO will conduct in-person consultations at your place of business for quite a while at the start. This is important because they need to ingratiate themselves with everyone in your organization, particularly the executives. The only way for them to gain trust is to meet everyone in person and get a feel for how they can convince everyone to follow their lead throughout the project.

Whenever you begin a critical step in the process, the fractional CISO should be on hand to steer you in the right direction. They will respond pretty quickly in case you require an emergency consultation from them. Moreover, they should have the contacts to onboard extra talent should you need it.

A fractional CISO makes snap decisions

A Fractional CISO is highly capable and decisive. They welcome critical feedback from all angles and should be willing to hear arguments out. That said, theirs is a leadership role. As such, you must trust them to make snap decisions when they must adhere to tight deadlines.

Sometimes, you will have an existing security program that you only want the fractional CISO to improve. In that case, the CISO should be aware of their role and willing to adapt to the standards that your leadership team already outlined. They will bring themselves up to speed with the system quickly and decide what improvements they need to make.

What Does An Interim CISO Do?

An interim CISO is fairly similar to a fractional CISO. However, the interim CISO, like an interim president or another interim executive, is someone who takes the reins, probably full-time, on an already-existing project. It’s not so much the tasks that are different, rather, it’s the type of situation that you’re throwing an interim CISO into. Above all, this role requires a high degree of experience and flexibility.

The tasks of an interim CISO also depend heavily on the person they’re taking over from. If your past full-time CISO had a less than stellar record, then they’ll need to revamp your approach to cybersecurity entirely, and in short order. On the other hand, if your past CISO did a good job, then you just need an interim CISO that can help you stay the course with solid program management.

An interim CISO gets started quickly

What to expect from an interim CISO

Imagine this, you’ve already set up your cybersecurity posture for your organization. In fact, you might have liked it the way it was before! However, your past CISO, who worked for you full-time, decided to leave your company. Hiring a new CISO for full-time work can be a long and arduous process, you need expertise you can trust and you need it now. A cyber attack could happen at any moment!

Thankfully, interim CISOs can conduct a rapid overview of your entire company and its security posture within a few days. During this time, they will acclimatize to your organization and apprise themselves of your current security strategy and your goals for the future. Since they’re usually quite savvy, they already have a template they’ve set up to evaluate your organization’s needs and create a new plan to carry your security posture forward.

With an interim CISO, there’s no time for learning on the job. The interim must has spent years honing their skills and is comfortable making major decisions.

While the interim CISO should be a skilled communicator, they should stay away from extant office politics. Value the interim CISO for their new perspectives and refusal to default to the consensus. To some degree, they are independent of your business while still maintaining its best interests.

Finally, an interim CISO always has an expiry date. Usually, you’ll be preparing to replace them from the moment they are hired. That means they might not see their projects all the way through. Therefore, they should create a detailed brief for the incoming permanent CISO so that they can get up to speed with your organization’s needs. This will make the acclimation process for your full-time CISO much quicker than it would have been otherwise.

An interim CISO should prepare to hand off the reins to their replacement

What Does A Temporary CISO Do?

A temporary CISO has a very similar role to an interim CISO. The only difference is that the title suggests that perhaps there will be no need for a CISO or less of a need for a CISO after your temporary needs have been met. An interim CISO suggests full-time engagement whereas a temporary CISO could be a transitional position while you wait to bring on a fractional CISO. Especially if you just said goodbye to your full-time CISO.

what to expect from a temporary CISO

Once again, you can expect similar things from a temporary and interim CISO. They’ll collaborate with executives and other key stakeholders to ensure that you’re on the right path. However, they likely won’t start making grandiose plans for your organization’s security posture. They’re mostly focused on preparing the new CISO, whoever they may be, for the next phase.

Of course, it’s useful to have the temporary CISO onboard in case of a major security incident. If such an incident takes place, then they must be up to the task of combatting any hackers and securing your assets. A temporary CISO must be experienced.

Which CISO Is Right For You?

It all depends on how much work you need a CISO to do. If your past CISO leaves abruptly and you’re in the middle of some important projects, you’ll benefit from the services of an interim CISO or a temporary one to return to some semblance of normalcy.

On the other hand, you might have a smaller organization that never needed a full-time CISO and a fractional one is all you need to get started. Or, you could hire a fractional CISO to cut costs when you realize your full-time CISO just isn’t necessary anymore. A fractional CISO might not be with you every hour of the day, but they can bring some long-term consistency to your organization that a temporary CISO can’t.

If you think that any of these CISOs have no incentive to contribute to your organization due to the temporary nature of their work, think again. These CISOs often juggle multiple clients and must have a proven track record coupled with glowing referrals to continue taking on new jobs.

Hire EliteSec As Your Fractional CISO

Having uncovered the roles of a CISO, you can make an informed decision on what type of CISO to hire. Our vCISOs can slot into your organization in any of the three capacities we mentioned. Here are some of our specialty tasks:

  • Customer security questionnaires and security clause reviews in contracts
  • Creating and overseeing a security program
  • Review the safety of 3rd party vendors
  • Prepare your organization for compliance audits such as SOC 2 or PCI-DSS

How To Work With Us

In the beginning, our vCISOs will work closely with you and even meet you in person. Contact us today to get a rapid overview of your security posture and get a preliminary look at where you could improve.

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