Image Alt
  /  ISC2 Courses   /  CISSP   /  Five Key Considerations when Engaging a vCISO

Five Key Considerations when Engaging a vCISO

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is the senior-level role that oversees the development, implementation, and operation of the organisation’s security program. The CISO works with other senior management to align security initiatives with the overall business objectives and to manage risks that may threaten the organisation achieving its goals. Filling a CISO role can be challenging for many organisations. A vCISO can be the answer, but finding the right vCISO is essential. 

Cybersecurity is a top priority for organisations. The frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks have increased business risk. Specialist expertise is needed to ensure that data and systems are secure and both customers and trust are protected. In highly regulated sectors, industry standards need to be managed and adhered to, and in some commercial scenarios, compliance may be a requirement to secure contracts or licences to operate. 

The threat landscape is continuously evolving as cybercriminals look for new and effective ways to evade detection and breach networks. In the meantime, innovative organisations using digital technologies are more exposed to online threats. Developing a security framework to support corporate goals is critical to enabling the organisation to grow in a way that manages risk while delivering on defined objectives. 

What are the challenges in filling a Chief Information Security Officer position?

The role requires a combination of cybersecurity experience and expertise. Not only should the individual be up to date on the latest threats and best practices to manage them, a CISO should also have proven experience in designing, implementing and managing an effective cybersecurity strategy. Also, given the role this individual plays in the success of business, the CISO should also have the acumen necessary to work effectively with the management team. 

The scarcity of skilled cybersecurity professionals creates a significant challenge for organisations looking to hire a CISO. The limited number of individuals with the skillset for this role has driven salaries high and often beyond the budget for many. In situations where the organisation (commercial, government, nonprofit, educational etc.) needs to address cybersecurity but the costs of a full-time qualified CISO can not be justified, a vCISO may be the solution.  

What is a vCISO?

A virtual CISO or vCISO is an outsourced service that fills the role of a full-time CISO. A virtual CISO applies experience and industry expertise to address the specific security needs of organisations in a way that suits the requirements and budget of the client. As a consultant, working with clients from different sectors, a vCISO is up-to-date on the latest technologies and threats, as well as the best practices to manage them. Using a combination of expert knowledge and real-world experience, a vCISO offers guidance and leadership to meet the unique requirements of an organisation. 

What does a vCISO do?

A vCISO can “stand in” where either the organisation does not have the requirement or the budget for a full-time CISO, or in a situation where there is a specific project that requires the skills provided by a CISO. Here are some scenarios where a vCISO can be the ideal solution to a challenge facing an organisation.

  • Starting the Cybersecurity Journey

Many small or medium sized businesses (SMEs), especially those that are fast growing, need to put security controls in place. This may be to adhere to the requirements of a potential customer, to enter a new market, or just to have a solid foundation in place. A vCISO can help an organisation to develop a strategy that aligns with a recognised cyber security framework, including:

    • ISO 27001 
    • NIST Cyber Security Framework
    • UK Cyber Assessment Framework
  • Continuity and Secure Growth

Where hiring a full-time CISO is not cost-effective or delayed due to the cybersecurity skills shortage, a vCISO can fill the gap in the short term by providing guidance to an existing team and expanding their capabilities. This can be done either through internal development or recruiting to bring in needed skills. They can also help in defining the job specification and assist in the hiring of a full-time CISO.

  • Addressing Compliance

There are businesses that are required to achieve and maintain regulatory compliance. With the right skills and experience the vCISO can prepare the organisation to pass the audit. A vCISO can also effectively manage security incidents and minimise the financial and reputational impacts associated with an incident or data breach. Many vCISOs have specific knowledge and experience of working with clients to achieve compliance –  creating the policies, guidelines, and standards that help the business adhere to regulations such as:

What are the key considerations when engaging a vCISO?

A vCISO can be the most efficient option to help organisations to address a wide range of challenges, from risk management to compliance. Success is dependent on finding the vCISO with the profile best suited to these challenges. Understanding what is needed and looking for the right fit is critical to ensuring the best outcome. Before committing to an agreement with a vCISO, here are some important factors to consider. These can help to define the expertise that will be most beneficial for the organisation: 

  1. Current cybersecurity program. The starting point for any work done by a vCISO will depend on the maturity of the existing cybersecurity program. The skill sets needed to create a solid foundation, as opposed to developing or maintaining a program as the organisation evolves, will differ. Ideally a vCISO has experience across all of these stages and can help the company grow. 
  2. Contractual arrangements. There are a number of aspects to a contract that need to be understood before an agreement is reached: business objectives, timeframes and costs. Working with a vCISO service that offers a flexible and tailored involvement can allow the focus to be put where it is most needed and to pay only for what is specifically required
  3. Expertise. Essential to the success of engaging a vCISO is that they have the particular expertise needed to address the challenges of the organisation. Being current on all aspects of risk is a given, but also consider some of the nuances of operating in different geographies. Are there local regulations or laws that need to be adhered to and does the vCISO have the necessary expertise to manage these?
  4. Industry Experience. Working with a vCISO that has worked in the same industry can save both time and money. By bringing an understanding of the customers, products, and market, a vCISO already has an appreciation for the context and dynamics of the environment the business operates. vCISOs that have worked across a wide range of industries have encountered challenges across different contexts, helping them bring real-world experience to clients.
  5. Flexibility. The vCISO needs to fit in seamlessly with the organisation and ensure that all efforts support the overall goals and objectives of the company. As an integral part of the organisation’s leadership team, the vCISO needs to work well with key individuals and accommodate and support any necessary changes in priorities.


Cybersecurity is essential to the secure and successful growth of an organisation and requires the experience and expertise of a CISO. Where there is a skills gap or a lack of budget to invest in a full-time CISO, a vCISO can be a flexible and highly effective alternative.

Engaging the right vCISO is an important process and requires careful consideration to ensure that there is a match between the needs of the organisation and the individual. Bringing in a vCISO with the most relevant experience and expertise and one that fits with the culture of the organisation is imperative.

Why vCISO Services from Cycubix?

Cycubix gives clients access to cybersecurity professionals with a range of skill sets and experience. Our services are tailored to the client’s specific requirement making it a highly effective approach to bringing the strategic and operational security leadership needed by an organisation to respond to growing cybersecurity challenges.