Hiring a CISO as a Service

Table of Contents

Introduction

Every successful company needs a detailed and strategic cybersecurity program. To develop and uphold this program’s security initiatives, most companies either hire a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to manage an internal security team, or an experienced CISO as a Service (CISOaaS) vendor to manage security remotely.

While both are viable options, many companies benefit more from choosing a CISOaaS over hiring an entire in-house security department. 

Hiring a CISOaaS is a smart investment for a number of reasons. We’ll compare the advantages of outsourcing your security over developing a department of your own, outline the responsibilities and expectations of a qualified CISOaaS as well as help you to choose the best vendor for the job— all on this page. 

But first, let’s start with the basics:  

Signs You Need Cybersecurity Expertise

Every company can benefit from a strong cybersecurity program, but there are a number of motivations and goals that push them to find a CISO or CISOaaS. 

Do you fit into one of these categories?

1. You have compliance objectives. 

From PCI DSS and SOC2 to ISO 27001 and HIPAA, many companies have certain standards their business must meet. Violations to these standards can result in costly fees and court cases, as well as other reputational or legal repercussions.

Maybe your general counsel is talking about GDPR and CCPA and you haven’t performed a privacy readiness exercise. Luckily, this is all part of a CISOaaS’s job description, knowing about your compliance needs and helping you to meet them.

2. You’re a start-up. 

New businesses are just establishing their footprint in the industry, oftentimes still developing or launching new products and services. Start-up operators simply don’t have the time or capacity to worry about their security, and need all their resources and energy to focus on their mission and fresh business growth. CISOaaS vendors take care of all this work for you.

3. Your security has been compromised before.

You’re concerned about the safety of your data and assets, because you know they’ve been threatened or stolen in the past and have reason to worry. Many businesses who’ve been hacked or breached have reason enough to hire a CISOaaS, to tie up loose ends and mitigate future risks.

4. Your sales team spends too much time talking about info security. 

If your sales team’s days are packed with conversations and stress about your cybersecurity vulnerabilities and woes, it’s eating time away from their actual job. By hiring a CISO as a Service, you are removing security discussions from the sales cycle.

The Role of a CISOaaS

When hiring a CISO as a Service, you can expect quite a few things from their security team. 

When screening a vendor for the role of your CISOaaS, be sure to come with a list of questions to determine how well-prepared they are to deliver on these expectations.

A well-rounded CISOaaS should:

1. Follow a robust methodology for running your information security program

A CISOaaS should bring best practices and tested tactics that follow an accepted industry standard for maintaining your security, ensuring you’re making strategic, result-driven decisions. 

2. Take ownership over maintaining your policies, procedures and standards for information security

A CISOaaS should take the lead to manage your information security strategy, autonomously. They should be responsible for ensuring it’s efficient and appropriate for your business while routinely monitoring and reassessing to discover new ways to enhance your protection.

3. Provide metrics and visibility of tracking

From the moment they come onboard, this CISO should be digging through any previous data/metrics you have to make security changes. Many will start monitoring areas you may not have been previously monitoring, and will begin to track time, progress, ROI and any and all achievements to improve your information security moving forward. 

4. Maintain and monitor a list of security controls

Security controls help to mitigate or reduce your risk, and can include administrative, technical and physical measures to protect your assets. A CISO will have a clear grasp of all your threats and vulnerabilities and have an action-plan for how to address each risk (should they choose to accept, transfer, mitigate, or avoid each risk).

5. Deliver executive-level reporting

A CISOaaS should be able to offer reporting insights, not just in a spreadsheet to be filed away without analysis, but delivered in a way that your C-suite can understand. 

When this “cyber speak” is professionally translated in terms that decision-makers can understand and care about, it empowers your security department to get the resources it needs to protect you faster. This reporting also guides strategic changes to better protect your business.

6. Be a strategic advisor and executor

Not only should a CISOaaS be ever-monitoring the changing landscape of security and compliance, but they should also be advising you on that impact to your company. Should you have a security incident, they will lead the execution of your incident response plan. 

Overtime, this team should build out and operate a security program that meets your compliance objectives, risk tolerance, budget, and supports your sales team — holistically. 

Hiring a CISOaaS Vendor vs. an In-House CISO

Some businesses contemplate the advantages of hiring their own internal IT team led by a Chief Security Office verses outsourcing a security team. Both are viable options for most companies, however, there are some big differences between vetting and hiring your own team as opposed to hiring an external group to manage your cybersecurity.

Let’s review some of the major differentiators between hiring a vendor vs. an in-house CISO:

When outsourcing a CISOaaS, you don’t have to worry about hiring or retaining staff. 

Vetting and onboarding new staff is an extension process in-and-of-itself. Depending on the size of your company, this could consume a great deal of your HR department’s time, and pull time away from your already busy staff when it comes to training new recruits. 

Start-ups in particular need to be mindful of high turnover rates. Fortunately, if you hire a CISOaaS, managing the right expertise becomes your vendors’ concerns, not yours.

CISOaaS vendors know the expertise you need and otherwise couldn’t afford. 

It can be challenging to hire security staff if you’re not an expert in the domain. Your HR team or security staff might not know what to truly look for in a CISO, and you could be wasting time screening the wrong candidates or bringing on the wrong person for the job.

CISOaaS companies specialize in cybersecurity though, and will know exactly what skills and talent they need to meet their client’s needs.

CISOaaS teams are adaptable and elastic. 

You don’t always need a dozen cybersecurity experts on hand. If your business experiences varying lulls and peaks throughout the year, you may be stuck with more staff than you need during slow seasons. 

Fortunately when outsourcing a vendor, you don’t have to acquire the budget and headcount to scale up in-house, nor worry about laying people off or paying costly salaries when business is slow. The right CISOaaS should easily adapt to fluctuations in scale according to your demand.

CISOaaS vendors offer dedicated specializations. 

You need a robust team of cybersecurity employees. For many hiring in-house, this means choosing individuals with broad cybersecurity knowledge. While a wide range of understanding is helpful, there’s something to be said for specialization. 

While in-house security staff often have limited skillsets, CISOaaS teams can hire very specialized, niche experts, and tap into them only when needed. Most internal teams can’t afford the added cost of paying high in-house specialist salaries, and as a result, need external support anyway.

Not all businesses can successfully support an internal security team. 

In-house CISOs can experience restrictions that lead to high-turnover for heads of security and those under them. Some companies just don’t have the budget to reach your Chief Information Security Officer’s security goals, while for other companies, the position is just a stepping stone on the path in their career climb. 

Overall, hiring a CISO as a Service grants you added value. The right vendor will offer a breadth of expertise, flexibility and adaptability, maturity, a tried-and-true methodology and turnover resilience that not many in-house security teams can achieve.

Discover more benefits to using a CISOaaS here.

Choosing the Right Vendor

Just because you choose to outsource a CISOaaS, you aren’t guaranteed security improvement or growth. Like in any industry, there are vendors who are a better fit for some, and who can offer more advanced expertise than others. 

When screening CISOaaS teams for hire, there are a few things you can look for to find the diamond in the rough. Here are tips for finding the best talent:

Look for an actual team, not a single CISO.

Some security experts are just that: one person doing it all. It’s not uncommon for Chief Security Officers or other security talent to freelance. That’s why it’s critical to inquire about the size of this vendor’s team while interviewing, as well as their breadth of skills. 

Oftentimes these CISOs only work part-time, or if working full-time juggle multiple clients on their own. You know what they say, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” These independent freelancers rarely have the time or specializations to dedicate proper attention or expertise to your business. 

You need a full team of diverse talent, or expertise you can tap into when needed to solve niche security problems. We even urge you to look for a provider that offers more people than you actually need, so they can respond to sudden demand, cover vacation time and other interruptions— seamlessly.

Dig into their methodology. 

In our Role of a CISOaaS section, we outlined the responsibilities of a good security team. Your vendor should come with a specific security methodology, which helps to direct their strategy and tactics. 

This methodology should be based on widely accepted practices in the industry, backed by proven success. 

When screening your security experts, ask specific questions about their methods. Ask not only how the transition would go once they came onboard (How will they take ownership of maintaining your policies, procedures, standards? How will they maintain and monitor security controls? Etc.), but also what their long-term goals for growth are (How will they enhance your future security? Can they outline and promise to meet new initiatives; how will they hold themselves accountable for delivery?). 

Ensure the CISOaaS outlines and commits to a roadmap.

Before signing up for partnership, you need a plan. After digging into their methodology, ask the CISOaaS vendor to draft a strategic initiative. This document should consider your current security risks and detail mitigation measures for reducing your threats and vulnerabilities. 

Most importantly, the vendor should outline clear objectives and have approved tactics/methods for achieving each. It’s even better if the goals are date stamped, so you can keep momentum in making security improvements, and have a signed promise on paper to hold the team accountable for progress. 

This roadmap should also discuss budget, so you are in agreement with where your investments are going— and not forced to spend more than agreed upon later.

Screen for “people skills.”

For many companies, CISOaaS vendors need to be more than just an IT worker behind the scenes. Your vendor will be talking to your senior leadership and your customers, and must demonstrate clear, authoritative communication skills.

Why? Your security representatives need to gain the trust of those they interact with, and accurately represent your brand. That means, CISOs who dislike interactions are not an ideal fit. When screening a CISOaaS for hire, be sure to assess the staff’s personability as a whole, in addition to their competency in specializations.

Avoid locking into an inflexible, long-term contract.

The dreaded contract. Some CISOaaS teams demand that you sign a 1-year or multi-year agreement, with a consistent scale for their service. This practice, however, can mean bad news for your business.

Many industries experience seasonal fluctuations, not requiring the same workload or strategy for every month of the year. To be paying for the same level of attention and same services for 365-1.095+ consecutive days is not only unrealistic for your budget, but unrealistic for growth. 

Ensure you ask your prospective CISO if they are willing to adjust their strategy or increase/decrease their involvement according to your business necessities. Inquire too about their cancellation policy, so that in the event that their service is subpar, you can seek alternative help.

Determining What to Outsource

Some companies don’t need to hand everything over to an external vendor, often surprised to learn that they can outsource only what’s necessary when collaborating with the right CISOaaS.

“Sometimes a whole function is delegated externally such as accounting, HR, marketing. Even R&D can be delivered by remote teams, often in other countries,” we explain in our article, How Much of Your Information Security Function Can You Safely Outsource?

Remember, it’s easy to scale up or scale down with a flexible provider, so you can always make adjustments later by choosing a partner who doesn’t force you to lock into a long-term, unadjustable contract.

Managing Your CISOaaS

After you choose the right partner, you are responsible for holding your CISOaaS accountable. There are a few ways you can behave to get the most value out of your new security managers.

Clearly establish who the CISOaaS reports to. 

Your CISOaaS should be made aware of who they can coordinate with internally, and who takes higher status on the chain of command. Ideally, this CISO team shouldn’t be reporting to HR, IT or even R & D. It is not these departments' responsibility.

If you are outsourcing part of your security measures and have any kind of internal IT team, it may be wise to make them a part of the general council with whom your CISOaaS reports to. But it’s pertinent for you to establish a relationship with the stakeholders of your company and a CISO who can relay data in terms the C-Suite can understand. These are the decision makers who are ultimately responsible for establishing the budget for risk management. Clear communication will be key.

Set up routine status reviews.

You CISOaaS may make a lot of promises, but is your job to hold them accountable for achieving their/your goals. By scheduling out routine status check-in meetings, you motivate the team to come with progress updates. During these status reviews, you can address performance metrics and track how well inline you are to achieve your long-term goals.

Be mindful to ask specific questions to ensure they’re actually doing the work they claim to be, and save notes about what they promise to do between now and the next check-in— to stay on track. 

These meetings are also essential for planning new initiatives. For this, it may be wise to set up longer quarterly strategy sessions to define new benchmarks and improvements.

Ensure they align your info security and cybersecurity programs.

Look for a CISOaaS who distinguishes a difference between information security and cybersecurity. For example, if they’re only following CIS Controls® cybersecurity best practices yet not putting an emphasis on your information sector, it could be a red flag that they’re only focused on elements of your security instead of your security as a whole. 

Be sure to ask your vendor how they’ll support your compliance needs as well as your risks. Lastly, make sure they treat your information security like more than day-to-day objectives. You should be able to gauge how well the CISOaaS has planned for maturity and growth in your routine status check-ins, but ensure they consider both your information security and cybersecurity during this conversation. 

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