A Fractional CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) is a third-party senior-level cybersecurity professional or team hired on a part-time or project basis to fulfill the Chief Information Security Officer role. Based on an organization’s unique needs, they provide information security expertise, guidance, and strategic leadership. Working with a Fractional CISO provides organizations with a flexible and cost-effective solution to strengthen their security posture, protect themselves from cybersecurity threats, and navigate security audits and special projects.
While both roles are responsible for leadership, management, and implementation of security programs, they encompass different commitments, scopes of responsibility, and engagement terms.
Fractional CISOs take on temporary, part-time, or project-based roles that focus on specific areas or cybersecurity pain points of an organization. Working with a fractional CISO provides companies with a flexible and cost-effective solution without having to fill a full-time in-house leadership role.
A full-time CISO is a permanent in-house employee responsible for an organization’s overall security program management and leadership.
Some of the common services provided by a Fractional CISO include the following:
- Security strategy and planning that aligns with the goals, risk tolerance, and budget of the organization.
- Risk assessment and management to help organizations identify cybersecurity weaknesses along with risk mitigation strategies.
- Compliance and regulatory support to ensure alignment with data protection law, industry standards, and compliance with industry regulations.
- Design and conduct security awareness training programs to enhance employees’ cyber security best practices understanding.
- Incident response planning and management to minimize the impact of a cyberattack.
- Vendor risk evaluation to ensure they meet appropriate security standards.
- Ongoing monitoring and assessment process of emerging threats.
- Implementation of data protection and encryption measures to reduce data breach impact.
- Security incident investigation to determine the cause, impact, and remediation actions.
- Cybersecurity improvement recommendations based on innovation, past breaches, and emerging threats.
Fractional CISOs can assist organizations with SOC 2, ISO 27001, NIST, PCI, HITRST, HIPAA, and CMMC compliance requirements and audits. Before an actual audit, a fractional CISO will conduct a gap analysis to determine if the organization has non-compliance areas. If issues are identified, the cybersecurity expert will design a plan to resolve the flagged areas.
During an actual audit, a Fractional CISO helps the organization gather the required documentation and provide guidance and support to meet compliance requirements.
An in-depth analysis of an organization’s IT systems helps Fractional CISOs evaluate IT systems, identify potential threats, and evaluate vulnerabilities. If cybersecurity threats are identified, a CISO will assign a risk level and priority to mitigate them. The results of the assessment, vulnerabilities, and plan of action are documented and monitored on an ongoing basis to evaluate the effectiveness of the mitigation strategy.
Working with Fractional CISO provides organizations with cost-effective and flexible cybersecurity leadership without filing a costly full-time CISO role. This is especially beneficial for small and medium-sized organizations that don’t have a budget or a need for an in-house CISO. Fractional cybersecurity leaders provide their clients with expertise based on their unique industry or company needs, helping them navigate compliance audits, risk assessments, and other cybersecurity initiatives.
Most MSPs/MSSPs today focus on implementation and execution but lack the know-how or ability to assess, define, and plan a robust information security policy and strategy which in turn directs those implementation efforts. Some MSSPs provide Fractional CISO offerings under their umbrella; unfortunately, most of these providers are leveraging automated/generic tools with an inexperienced bench to run their fractional CISO program. All the above considerations aside, we are seeing businesses that adopt fractional CISOs take into account the need to also ensure neutral and unbiased checks and balances.
Consider this: How confident are you in your current team’s competency and ability to execute? What about the same for your MSP or MSSP? For many businesses, it is now considered a leading practice to separate the traditional Fractional CISO or vCISO responsibilities away from current teams and managed providers to ensure completeness of strategy and execution abilities to protect the business.
The cost structure of a Fractional CISO depends on factors such as length and type of engagement, required services, industry and expertise level, scalability, market factors, and company size. Because there isn’t a fixed cost, organizations should discuss their project needs with third-party providers to clearly understand their pricing plans, cost breakdown, and the value of their services. Doing so will help choose a flexible solution that aligns with your company’s cybersecurity needs and budget.
Yes, Fractional CISO can help with cybersecurity strategy development by working with organizations to strengthen their posture. Conducting an initial IT risk assessment gives them insight into an organization’s cybersecurity health. If cyber threats and vulnerabilities are detected, the fractional CISO works with internal IT departments to design and implement a responsive plan of action, safeguarding the organization from existing and evolving threats.
Working with a Fractional CISO provides organizations with flexible leadership based on their cybersecurity needs. Although Fractional CISOs tend to provide support on a project and part-time basis, their services can be scaled up to provide ongoing support and guidance. Fractional CISO services are fluid and composed of a team of experts, making it easy to adapt to an organization’s needs.
Fractional CISOs possess a unique combination of consulting and operational experience, making them well-equipped to provide their clients with cybersecurity best practices, risk management, compliance, and regulatory requirements. Because they also have extensive backgrounds in information security, risk management, and IT governance, Fractional CISOs help organizations improve their security posture by conducting risk assessments, developing comprehensive cybersecurity strategies, and implementing effective security controls.