What does a Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) do?

5 min read

Navigating the stormy seas of cybersecurity can be daunting for any organization, especially when the threat of data breaches looms large. This is where the role of a Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) becomes as crucial as a seasoned captain steering through a storm.

For businesses that can't justify a full-time, in-house CISO, a vCISO offers a lifeline. But what does this entail beyond the title? Periodically, webinars and other media tout the benefits of a vCISO without detailing the full scope of their work.

Most discussions revolve around the guidance from sector-specific regulatory agencies, emphasizing the need for senior-level cybersecurity oversight and governance. Yet, there’s more to it than merely meeting a requirement. It’s about managing a program of tasks, each with its own rhythm—weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually, which are vital in a time of escalating regulatory and insurance pressures.

Let’s get some insight into what a vCISO does and why they might just be what your company needs. Please note that at Critical Insight, we offer a few levels of engagement for vCISOs – this blog is intended to provide insight into the role of vCISO, however, not all functions outlined are included within our vCISO Lite offering or our oCISO service.


Casting a Wide Net: The Role of a vCISO

A vCISO dives deep to ensure your cybersecurity practices are on-track. 

Here's a breakdown of the 3 key areas of responsibility that come with the vCISO territory:

  1. Strategic Planning
  2. Compliance and Oversight
  3. Education and Advocacy


Let’s start with Strategic Planning.

A Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) engages in several critical activities to bolster an organization's cybersecurity defenses. First, they develop a tailored security strategy that aligns with the unique risks, objectives, and compliance requirements of the business, ensuring a customized approach to cyber threats.

Second, in the event of security breaches, depending on the organization you are partnering with, the vCISO can take the helm, spearheading the response with a calm and effective plan aimed at minimizing damage and expediting recovery. At Critical Insight, we help our clients with Incident Response, however our clients have the primary responsibility of responding to a security breach, unless they are engaged with us through our Managed Extended Detection and Response service. Learn more about our Incident Response and MXDR here.

Third, they can assist you with policy review and deployment so that you are prepared for the ongoing task of crafting and continuously updating cybersecurity policies. This proactive measure ensures that the organization's defensive measures remain robust and watertight against the constantly evolving landscape of cyber threats.

(Psst - if you want to track your risk and watch it drop, ask us about our exclusive partnership with CyberSaint and their GRC platform CyberStrong - drop us a line at info@criticalinsight.com)


Next, let’s tackle Compliance and Oversight.

A Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) will expertly navigate the complex currents of laws and industry standards, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS which will keep you compliant and protected against legal and regulatory pitfalls.

As they engage in proactive risk assessment and management, they will evaluate potential threats and devise strategies to mitigate them before they can disrupt your operations. This dual approach keeps your organization not only compliant but also more secure from emerging threats.


What you should know about Education and Advocacy

Your vCISO will help you prepare your organization for ongoing education. Depending on your security partner, they may help you conduct regular training sessions and drills to ensure that your employees are well-versed in the best practices for preventing cyber threats. Employees are your organization's first line of defense. (Btw, Critical Insight offers monthly FREE security awareness trainings. Sign up here.)

Additionally, the vCISO takes a proactive approach to vendor management, helping add context and insight about the security postures of third-party vendors. This is crucial for securing your organization's data from external threats and maintaining a robust cybersecurity framework across all operational aspects.


vCISOs are a Cost-Effective Cyber Compass

A vCISO versus a traditional in-house CISO might be the perfect solution right now. Their involvement can be scaled to match your business's ebb and flow, providing flexibility in the face of change.

Key benefits:

  • Budget-Friendly: They come without the heavy salary and benefits typically required for a full-time executive, freeing up budget for other ventures.
  • Flexibility and Scalability: Whether you're scaling up or battening down the hatches, a vCISO can adjust their involvement to meet your changing needs.
  • Broad and Deep Expertise: With experience across different industries, a vCISO brings a wealth of knowledge, helping to navigate complex cybersecurity challenges.


Steering the Ship as a vCISO

A Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) carries out various ongoing duties that are crucial to maintaining robust cybersecurity. From strategizing with senior management to conducting regular risk assessments, they keep the cybersecurity dialogue active and productive.

To avoid the pitfalls of misaligned expectations, it's essential to front-load the engagement with clear planning and consensus on the journey ahead. The vCISO's leadership is most critical in areas under heavy scrutiny—risk management, governance, and compliance. Here, their acumen can transform cybersecurity from a requirement into a competitive edge.

In the same way, a vCISO should, upon engagement, immediately assess the organization's posture against a recognized framework such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. This assessment, carried out as a risk assessment, leads to a corrective action plan with budget estimates and a strategy to track and manage risks.

Additionally, the vCISO is responsible for regular documentation and reporting, providing clear and concise updates on the state of cybersecurity defenses and adjusting policies as needed to comply with the latest regulations.

Training and awareness are also key aspects of their role, with regular sessions conducted to bolster the team’s defense capabilities against evolving threats such as phishing scams and malware.

Below outlines a potential Infosec Program Management Schedule that you should expect from a vCISO engagement.


Information Security Program Management





Weekly Report

Vulnerability Scan

Access reviews

Penetration test

Incident Management

Review vulnerability assessment results, assign disposition and delegate

Conduct Risk Governance Committee meeting

Risk Assessment

Recordkeeping (e.g. security testing results for products)

Firewall rules review

Perform 2 of the annual requirements

Security Awareness Training / Attestation

Corrective action board; infosec ritual



Tabletop or functional security exercise

Meetings (change control, infosec, governance, etc.)



Policy review

Consulting project management



Service audits

Ad-hoc service requests (access changes, e.g.)



Participate in annual planning and budget development

Planning for upcoming monthly, quarterly, or annual requirements



Vendor risk assessment



Key Considerations for Onboarding a vCISO

While the idea of a vCISO might sound like smooth sailing, there are a few potential squalls to consider:

  1. Lack of Physical Presence: Some companies prefer a captain who's always on deck. vCISOs are primarily virtual but can be on site for specific key needs. Make sure your organization’s culture and requirements don’t depend on a person being in the building with the rest of your crew.
  2. Variable Costs: In cybersecurity, things change rapidly as threat actors become more sophisticated. Depending on your cybersecurity partner, the cost of a vCISO can fluctuate, which might make budgeting tricky for some. At Critical Insight, your vCISO engagement will not change, unless you choose to adjust your engagement with us. Regardless of which vendor your choose, an initial assessment should help you head off any avoidable traps.
  3. Culture Fit: Ensuring the vCISO understands and integrates with your company culture is vital but can be challenging from afar. That’s why it’s helpful to hire a vCISO who shares your same mission and values.


Choosing a vCISO to Help Navigate

A vCISO’s role isn’t just about keeping your organization’s cybersecurity and digital infrastructure intact; they’re there to ensure that your protective measures are robust and dynamic.

If you’re navigating the murky waters of cyber threats without the resources for a full-time CISO, a vCISO provides the strategic guidance and expertise to not just survive but thrive.

Are you looking for someone to lead your crew? Contact us to start the conversation.