in-house security vs virtual cisos

Navigating Cybersecurity: In-House Security Teams vs. Virtual CISOs

Wesley Van Zyl

Senior Compliance Success Manager

Summary: Discover the difference between a CISO and a vCISO and the benefits each hold concerning cybersecurity (and budget).

For many scaling businesses, investing in a full-stack, in-house security team can be challenging both in terms of the necessity and financial implications. However, in an unforgiving threat landscape, companies can’t afford to stagnate in terms of cybersecurity. This begs the question – is there an equally effective alternative to navigating cybersecurity instead of hiring an in-house security team, and if so, would that compromise the security standard? 

Let’s take a look. 

According to a 2023 IBM report on the cost of a data breach, researchers found organizations that appointed a CISO saved $130,086 on average compared to those without a CISO in place per incident. However, the same report stated that only one-third of companies discovered data breaches through their security teams, highlighting a need for better threat detection. In fact, 67% of breaches are reported by a benign third party or the attackers themselves. 

Although the role of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is critical in maintaining a company’s cybersecurity standards, if you’re a small or mid-sized business that doesn’t need a full-time CISO, there’s an alternative solution at hand: a virtual CISO (vCISO). Needless to say, there’s a fair debate surrounding the topic: In-House Security Teams vs. Virtual CISOs (vCISO) – what’s the verdict? 

How Does a vCISO Differ From a CISO?

Both CISOs and vCISOs share the goal of safeguarding information. However, their approaches and execution differ significantly.

Traditionally, the CISO works full-time for an organization as an executive. They oversee the internal security team, perform risk assessments, and ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations—a vital component of implementing security efforts. 

On the other hand, a virtual CISO works under contract or as a consultant. This position serves companies that might not need a full-time CISO, or that want to add more knowledge to their security setup. It’s important to remember that a vCISO’s role varies depending on a company’s specific needs but is generally considered an external expert responsible for planning, managing, implementing, maintaining, developing, and communicating information security programs. 

CISO vs vCISO: Which is the Right Fit?

The choice between a CISO and a vCISO is frequently influenced by an organization’s size, funding, and unique security requirements. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind when evaluating between a CISO and a vCISO. 

The Costs of a vCISO

Right out the gate, the cost of hiring a vCISO compared to an in-house CISO is one of the primary considerations. Leveraging the help of a vCISO allows small businesses to access the expertise of a cybersecurity professional without the general overhead costs associated with a full-time employee. 

Moreover, by partnering with a vCISO, businesses often access a more comprehensive network of resources and tools that aren’t always readily available when employing an in-house CISO. In addition, vCISOs often offer more flexible pricing models, allowing businesses to scale their cybersecurity efforts based on their current needs and growth objectives.

The Knowledge Advantage of a vCISO

One of the significant advantages of hiring a full-time CISO is that they come with a wealth of knowledge. However, that doesn’t mean a vCISO negates that benefit. A vCISO brings the added advantage of diverse industry experience. Due to their broad exposure across multiple industries and cybersecurity challenges, they often have a better finger on the pulse of the current cybersecurity landscape. 

Moreover, a vCISO can provide specialized knowledge in specific areas, such as compliance with industry standards and regulations. This expertise can prove invaluable in today’s regulatory landscape, helping your organization stay ahead of legal and compliance requirements.


Address Turnover Challenges

At some point, any organization is faced with turnover challenges. However, this has proved especially difficult in the cybersecurity sector. This touches on what many refer to as “The Great CISO Resignation,” which describes the recent trend in the cybersecurity space where many CISOs reconsider their roles due to the rising stream of cyber threats paired with high expectations and a talent deficit, leading to a leadership gap. 

However, the rise in vCISOs fills this gap and helps address the challenge of maintaining an effective cybersecurity program with the turnover of key personnel. A vCISO often offers seamless transitions between different experts, providing continuity without disrupting key operations. 

Although there may be a plethora of options to choose from, ultimately, you want to make sure that it’s the right one for your business and its specific security requirements. Although it’s true that both a vCISO and a full-time CISO have their advantages, the former offers cost savings, diverse industry experience, and solutions to turnover challenges. Now, it’s just about finding the right one.