Pratum Blog

Experts talking about how to hire a Chief Information Security Officer can make it sound like recruiting a unicorn. And HR training and fantasy literature make two things clear about unicorns: they come with a steep price tag and get a lot of calls from recruiters.

So if you’re considering a search for a legendary (or even just competent) CISO, plan on a hunt that will probably take months, cost more than you think and leave you constantly watching over your shoulder for unicorn poachers.

Instead of chasing that mythical beast (and potentially doing it again in a year or two when your prize gets a better offer), consider options other than hiring a single person. The best solution for your organization may be a Virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO) service. That’s proving especially true in 2020, when new security threats and uncertain budgets make adding a full-time CISO tougher than ever.

What a vCISO Does

For a quick recap, let’s sum up typical CISO duties:

  • Understand the ever-changing threat landscape.
  • Continually monitor system activity and quickly respond to critical threats as escalated by the security analyst team.
  • Regularly assess the organization’s security posture and coordinate third-party certifications such as SOC 2 or HIPAA.
  • Evaluate the security implications of organizational changes (such as a switch to remote work or an acquisition) and implement appropriate adjustments.
  • Create and carry out information security training for all employees.
  • Oversee and ensure software and devices are properly configured and patched at all times.
  • Plan for information security as part of the organization’s overall strategy.
  • Communicate to top leadership about the organization’s security position and outlook.

Despite that long list, many organizations still tend to think the IT director or chief information officer (CIO) can manage all this along with their day job. But that’s usually a recipe for leaving yourself open to security problems. Even if your IT director or CIO has the full security skillset, few people have the bandwidth for this kind of double duty.

How a vCISO Can Help

So you almost certainly need someone focused solely on your organization’s information security. Here are six factors that might make a vCISO the right choice:

1. Cost savings –Plan on a solid vCISO earning about $185,000 annually. Pratum’s vCISO service, on the other hand, ranges from $24,000 to $120,000 per year. Because each organization can customize its vCISO plan, you pay only for time you use, not extraneous meetings, hallway chats, etc. These vCISO cost savings are especially attractive for growing organizations deciding whether they’re even ready a full-time CISO.

2.Easier/faster hiring and no retention worries –Most managers dread the time suck of the hiring process. Depending on your company’s location and brand recognition, recruiting can take even longer than industry averages. And once you’ve hired the right person, you face industry averages showing that the average tenure of a CISO is only 24-48 months.

3. Time to clarify your needs –The CISO revolving door isn’t all about employees seeking bigger paychecks. Many leave because companies with newly created CISO positions frustrate good hires with a marginal security commitment, unclear metrics and other growing pains. Using a vCISO service lets your team understand its approach before investing in a full-time employee.

4. Instant scalability –When a big project, security event or new business line comes along, you can ramp up your vCISO’s capacity overnight.

5. A team full of experts –A great CISO is a Renaissance person, with deep knowledge of compliance, vendors, policies, continuity plans, government standards, business management and more. That’s a lot of expertise to find in a single person. With a vCISO approach, you get a lead consultant with an entire advisory team sitting around them. Along with the technical expertise, you’ll benefit from the checks and balances of several opinions rather than a single person’s perspective.

6. An honest third-party perspective –Executives all say they value honesty—but employees know there’s a limit there. Inevitably, some CISOs sense that certain battles present a choice between protecting company security and protecting their career. A vCISO service obviously wants to retain you as a client, but you won’t be their only client, giving them more freedom to tell it like it is. Plus, an in-house CISO may factor office politics into decisions about whether to push departments getting tired of the CISO’s demands. A vCISO, on the other hand, doesn’t worry about who snubs them in the break room.

How vCISO Works

If you decide to start evaluating how to choose a vCISO, here’s what you need to know:

Pratum scopes each vCISO agreement as an exact fit for your organization. Our team sets up a monthly service plan, but whenever you determine you need more or less service, we can adjust the plan accordingly.

Because we work with companies on these plans every day, we can get your vCISO up and running as quickly as a couple of weeks after your initial call.

As you consider vCISO services, don’t assume it’s a temporary fix. The flexibility and affordability convince many companies to make it their permanent approach, especially in small- and medium-size businesses. Growing businesses also find advantages in how a vCISO lets them regularly redefine the role as their company changes. That provides insurance against hiring a leader who may find themselves out of their league as the organization grows bigger and more complex.

If you’re ready to learn more about your vCISO options, reach out to our vCISO team today!

If your company works anywhere within a Department of Defense supply chain (or hopes to), the new CMMC cybersecurity standard will soon be part of your life. And that brings along all the alphabet soup and uncertainty you’d expect from a government process. Here’s what you need to know.

What IS this new standard?

It began in 2010, when the federal government defined Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). This provided a unified standard for labeling and handling sensitive government information such as health documents, engineering plans or legal documents. Since 2018, the DoD has required its contractors to comply with NIST 800-171 as a control for properly handling CUI. (NIST 800-171 was published as a Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement, or DFARS.)

The government allowed organizations to self-certify their compliance with NIST 800-171, leaving some obvious gaps. The remedy is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program, which is scheduled to start appearing in DoD Requests for Proposal (RFPs) this fall. The Pentagon has stated that all DoD contracts will contain CMMC requirements by 2026.

How many certification levels does CMMC have, and which one do I have to meet?

The standard has five levels, all of which include standards for both digital and physical security. All DoD contractors will be required to achieve at least Level 1. This “basic cyber hygiene” level includes familiar steps such as installing and regularly updating antivirus software.

Any contractors with access to CUI will be required to achieve at least Level 3, which is a big step up from Level 2’s 17 controls to Level 3’s 100+ controls.

All DoD RFPs and Requests for Information (RFIs) will specify the required CMMC level. A company’s CMMC certification will last for three years.

Do all of a company’s physical locations require certification?

Any site that handles sensitive information must be certified. A third-party consultant can help you determine whether various sites in your organization require accreditation.

Do my subcontractors need to be certified?

In general, yes. At a press conference announcing CMMC, Ellen M. Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, specifically said that, from a hacker’s perspective, "Attacking a sub-tier supplier is far more appealing than a prime [supplier]." Lord did clarify, however, that the required level may be different for a prime contractor and its subs.

The exception is a vendor who sells you raw materials such as steel or wire. Because those vendors have no access to sensitive information such as engineering plans, they do not need certification.

Who actually performs the accreditation?

Companies could perform self-certification under NIST 800-171, but CMMC won’t allow that. The CMMC Accreditation Body will be accrediting Certified Third-Party Assessment Organizations (known as C3PAOs). So far, CMMC-AB has published no details about the process for becoming a C3PAO or what guidelines C3PAOs will use when performing assessments.

How much time do I have to comply with this standard?

You can bid on a new contract before receiving your certification, but you must be accredited by the time the contract is awarded. Based on Pratum’s experience with previous government standard rollouts, we expect the DoD may provide a “waterfall” approach that gives vendors a series of required milestones for some lower risk contracts. The DoD will be motivated to work with current vendors to help them achieve this standard and continue with existing relationships.

How should my company approach this process?

The most effective approach is to get help preparing for the accreditation process to ensure you pass. Depending on your current cybersecurity program maturity, plan on a minimum of six months to evaluate your current posture, prepare for the audit and complete the audit. Here’s a suggested roadmap:

1. Hire a third-party security firm to help evaluate your organization’s current posture compared to the level you need to achieve. Look for a firm with experience in complying with past government standards. Note that one vendor cannot serve as both your consultant in preparing for the audit and the auditing organization.

2. Use the assessment to address any shortcomings before your audit.

3. Retain a C3PAO to perform the audit.

4. Correct any weaknesses revealed during accreditation. You may be required to create a Plan of Action and Milestones (POAM) to track and report on remediation of problem areas in order to keep a contract.

Where can I learn more?

You can read the DoD’s official CMMC page here.

For help in understanding the new standard and preparing for an audit, contact Pratum’s experienced team of compliance experts!

Hackers, like all humans, crave efficiency. And that makes your employees their favorite target. It’s easier, after all, to crack a person than a computer. Even though your cybersecurity fears may envision someone tapping out code in a darkened room, the bigger threat is an e-mail that fools an employee into granting access to the company’s system. That’s why social engineering attacks (such as bogus e-mails in phishing attacks) have become the most common method for penetrating an organization’s system.

To fully protect your data, you have to educate and motivate every employee to make security part of their daily responsibility rather than counting on IT to handle it on their own. Use the following list to check how you’re doing on the most common cybersecurity pitfalls.

1. Having no security awareness strategy

A security culture takes shape only after someone with authority deems it important, forms a plan for achieving specific goals and then carries out the plan. Your first step should be a written plan that defines the security culture you envision and provides specific steps you’ll take to get there. For example, your culture will define what level of access to company data each employee receives. Include information security themes for each quarter, which will guide your communication and training.

2. Limiting your plan to office settings

If you’re thinking only in terms of access to office-based computers and servers, you’re several years behind. The rapid switch in 2020 to working from home should cement our understanding that the dispersed workforce is here to stay. Your data probably lives largely in the cloud with access coming from dozens of personal devices and home networks. Your plan and training need to cover all of that.

3. Having no plan for training

About 30% of U.S. companies say they have no security awareness and training programs for employees or other stakeholders. That leaves hackers a wide doorway into your systems. For your first information security training program, you can turn to dozens of low-cost solutions that provide excellent and relevant material. Or consider putting together a PowerPoint with relevant security topics that engage employees across all departments. Effective security training solutions include, at a minimum, the following list of topics:

  • Data classification and sensitivity. Employees need to understand what types of data your organization stores, processes and transmits. Giving them an overview of this information helps them recognize the sensitivity of your records and how your business depends on each employee to protect the data they work with.
  • Social engineering tactics, approaches, and example. Attackers use threats, such as fraudulent phone calls, e-mail phishing, and facility access, to obtain more information about your organization or establish remote network access. Employees must be adequately trained to identify situations where bad actors are trying to get them to divulge sensitive information.
  • Password best practices. Passwords are the primary authentication method employees use to access sensitive data. You must provide training on how to generate strong, effective passwords that align with your organization’s requirements.
  • System patching. While your IT department will most likely manage employee devices, it’s imperative to emphasize the importance of system updates. Devices should always be kept up to date with the latest operating system and application patches.
  • Incident response. Training should cover how to quickly and effectively report potential security incidents to management and/or IT staff. Data breaches are typically discovered by an employee observing suspicious activity on their computer system or network.

4. Considering one training session enough

Many companies capitalize on a new employee’s eagerness by providing security training on the first day. While this is an important step in the onboarding process, it shouldn’t be the last time the employee hears about these policies and procedures. A study by Vanson Bourne found that just 11% of organizations continuously train employees on information security. We recommend refresher sessions at least a couple of times per year, which ensures employees get reminders on best practices, hear about the latest threats and recognize that management takes the topic seriously.

5. Assuming what employees know

Don’t generalize based on employees' job skills or age. Many leaders assume that young employees are savvier about information security since they’ve grown up using multiple digital platforms. But that familiarity—and a culture of sharing almost everything online—may actually make your younger team members bigger risks. Train everyone, and make it available in several formats (presentations, videos, quizzes, etc.) so that employees get the message regardless of their learning style.

And don’t skip the basics in your training materials. For example, “Password” is still one of the world’s most common passwords. And a Verizon study shows that approximately 76% of attacks on corporate networks involved weak passwords. So as obvious as the need for strong passwords may seem—it obviously isn’t.

6. Not involving company leadership

When employees not only hear leaders talking about the importance of information security but actually see the leaders sitting beside them in training sessions, the message is clear. Use your top managers to reinforce the priority your organization puts on security.

7. Failing to measure progress

Your long-term strategy should include benchmarks showing how you’re doing. Some common performance indicators include tracking how many employees fail routine phishing tests, who is reporting suspicious emails, how often employees change their passwords, and who is adhering to your organization’s Clean Desk Policy. With metrics in place, you can track progress and identify employees who aren’t embracing or understanding policies.

If all of that sounds a bit overwhelming, see how Pratum can help! Every week, our consultants help companies create their security strategy, develop plans for implementation, and maintain security awareness and training effectiveness.

Get our blog posts delivered to your inbox:

The information we track while users are on our websites helps us analyze site traffic, optimize site performance, improve our services, and identify new products and services of interest to our users. To learn more please see our Privacy Policy.