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How and When to Know You Need a Fractional CISO

How and When to Know You Need a Fractional CISO

By Andy Hilliard, CEO of Accelerance

Every business owner knows how important cyber security is. Headlines of attacks, leaks and breaches of customer data, payment information, intellectual property and more emphasize that need almost daily. But not every business can afford to pay a chief information security officer on a full-time basis. Enter the fractional CISO.

Fractional CISOs are ideal for businesses that want to stay safe and secure while watching their budgets. A fractional CISO will help ensure that your platforms are up to date, that any onsite and offshore teams are operating securely and that systems run smoothly. That includes full-time IT staff and project developers.

But how can you tell that you need that expertise? When should you bring in a fractional CISO? Experiencing a data breach or other cybersecurity attack is an obvious sign you need to up your cybersecurity gameplan. But don’t wait for trouble to strike. The right fractional CISO at the right time can help you prevent or prepare for attacks.

What are some of the indicators you should watch for? 

  • Rapid Growth Without Corresponding Security Maturity: If your organization is experiencing rapid growth in terms of revenue, market share, or workforce, but your cybersecurity measures are not maturing at the same pace, a fractional CISO could provide the necessary strategic direction.
  • Complex Regulatory Compliance Needs: For businesses in heavily regulated industries (like finance, healthcare, or energy), staying compliant with evolving regulations requires sophisticated security strategies. A fractional CISO can help you navigate these complexities effectively.
  • Increased Frequency of Security Incidents: A rise in minor security incidents or “near misses” can be a precursor to more significant breaches. A fractional CISO can help identify root causes and improve your security posture over time.
  • Lack of Cybersecurity Leadership: In the absence of a clear cybersecurity strategy and leadership, organizations may struggle to prioritize and implement effective security measures. A fractional CISO can often bring confident leadership as well as a strategic viewpoint to your organization.
  • Business Model Evolution or Digital Transformation: As organizations undergo digital transformation or pivot their business models, new security vulnerabilities can emerge. A fractional CISO can guide your secure adoption of new technologies and processes.
  • Supplier and Partner Security Requirements: Increasingly, businesses are required to demonstrate robust cybersecurity measures to engage in partnerships or serve clients, especially in B2B environments. A fractional CISO can ensure that your security practices meet or exceed these expectations so your business gets what it needs.
  • Difficulty Attracting or Retaining Cybersecurity Talent: The cybersecurity field is highly competitive, with a significant talent shortage. A fractional CISO can fill the leadership gap and help build a stronger internal team by defining roles, responsibilities, and career paths clearly.
  • Unclear Security ROI: If your organization struggles to understand the return on investment for security initiatives, a fractional CISO can help align security spending with business objectives and demonstrate value.
  • Board-Level Concerns About Cyber Risks: When board members express concerns about cyber risks and the organization’s readiness to address them, it’s a clear signal that the expertise of a fractional CISO could benefit both strategic planning and board communications.

More subtle, less obvious, indications your organization could benefit from a fractional CISO often include:

  • Inconsistent Security Policies Across Departments: When security policies vary significantly between departments, it can indicate a lack of cohesive cybersecurity strategy, potentially leading to vulnerabilities.
  • Over-reliance on Legacy Systems: An organization’s reluctance to upgrade or patch legacy systems due to operational dependency, fearing disruptions, can create security risks. This reluctance might not be openly discussed but is a critical vulnerability.
  • Unregulated Shadow IT: The use of unsanctioned software or hardware by employees without IT approval (known as Shadow IT) can expose the organization to risks. You’ve got Shadow IT in place when departments start solving IT problems on their own, bypassing official channels.
  • Frequent Exception Requests to IT Policies: Regular requests from employees for exceptions to IT policies may indicate that the policies are outdated or not aligned with business needs, potentially leading to security gaps.
  • High Employee Turnover in IT Security Roles: While not often linked directly to cybersecurity risks, high turnover can indicate underlying issues with the organization’s security culture or a lack of clear strategic direction.
  • Lack of Security Awareness Among Employees: Subtle indicators, like casual discussions that reveal ignorance about phishing or the importance of strong passwords, can suggest that the organization’s security training is insufficient.
  • Vendor Management is Overlooked: If discussions with suppliers and partners rarely include security considerations, it may indicate an underestimation of supply chain risks.
  • Limited Engagement with Industry Security Groups and Standards: Not participating in or following industry cybersecurity groups or standards might indicate an organization’s lack of proactive engagement with the cybersecurity community.
  • Silence Around Cybersecurity: In some organizations, the absence of regular communication about cybersecurity, whether in meetings, reports, or newsletters, can itself be a warning sign. It may suggest an underestimation of cybersecurity importance at the executive level.
  • Resistance to Security Audits or Assessments: A subtle reluctance or defensiveness when external security audits or assessments are proposed can signal an organization’s fear of uncovering and confronting its cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
  • Disproportionate Focus on External Threats Over Insider Threats: Exclusively focusing on protecting against external attackers without considering the risk of insider threats can be a critical oversight.

Each of these points to underlying challenges in managing cybersecurity effectively at a strategic level.

A fractional CISO can also help your organization move from being reactive to proactive. It’s hard enough stomping out day-to-day IT fires, not to mention juggling those same resources for longer term projects. You need a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of security issues.

They can guide this transition with specialized skills and activities such as conducting deep-dive risk assessments, building a security strategic plan and roadmap and more. By emphasizing the identification and resolution of root causes, a fractional CISO enhances the organization’s immediate security posture and builds a foundation for long-term resilience against cyber threats. This strategic approach ensures that cybersecurity efforts are efficient, effective, and aligned with the organization’s broader goals and risk tolerance while creating long-term value.

A fractional CISO brings expertise, leadership, and an external perspective that can help organizations navigate these challenges and more, enhance their security posture, and align cybersecurity strategies with business objectives.

About the Author

How and When to Know You Need a Fractional CISOAndy Hilliard is the CEO of Accelerance. He leads the globalization and collaboration of software teams with companies seeking talent, innovation, and a globally-distributed extension of their engineering function. Hilliard recently released his latest book, Synergea: A Blueprint for Building Effective, Globally Distributed Teams in the New Era of Software Development. Andy can be reached online at www.linkedin.com/in/andyhilliard/and at www.accelerance.com/.

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