What is a vCISO vs. a Traditional CISO? 

Published on Jun 5, 2024
by Grace Roundtree

Companies often hire a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to sustain a secure cyberspace. Medium to large-scale companies often utilize traditional CISOs to upkeep necessary cyber protocols. Opposing this is a virtual Chief Information Security Officer (vCISO). 

A vCISO, also referred to as CISO on demand, is a great solution for small to medium sized businesses that cannot support a full-time position. Deciding between a traditional CISO and vCISO relies on the organization’s specific needs, size, budget, and security challenges. 


Primary Objective 

Both a traditional CISO and vCISO aim to protect an organization’s digital infrastructure and ensure standards are up to code. These leaders ensure businesses comply with regulations by strategically managing cybersecurity.      

Strategic Role 

Each role helps the development and implementation of cybersecurity strategy. The cybersecurity strategy is tailored to the unique risk profile of the organization. These initiatives may include comprehensive security policies, conducting gap analyses, companywide educational workshops, and continuous monitoring.   

Incident Response 

Both vCISOs and traditional CISOs mitigate cyber risk by developing incident response plans. This preparation is key for minimizing damage, preventing future incidents, and maintaining the organization’s security integrity. 

Risk Assessment 

CISOs and vCISOs alike conduct organization-specific risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities within the company. Executives design effective mitigation strategies to minimize these risks in future affairs. 


Employment Model 

A traditional CISO is commonly a full-time employee, deeply integrated within the organization’s structure and most importantly working onsite. They fully immerse themselves in the company culture and day-to-day operations. Conversely, a vCISO is often a part-time external consultant or third-party service provider. They typically engage remotely on an hourly, daily, or project basis, which allows for more flexible engagements. 


The traditional CISO is fully integrated into the company’s daily and strategic operations, regularly collaborating across departments. A vCISO provides strategic advice and guidance at various levels of engagement. This can range from a few hours a week to specific projects. In these projects, internal teams typically implement most of the recommendations.     

Scope of Work 

Traditional CISOs manage both strategic and operational security tasks, directly overseeing an internal security team. In contrast, vCISOs focus on providing strategic guidance and high-level planning, rather than daily operations. They typically supervise and advise internal teams or smaller organizations. 

Salary and Costs 

A CISO, being a full-time executive, typically earns a competitive salary inclusive of bonuses and benefits, indicating higher organizational expenses. A vCISO is conventionally a more flexible cost structure, billing based on hours, days, or specific projects. This can be a cost-effective option for organizations with budgets restraints. 

Organizational Impact 

Traditional CISOs possess a deeper understanding of the organization’s culture, systems, and business objectives, providing consistent and integrated security leadership. A vCISO typically has multiple clients and brings diverse industry expertise. However, they may need adjustment to address specific organizational challenges because of their less integrated nature. 

Hiring and Availability 

Hiring a full time CISO can be challenging and time-consuming due to the high demand for specialized skills. Hiring a vCISO is generally easier. Being that the process is quicker, this offers organizations immediate access to experienced security leadership. 

In Review 

Both CISOs and vCISOs enhance an organization’s cybersecurity posture. While a vCISO can complement a traditional CISO, these roles differ in integration, scope, and operational focus. A vCISO may not be as fully integrated as a traditional CISO. However, they can provide valuable industry expertise and guidance on specific cybersecurity issues, offering a fresh perspective. 

Understanding the nuances between a CISO or a vCISO depends on various factors such as company size, industry, budget, and security requirements. Organizations can improve their cybersecurity and protect their assets by comparing the differences between these two roles. This can help organizations make informed decisions to strengthen their cybersecurity and protect their valuable assets.