Do SMEs need a CISO? How unprecedented growth in cyberattacks calls for appointing a CISO!

Cyberattacks continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) find themselves in a logjam of regular intrusion attempts and incidents. Given the limited resources and budgetary constraints, the most common question is, do SMEs need a CISO?

With cyberattacks becoming increasingly menacing with the sophistication of technologies, no enterprise is too small to dodge the burn. Presently, as much as 43% of SMEs do not have any defense mechanism against cyber threats facing them. With instances of data breaches and privacy compromises escalating in the post-pandemic business environment, SMEs need to be wary of the magnitude and expenses involved in these attacks. Scaling up their system security happens to be a top priority today. Particularly for small enterprises with limited resources and budgetary constraints, cyberattacks can be too devastating to recover. Apart from tarnishing their reputation, malicious actors can also inflict damage to client’s assets and PII or Personally Identifiable Information (e.g., Name, SSN, E-mail Id, Address, etc.), by compromising the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their valuable information assets.

Key Statistics: Cyberattacks In A Post-Pandemic World

The post-pandemic world has opened up fresh opportunities for malicious actors, with organizations rolling out new technologies for remote operations for their virtual workforce.

Figure 1

Graph showing increasing expenses of SMEs on cybersecurity between 2019 and 2024
(Source: Forbes )

Regardless of the type of security services sought, it is evident from the graph that SMEs would be spending more on their defense mechanism on cybersecurity in the coming years. This calls for a professional handling of their security systems.

Why SMEs And SMEs Are Under The Radar Of Cybercriminal APTs?

Cyber adversaries are increasingly deploying different sophisticated mechanisms to steal valuable information assets from organizations worldwide. As the name suggests APTs or advanced persistent threats, are using ‘advanced’ and emerging technologies, and are continuous in nature. By deploying different types of hacking tools and techniques, cybercriminals can gain access to enterprise information systems. Besides, they remain within the systems for a prolonged timespan performing continuous reconnaissance, and the consequences could potentially be destructive.

In general, executing such attacks involve significant efforts. The ultimate goal is to steal sensitive and confidential, or financial information consistently over a period of time. This, however, does not necessarily indicate that SMEs can relax outside the threat radar of these cybercriminals.

Why SMEs Are Easy And Lucrative Targets Of Cybercrime?

Hacking into an SME may not yield a high return, but they are easier to breach, and the time that adversaries need to spend to barge into their network is relatively less. Cybercriminals constantly keep the SMEs under their radar because the ROI is clearly achievable. Additionally, Cybercrime is industrializing sectors like phishing, ransomware, etc., and are further reducing their cost and building capabilities to work at a larger scale. Some of the key reasons that make SMEs an easy and lucrative target for cybercriminals, are:

  • SMEs generally have laxed attitude towards information security, thinking they don’t have anything to lose, and attackers have bigger targets to compromise.
  • Often, they lack trained resources and minimum required security controls such as antiviruses, anti-phishing solutions, firewalls, etc.
  • Malicious actors find it easy to exploit their unpatched operating systems or applications, misconfigured security solutions, etc.
  • Oftentimes, small enterprises have limited or no dedicated budget for their information security needs, preventing them from working on security vulnerabilities, employee awareness and training, etc.
  • Cyber adversaries target smaller organizations constituting the supply chain of the main target or a larger organization. Therefore, once the security of the smaller organizations is compromised, the hackers can get access to the bigger ones, serving as the stepping stones for malicious players.

The Need Of A CISO: How Hiring A CISO Can Help SMEs?

As instances of data breaches pick up the pace, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises are collaborating with cybersecurity experts and CISOs. Hiring the right professional who has experience and expertise to counter cyberattacks can help organizations in several ways. The need for a CISO for SMEs can be assessed on the following grounds.

Cyber Intelligence, Fraud, And Data Loss Prevention: Apart from devising appropriate security control measures to mitigate external threats, CISOs also stay abreast with the latest security threats, incidents, and other developments in the security space. They can add value to small enterprises by understanding key internal threats (e.g., disgruntled employees) or external security risks (e.g., ransomware, phishing attacks, etc.). Thus, they help prevent data loss by helping to implement a robust cybersecurity framework.

Securing Information Infrastructure: CISOs are responsible for devising, purchasing, and rolling out security software and hardware, designing secure networks and IT infrastructure. They help ensure that the enterprise adheres to the security best practices, secure configurations, etc., while still staying within budget.

Forensics And Investigations: SMEs often find themselves caught in limbo in case of an unfortunate event of a data breach. CISOs in such cases work as a liaison between security personnel for detecting

What went wrong?

How did it go wrong?

How could it have been avoided?

They also liaise with internal (e.g., board, security teams, enterprise units, etc.) and external (e.g., customers and clients, regulators, legal, etc.) stakeholders.

Most importantly, CISOs can help enterprises implement necessary control measures to prevent repeated incidents.

Security Governance And Program Management : As established cybersecurity experts, CISOs ensure that the security goals are aligned to your enterprise objectives. It helps keep the security efforts focused and within the allocated budget. Besides, they convey the important cybersecurity decision and security posture to the corporate leadership while also ensuring the following:

  • Policy enforcement and development of standards, procedures, and guidelines to secure the organizational information infrastructure
  • Evaluate the unique threat landscape of the enterprise and invest in the right technologies to protect the data, applications, and system.
  • Managing enterprise security initiatives, cybersecurity risk management, and helping to manage internal and external audits

How SMEs Can Choose The Right CISO And Enhance Their Cybersecurity Posture

The notion of a CISO as a service (CISOaaS) is catching us rapidly with the huge demand to have a virtual CISO by outsourcing the CISO responsibilities to a competent professional. Organizations have started to recognize the value of a leader in the information security space. Those who do not have sufficient budget required to hire a traditional CISO, are considering virtual options. Traditionally, CISOs have been in huge demand and are at the higher spectrum of salary, a full-time CISO fetching anywhere between approximately 200K-220K Euro and 120-150K Euro on a lower end as a less experienced one. A vCISO or virtual CISO will be an experienced CISO which an enterprise can employ for a couple of days, a week, or a month, for a fraction of the total cost. It can be done depending on the enterprise requirements (e.g., an upcoming regulatory audit, or assessment of introduction of a new information security regulation on enterprise) and the contract with the vCISO.

SMEs need to take a strategic approach while hiring the right CISO who has the right experience and expertise and understands their unique IT environment and the associated risks. Rather than solely focusing on the core technical skills, these firms need to prioritize other aspects like supervisory and management skills. Here are some of the prime qualities a potential CISO candidate must be able to demonstrate. On assessing these parameters, business leaders can choose the right professional.

Incident And Event Management Capabilities: The professional should have a demonstrated track record for successfully handling the intrusion and mitigating or managing the risks. Besides, SMEs should hire CISOs capable of establishing an effective incident response program and teams to analyze the threats and help eradicate the invasion.

Balancing Risk And Opportunities : SMEs often struggle when it comes to enterprise digital transformation and adoption of emerging technologies to improve business processes and strengthen the enterprise cybersecurity posture. Competent CISOs can strategically weigh risks and opportunities to devise the right technology adoption strategies. This would enable the organizations to capitalize on emerging technologies and stay ahead in the game.

Regulatory requirements: Privacy and security-related regulatory requirements keep evolving, making it necessary for CISOs to stay abreast with the upcoming regulatory developments. Adherence to regulations and legislation is imperative for any organization. Smart CISOs refrain from incorporating small incremental deviations but recommend foundational changes to strengthen security and ensure easy compliance in the future.

Final Words

The notion of a virtual CISO or vCISO may not seem to be fitting into your regular organizational structure, and they may be situated outside your enterprise periphery. However, their vision, guidance, and programmatic approach can help elevate your organization's cybersecurity posture. The role of a CISO remains the most crucial role played by an individual in safeguarding the sensitive and confidential information assets of an organization, helping to build trust among clients and regulators, and other stakeholders. A CISO has the right experience and expertise to manage people, processes, and technology and ensure alignment of enterprise security and business objectives. This is the reason why promising startups and visionary entrepreneurs are appointing accomplished CISOs to enhance their cybersecurity posture. With a Chief Information Security Officer streamlining your cybersecurity strategies, you can strengthen your stand against omnipresent online threats. Appointing the right CISO, therefore, is the need of the hour for SMEs.


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What Cyber Security challenges do SME’s face?

Kaspersky. What Is an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)? Retrieved from:

David Bisson. SMB’s Cybersecurity Guide: The Role of a CISO. Retrieved from:
SMB’s Cybersecurity Guide: The Role of a CISO

Josh Fruhlinger. How the CISO role is evolving. Retrieved from:

ET CISO. The evolving role of CISOs and their importance to the business. Retrieved from:

Steve Durbin. Six Skills CISOs Should Pursue To Elevate Their Role. Retrieved from:

Forbes Councils. 10 Critical Skills for a Successful CISO. Retrieved from:

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