– FFIEC Information Security Handbook
Information security officers (ISO) have a wide range of responsibilities and navigating them can be quite challenging, especially with increased scrutiny from examiners on alignment of policies, procedures, and practices. Adding to that challenge is the associated element of accountability; the premise that unless your practices are properly documented and reported to the various stakeholder groups, there may be doubt in the mind of the examiner as to whether or not they actually happened.
As a result of this responsibility + accountability challenge, many financial institutions are turning to virtual information security officer (VISO) solutions to support the role of the ISO by augmenting existing personnel and ensuring all tasks and related activities are completed on time; are following approved procedures; and are properly reported to the various stakeholders.
In a recent webinar, Safe Systems outlined the three virtual ISO delivery models available to community banks and credit unions today and discussed key considerations when implementing each.
1. Outsource All Activities
In this model, the financial institution hires a third-party provider to take on all of the responsibility and accountability tasks of the ISO role. Outsourcing these activities minimizes your staff’s involvement, potentially freeing up time to focus on more revenue generating activities, but this approach is typically more expensive because the third-party provider is doing all of the heavy lifting.
Another important consideration is that outsourcing everything can also isolate key personnel from important procedures and practices. If the institution isn’t involved in the day-to-day information security activities, when IT auditors and examiners question your personnel, they may not have the necessary day-to-day procedural knowledge to answer their questions. For example, there will likely be activities the outsourced provider is doing that the ISO is unaware of or they are using procedures not familiar to your personnel. This could lead to audit and examination observations or findings, as the ISO is expected to have comprehensive knowledge and understanding of all information security activities
Outsourcing information security tasks is best for financial institutions with neither the time, expertise, nor inclination to perform the duties of the role. However, it comes at a higher cost, both in terms of capital outlay and also in the possibility of ISO disassociation from actual procedures and practices. The FFIEC Management Handbook uses terms such as “engaging with…,” and “working with…,” and “participating in…,” and “informing…,” to describe the typical responsibilities of the ISO. This level of involvement may be more difficult under the “outsource all” model.
2. Toolset only (Apps, Checklists, Templates, etc.)
Another option is to select a model where there’s a toolset provided to accomplish ISO tasks. The toolset could consist of applications, checklists, or templates that may be prefilled or partially filled. With this model, you’re given the tools to manage ISO responsibilities without the support. There’s less human interaction, which typically means the service is less expensive.
However, the toolset model requires more effort from staff and requires the financial institution to rely on internal resources for information security expertise and guidance. Without this guidance, this model may also introduce some inconsistencies between the institution’s policies and procedures. For example, if you specify something in one area of your policies and you reference something that may conflict with that in another area, auditors are likely going to notice and question you on it, and that could cause them to dig deeper into other areas. Policy/procedure consistency is one of the most important indicators of strong infosec governance.
This model may include access to compliance guidance and expertise, but it would be reactive instead of proactive. It is best for institutions that have the necessary internal expertise, but they just need the additional structure a toolset provides to ensure all activities are completed in a timely manner.
3. Hybrid (Toolset + Consultation)
Finally, a hybrid model combines the first two models to provide a toolset plus additional expertise, proactive guidance, and consultation. It typically has better integration between various ISO practices because it’s all under one umbrella. As a result, the institution gains consistency and better coordination within and among its policies for business continuity, vendor management, incident response, project management, and information security. However, because of the tight integration, financial institutions that do not adopt all of the tools that support this model may not see the maximum benefit. Also, because of the increased level of ISO engagement, it may be more resource intensive initially, especially if the institution is behind on key ISO tasks. However, once tasks are brought up to date, ongoing maintenance is simpler due to the integrated toolset. This model is also quite flexible and can easily adapt to the evolving needs of the institution.
This is the model we decided to adopt for our virtual ISO solution, ISOversight. We’ve found this model is best for institutions that desire the advantages of regular active involvement with outside expertise, plus a toolset and reporting to ensure the ISO remains fully engaged. The price point is somewhere between the other two models; less than a complete outsource, but a bit more than toolset only.
ISOversight is a risk management solution that provides accountability for all of the responsibilities of the ISO. We have monthly touch point meetings, and we tailor the service to meet each institution’s unique requirements.
To learn more about the information security officer role and the benefits of virtual ISO solutions, watch our recorded webinar, “ISO Requirements and Expectations: Accountability vs. Responsibility.”