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The Role of a Fractional CISO and It’s Importance in B2B SaaS | Ayman Elsawah

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There was a thirst of having security knowledge and expertise, but there was no way for people to access it. 

They can Google their face off, that's fine. 

But with security, there are a lot of nuances that are particular to each company. 

And so you kind of need someone that has been there and can provide an expert opinion. 

These founders, all they want to know is what should I do now and what should I do later?

Brutally honest insights from Ayman Elsawah, Fractional CISO and Founder of Cloud Security Labs, vCISO advisory for B2B Saas Startups.

In this episode of Audience 1st Podcast, we uncover:

  • Roles and responsibilities of a Fractional CISO:
  • Misconceptions and challenges Ayman faces in the cybersecurity industry
  • Ayman's ultimate goal as a fractional CISO 
  • Trend in the CISO role - from in-house CISO to fractional CISO
  • Differences highlighted among in-house CISOs, fractional CISOs, and virtual CISOs.
  • Importance of understanding the startup mentality and ensuring a good culture fit
  • Use of metrics like security culture and compliance to gauge the success of security investments
  • Vendor best practices to engage with fractional CISOs

Guest at a Glance

Ayman Elsawah is a fractional CISO for startups and the host of the podcast "Coffee with Ayman." With over 15 years of experience in the security industry, Ayman helps startups develop and implement effective security plans. He is passionate about making security knowledge and expertise accessible to all.

The Need for Fractional CISOs in Startups

Ayman's role as a fractional CISO involves helping startups develop and implement effective security strategies. 

He explains that many startups do not have the resources or expertise to hire a full-time security professional, which is where fractional CISOs like himself come in. 

Ayman's motivation for being a fractional CISO stems from his desire to help startups stop making security mistakes and do things the right way. 

He believes that there is a thirst for security knowledge and expertise in the startup world, but often no accessible way for founders to access it.

Ayman’s Challenges in the Security Industry

Ayman highlights a few challenges he faces in the security industry. 

One of the main challenges is the prevalence of ‘silver bullet’ solutions. 

He criticizes the industry for promoting products that claim to solve all security problems, when in reality, security is a complex and nuanced field that requires tailored solutions. 

Another challenge he mentions is the resistance to change and the adherence to outdated thinking in the industry. 

Ayman believes that cybersecurity is not black and white, but rather a spectrum of possibilities that require flexible and adaptive approaches.

The Role of a Fractional CISO

As a fractional CISO, Ayman's ultimate goal is to help startups develop a strong security culture and become self-sufficient in their security practices. 

Ayman sees an opportunity to take his role to the next level through education and media, helping more people understand the importance of security and how to implement it effectively.

The Difference Between Fractional CISOs and In-House CISOs

Ayman explains that the main difference between fractional CISOs and in-house CISOs lies in their level of influence and the scope of their responsibilities. 

In-house CISOs often have more leverage and report directly to the CEO or board, while fractional CISOs have less influence and are seen as outsiders. 

However, Ayman emphasizes that there is a lot of overlap between the two roles, and the key differentiator is the technicality of their position within the organization.

Measuring Success in Security Investments

When it comes to measuring success as a fractional CISO, Ayman emphasizes the importance of building a strong security culture within an organization. 

He believes that success can be measured by the level of security awareness and reporting within a company, as well as the capability to respond to security incidents effectively. 

Standout Qualities for Vendors in the Security Market

Ayman suggests that vendors in the security market can stand out by providing more transparency and accessibility. 

He believes that showcasing the product interface and functionality without requiring a call or demo can be a game-changer. 

Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of responsive customer support, as it can make a significant difference in the overall experience for both the fractional CISO and their clients.

The Importance of Externalizing Security Culture

Ayman stresses the significance of externalizing a company's security culture through a dedicated security page on their website. 

He believes that having a security page demonstrates a commitment to security and provides potential customers with valuable information about the company's security practices. 

Ayman also suggests providing a demo walkthrough or video to showcase the product's interface and functionality, as this can give potential customers a better understanding of the product without requiring a call or demo.

Ayman’s Vendor Experiences: The Good and The Bad

Ayman shares his experiences with vendors, both positive and negative. 

He highlights the importance of responsive customer support and cites instances where vendors' lack of responsiveness negatively impacted his work. 

On the other hand, he recounts a positive experience where a vendor went above and beyond to rectify a mistake and ensure customer satisfaction. 

Ayman emphasizes the need for vendors to prioritize relationships over transactions and provide exceptional customer support.

Closing Thoughts

The role of a fractional CISO in today's security landscape is crucial for startups looking to establish and improve their security practices. 

Ayman's expertise and dedication to helping startups navigate the complex world of cybersecurity make him a valuable asset to any organization. 

By focusing on building a strong security culture, externalizing security practices, and providing exceptional customer support, vendors can differentiate themselves in the market and create lasting partnerships with fractional CISOs like Ayman. 

Action Items for Vendors

Build a Strong Security Culture:

  • Educate all employees about the importance of security.
  • Promote security awareness initiatives within the organization.
  • Ensure that leaders and teams are empowered with the tools and knowledge to practice security in their roles.

Improve Customer Support:

  • Ensure responsiveness and efficiency in addressing customer inquiries and concerns.
  • Train customer support teams in-depth about products to handle technical questions confidently.
  • Monitor customer support performance and seek feedback for continuous improvement.

Externalize Company's Security Culture:

  • Develop a dedicated security page on the company website detailing security practices, certifications, and commitments.
  • Create a demo walkthrough or video showcasing the product's interface and functionality to allow potential customers to understand the product without direct interaction.

Avoid Promoting "Silver Bullet" Solutions:

  • Develop and market products based on real-world security needs and not on overstated claims.
  • Emphasize the nuanced nature of security and how the product fits within a comprehensive security strategy.

Foster Relationships Over Transactions:

  • Engage with clients beyond sales.
  • Seek feedback regularly and act on it, demonstrating a commitment to the partnership.

Increase Product Transparency and Accessibility:

  • Allow potential customers to see the product interface and functionality without insisting on a call or demo.
  • Provide comprehensive documentation and resources online for easy access.

Highlight Success Stories and Rectify Mistakes:

  • Share REAL case studies or testimonials of clients who have benefited from the product or service.
  • Address and rectify any issues promptly, ensuring the client feels valued and heard.

Facilitate Security Compliance:

  • Equip products and services with features that aid in compliance with security standards.
  • Provide clients with resources or guidance on achieving and maintaining compliance when using the product.

Engage with Fractional CISOs and Understand Their Unique Needs:

  • Organize workshops or webinars tailored to the challenges faced by fractional CISOs in startups.
  • Develop resources or packages specifically designed for startups' security needs.

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