The world generates an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. Amidst this mind-boggling amount of chatter, a very real threat is lurking: cybercrime, which has increased by 600% since the start of the pandemic, the United Nations reports.

This surge in nefarious cyber activity kicked off when global lockdowns saw millions of employees working remotely and logging in from their unsecured home computers. According to the Fortinet Global Threat Landscape Report, 80 percent of organisations experienced one or more data breaches during 2021, with a tenfold increase in ransomware attacks alone.

Patrick Evans, CEO of SLVA Cybersecurity, says that cyber threats are increasing at a rate far greater than the industry is able to cope with, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are particularly vulnerable as the financial impact falling victim to these security breaches can result in their total collapse. A sobering thought when you consider that 43 percent of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses, according to Accenture’s Cost of Cybercrime Study, and only 14% are adequately prepared to defend themselves.

As the business landscape rapidly evolves, simply keeping abreast of technology advancements and security vulnerabilities is no longer enough, Evans warns. Data breach risks need to be managed strategically, and this requires a very specific skill set. “Previously CIOs and CTOs were expected to take data security into their fold, but if anything is clear from the increasing threats in recent years, it is that there is a need for a separate security role,” he states.


The importance of a CISO

This is where a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) comes in, and business owners are starting to realise the importance of this role in their organisations. “Even if a company has an accomplished and technically skilled team on board, utilising the services of an advisor with decades of experience on how to mitigate the risks and implement up-to-date security measures is invaluable,” says Evans.

Not all organisations, however, have the budget or even the need for a full-time CISO, and there is currently a shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals. The answer to this is a virtual or fractional CISO – an outsourced security practitioner who, drawing on a wealth of experience in the cybersecurity industry, can provide valuable insight, advice and mentorship to help prevent an attack or recover from one, usually part-time and remotely.

Evans outlines some of the challenges facing organisations and how a virtual CISO can help:


Cyberthreats are increasing rapidly

There is a huge increase in the number of threats facing organisations, with ransomware becoming increasingly more prevalent. The LexisNexis True Cost of Fraud Study reports that cyberfraud in South Africa has increased by 41.5 percent since 2019, and new data from Mimecast’s State of Email Security 2022 report found that 60 percent of South African organisations had suffered a ransomware attack in 2021, up from 47 percent in 2020.

“Ransomware does not select the type of company that is attacked; it looks for the weakest attack surfaces. SMEs, educational institutions, and those in manufacturing and other verticals are often the subjects of the most severe attacks, which can be financially crippling.” This is partly because these industries have been slow to adopt a security-first approach or do not have the funds to onboard a full-time information security officer. “It’s a catch-22 situation. The most vulnerable are the ones who do not have the resources to adequately protect and mitigate attacks,” says Evans.


Financial impacts are severe

The financial impact of falling victim to a cybercrime, especially as an SME, can be devastating. The average cost of recovering from a ransomware attack is approximately USD$1.85 million, according to research from cybersecurity firm Sophos. Businesses, especially small and medium ones, can ill-afford such an attack.

According to Evans, “Cyberattacks do not simply take down a website. They can completely shut down business processes and, worse still, hold a company’s entire IP or customer database for ransom.” The result is a complete shutdown in order to recover the business, and the added risk of penalties and fines from regulators as a result of data protection laws. In many instances, these risks are not quantified nor are there adequate risk mitigation and recovery procedures put in place. “Many times, it is a tick-box exercise without ongoing processes to ensure continued compliance and protection.”


Shortage of skills

There is a dire shortage of cybersecurity skills globally. Fortinet reports that 60 percent of organisations struggle to recruit cybersecurity talent, and South African skills are at an all-time low, with many CISOs leaving for lucrative opportunities abroad. Combine the increase in cybercrime with the shortage in cyber skills, and we have a perfect storm brewing.


The answer? A virtual or fractional CISO

Fortunately, there is a solution. Virtual or fractional CISOs (vCISOs) provide those that need it most with solutions to fit their needs and budget and go several steps further than simply box-ticking.