What Does a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) Do?
A chief information security officer (CISO) is the top-level professional executive in an organization responsible for data and information security.
The CISO title can often be interchanged with titles such as vice president (VP) of security and chief security officer (CSO). These high-level professionals work their way up through technical and managerial jobs to reach the top of the ladder for data management and protection within an organization.
A CISO establishes, implements, and maintains all aspects related to technological assets and information and everything related to data security and potential IT risks. A CISO generally directs teams of other information security specialists, computer analysts, and related personnel to recognize, neutralize, and eliminate information security threats.
A CISO will work across economic sectors and with other executives within a company or organization to keep a company evolving and ethically compliant.
How to become a chief information security officer (CISO)
Generally, the first step toward becoming a CISO is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related IT (information technology) field. Beyond that, it requires extensive work and experience within the IT and information security sectors to build up your resume and your technical and managerial skills and abilities. You will need to be able to prove competence within the field as well as the expertise in working with and managing groups of other security professionals.
To become a CISO, you should possess the following skills:
- Communication and presentation abilities
- Aptitude to articulate technical and IT security issues in a manner that nontechnical executives can understand
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Administration and policy development abilities
- Strategic management and financial planning skills
- Knowledge of current relevant legislation as well as potential and upcoming legislation and ethical considerations
- Incident management skills
- Supervisory experience
- Understanding of standards and regulations regarding compliance
- Programming and system administration
- Understanding of security-centric technology
What does a CISO do?
A CISO is chiefly responsible for protecting the company or organization’s intellectual property, proprietary data, and information assets. A CISO manages and oversees the overall security of an organization, from the technical and information side to physical security. A CISO will have extensive knowledge and expertise of the security needs and information technology practices of their company.
A CISO will also work to find and exploit potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities within the security protocols already in place. Working with other information security professionals and executives, a CISO will develop extensive and effective information and asset protection practices as well as security policies.
A CISO hires IT security professionals to build teams that develop and implement strategic plans. A CISO does not have a specific list of responsibilities, but they may be required to do the following:
- Introduce new technologies
- Offer guidance and leadership to IT personnel
- Oversee educational programs
- Prepare budgets and financial forecasts as well as allocate financial resources involving security operations and maintenance
- Perform audits and risk assessments
- Coordinate data recovery and investigative efforts
- Ensure compliance with standards, regulations, and laws
- Create reports
- Discuss technical details and information with nontechnical personal in an accessible manner
Steps for becoming a CISO
There is no one specific path or direction to becoming a CISO, but typically, the following steps can prepare you for this role:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, business, or a related IT discipline. Often, a CISO will also have a master’s degree in cybersecurity. This can give you a competitive edge.
- Work at least 7 to 10 years in IT security to gain experience. Typically, it will require progressive experience, working your way up through the ranks of an IT department or structure. Roles such as security analyst, security architect, or ethical hacker are good building blocks, as are jobs in programming, risk management, information security, and government.
- Invest in IT security training and certifications. There is not one particular certification necessary to become a CISO, but obtaining high-level information security credentials can prove your commitment, dedication, and expertise in the field. Choices include the CISSP (Certified Information System Security Professional) or the CAP (Certified Authorization Professional) to name a few. Both of these are offered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2. Other options include the CompTIA CySA+ (Cybersecurity Analyst) and the CompTIA Security+ — both offered by CompTIA.
- Expand on your management experience. Most of the time, a CISO will have fairly extensive experience — not just with hands-on technical aspects of information security but also with managing other IT and IS professionals.
CISO salary and job requirements
A CISO makes an average of $166,585 per year as a base salary. The exact salary will depend on where you live geographically and the company itself.
A chief information security officer is one of the highest paid and most powerful executives at a company or organization. In 2019, the CISO was the second highest paying IT career with some Fortune 500 corporations in the larger cities paying as much as $420,000 annually.
A CISO will also have a wide range of job duties and responsibilities to match the high salary. They generally have an extensive workload. Responsibilities can vary based on the size and scope of the organization as well as the security needs and interests.
The following may be job requirements for a CISO:
- Security operations: A CISO conducts analysis of threats in real-time, neutralizing, and eliminating them as they appear.
- Data loss and fraud prevention: They ensure data, information, assets, and proprietary property remain secure from corruption, misuse, and internal theft.
- Program management: They mitigate risks by ensuring systems and technologies are up-to-date with necessary patches in place, and implement programs and projects that keep risks low.
- Security architecture: They plan, budget, purchase, and implement security software and hardware for the network and IT infrastructure, using best practices.
- Cyber intelligence and risk assessments: A CISO stays aware of current and potential security threats and breaches, and informs other top-level executives of possible issues with mergers, acquisitions, and big business moves.
- Investigations and forensics: They discover what caused the security breach, leak, hack, or issue; use the information to prevent future issues; and deal with internal problems if they exist.
- Oversight and management: They ensure that all security operations run smoothly, compliance is met, and other corporate leadership personnel are informed.
- Collaboration with other executives and stakeholders: A CISO works with nontechnical executives and board members to relay technical information in a non-threatening and relatable manner.
- Physical security: In addition to internal, digital, and IT security, the CISO is also often responsible for ensuring physical security measures are adequate to keep the physical premises safe from malicious activity or attack. They must also be sure that this is in line with cybersecurity practices when necessary.
When looking to become a CISO, you will need to pursue a high-level degree and certifications to go along with your work experience and technical knowledge. The following resources can help:
- US News & World Report publishes a list of some of the best undergraduate cybersecurity programs to consider.
- The Cybersecurity Guide provides a comprehensive list of some of the top-rated master’s degree programs in cybersecurity, many of which are online.
- International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 offers multiple information security and IT certifications.
- CompTIA offers several options for certifications for cybersecurity and IT professionals.
CISSP- The World’s Premier Cybersecurity Certification. (2021). (ISC)2, Inc.
CAP- Security Assessment and Authorization Certification. (2021). (ISC)2, Inc.
CompTIA CySA+. CompTIA, Inc.
CompTIA Security+. CompTIA, Inc.
Average Chief Information Security Officer Salary. (2021). PayScale.
CISO 500 Demographic Study Announced by Cybersecurity Ventures. (February 2020). Cybercrime Magazine.
Best Undergraduate Cybersecurity Programs. US News & World Report.
A Planning Guide for Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity. (July 2021). Cybersecurity Guide.
(ISC)2. (2021). (ISC)2, Inc.
CompTIA. CompTIA, Inc.