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An Overview of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Job Role

Anuradha Nandan | Tuesday, September 8, 2020

An Overview of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Job Role

There’s been explosive growth in the cybersecurity market in the last few years. More business leaders are stepping up their efforts — and, as a result, cybersecurity skills are in high demand. The security role of Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) has been growing in popularity, and for many businesses, it’s completely new.

What is a CISO exactly and what are they responsible for? How can you begin on the path toward becoming one? This guide has the answers you’re looking for.

What Is a CISO?

As the head of cybersecurity efforts, the CISO may answer to a Chief Information Officer (CIO) or another executive on the IT team. In some cases, they may answer to the head of the security team, such as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) or VP of Security. Sometimes, these titles are used as synonyms for CISO, so the CISO may actually be the head of the entire security team, not just the cybersecurity team.

Either way, the CISO is an important individual in any organization. Whether they’re responsible for security as a whole or just the cybersecurity operations, they work to keep the business secure.

What Does a CISO Do?

As the chief cybersecurity professional, the CISO handles all aspects of security within a business. On a day-to-day basis, the CISO may be involved in security operations, helping to assess threats in real time and perform triage if something goes wrong. The CISO is also responsible for a business’s security architecture. They help to plan the organization’s security infrastructure and are familiar with best practices.

CISOs may also be involved in:

  • Procurement and implementation of hardware and software within the business
  • Efforts regarding fraud and data loss prevention, helping to devise strategies to limit internal losses
  • Identity and access management, helping to ensure only the right people have access to your systems

The CISO is aware of cyber risk and cyber intelligence efforts, too. They keep up with the current environment and help to evaluate potential risks, which entails project management to make sure the business stays one step ahead of risks. This could include implementing system patches, or it might mean authorizing the expansion of the security team. And if something goes wrong, the CISO is involved in the investigation to help look for solutions to prevent similar situations in the future.

Finally, the CISO plays a role in governance. They ensure the board understands the risks the business faces, and they advocate for the needs of the security team.

What Skills Do CISOs Have?

CISOs are expert cybersecurity professionals with a broad range of skills and knowledge. Most importantly, they should have good working knowledge of different programming languages and a solid understanding of computer networks.

CISOs must have a background in cybersecurity, too. They should be familiar with best practices, evolving threats and methods of reducing risks — all of which can be supported by their knowledge of computer network architecture and programming languages. They should also be familiar with a wide variety of software, as well as common cybersecurity words, phrases and acronyms.

Some of the most important skills for CISOs to have are soft skills. They must be detail-oriented and have excellent problem-solving, project-management and critical-thinking skills. They must also be excellent communicators, as they interact with knowledgeable experts as well as non-experts (such as board members, other employees and the general public). As a result, CISOs must be able to translate highly technical information into something the average person can understand with ease. They also use different means to communicate (verbal, email, etc.).

Altogether, these hard and soft skills allow CISOs to better communicate with key stakeholders and identify potential risks and threats, follow up on those potential risks and suggest better solutions to mitigate the risks.

How Can I Become a CISO?

Most CISOs begin building up to this role through IT training and/or certifications in fields such as computer science, information technology and others. They then continue to build their skills and expertise as cybersecurity professionals on the job, which usually takes several years. Security professionals may use a mix of continuing education and their own work experience to develop skills further.

Certification in ethical hacking or system security is a great place to start. All cybersecurity professionals should be ready to invest in their continuing education. As best practices evolve and new cybersecurity threats emerge, the hard skills you need to be successful may change.

Many CISOs start out in roles like security auditor or engineer that allow them to begin building the soft skills they’ll need as CISOs. More senior-level professionals may pursue positions like security director or security architect, which offer more opportunities to develop the leadership skills successful CISOs need.

No matter where you are on your journey to becoming a CISO, updating your cybersecurity certification(s) is a step in the right direction.

Put Your Career on the Right Path

The demand for professional security is only going to increase in the coming years, and the CISO role will continue to evolve in response to this changing landscape.

Security training is an excellent idea for almost any IT professional today, as updating your skills or learning new ones could be exactly what you need to take your career in a new direction. Cybersecurity professionals benefit from having knowledge of many different systems, so one of the best things you can do to impact your career path is to commit to continuing your education in the top cybersecurity career paths and certifications.

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