The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) role is cyber security’s most powerful and influential. As a CISO, the responsibility for all aspects of an organization’s data security falls on you. Beyond securing data, CISOs also heavily contribute to shaping business strategy and helping the business become cyber resilient.

The CISO role is commonly considered the highest rung on the cyber security career path ladder. Nonetheless, it’s actually never too early to start planning a path that enables you, as a CISO, to join the board. An increasing number of boards are looking for members with cyber security expertise.

Why CISOs are in demand

In the past, IT security largely fell under the purview of other senior IT leaders, such as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or the Chief Information Officer (CIO). These leaders would collaborate with security experts to secure the digital perimeter. But nowadays, such limited initiatives are practically laughable.

At present, businesses face constant threats from motivated and persistent cyber criminals. In the last five years, cyber fraud has increased by almost 500% and the cost of a hack can easily soar to as much as $4.45 million.

That’s why opening a position for and appointing a CISO makes sense. A CISO can offer comprehensive cyber security strategy advice and can oversee plan implementation. In turn, this reduces the probability of cyber threat-related financial losses, productivity gaps and litigation.

CISO compensation

In general, the CISO position is well-paid. Due to high demand and a limited talent pool, top-tier CISOs have commanded salaries in excess of $2.3 million. Nonetheless, executive remuneration may vary based on industry, company size and specifics of a role.

Chief Information Security Officer: The role

The CISO typically manages a team of cyber security experts (sometimes multiple teams) and collaborates with high-level business stakeholders to facilitate the strategic development and completion of cyber security initiatives.

The primary responsibilities of a Chief Information Security Officer include:

  • Elevating the cyber security infrastructure. A CISO typically works with a security team to optimize and implement new cyber security tools.
  • Incident preparedness. A CISO is also in charge of developing incident response and disaster recovery plans – which should be drill-tested and accessible to a wide variety of stakeholders.
  • Developing secure business strategies. The CISO engages in dialogues with other C-level leaders to determine how to plan for the future. To that effect, CISOs need to know their environments well, think strategically, and work together with others.
  • Managing regulatory compliance initiatives. The vast majority of enterprises today maintain sensitive data belonging to customers, whether that’s credit card data, healthcare data, or location-related data. A CISO must ensure that the business adheres to relevant laws around data protection at all times.

How to become a CISO

Businesses want to hire someone who they can trust to reliably protect data and keep the business running smoothly. If you want to become a CISO, become someone trustworthy. There are a variety of ways in which to gain credibility as a trusted cyber security professional in the field.

1. Get the education. While experience in cyber security does count for a lot, and while smart and talented people do ascend to the CISO role without extensive formal schooling, it can pay to get the right education.

Most enterprises will expect that a potential CISO have a bachelor’s degree in computer science (or a similar discipline). There are exceptions, but an undergraduate degree is often used as a credibility benchmark. These days, many businesses will also expect that a CISO have a postgraduate qualification, such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity (MSCS).

2. Develop real-world experience. When it comes to real-world experience, most CISO roles require a minimum of five years’ time spent in the industry. A potential CISO should maintain broad knowledge of a variety of platforms and solutions, along with a strong understanding of both cyber security history and modern day cyber security threats.

3. Obtain leadership experience. In essence, the CISO role is a leadership role. The bulk of your energy will go into developing a world-class cyber security team and enabling the staff to deliver on your cyber security strategy. That said, CISOs need excellent people skills; the ability to manage, support and communicate with a team. CISO roles often require a minimum of seven years’ worth of management experience.

4. Become qualified as a Chief Information Security Officer. One of the biggest obstacles for many along this career path is the jump from management to executive leadership. But there are ways to make bridging this divide easier. For example, obtain a qualification that will help. These days, there are a multitude of executive-level education courses that you might consider. Alternatively, the Certified Chief Information Officer (C|CISO) qualification could be a great choice.

5. Develop your strategic vision. When a company wants to appoint a new executive, they’re looking for a visionary leader who can steer the company towards future success. Carefully consider the strategic vision that you can bring to the table, ahead of applying for a role. Highlight your abilities to drive growth and innovation.

Related resources

  • What is a BISO? – Learn more
  • Cyber security training for C-level executives – Here
  • Engage with CISOs and security leaders to tackle the toughest security challenges – Here