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A Guide to Becoming Chief Information Security Officer; 2023

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

As a cyber security professional, if you’re looking to eventually make it to the top of your profession and move into the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) role, this is your guide. In today’s threat landscape, the CISO role translates to extensive responsibility. The CISO has a major impact on an organization and CISOs must demonstrate their value. Stumbling into the CISO role isn’t your best option.

If you’re planning to advance your cyber security career, be sure to hit the ground running. In this guide, discover information that will help you clearly define your path, generate the right kind of returns for your organization, and enable you to reach your full potential. Here’s what to know about the in-demand and highly dynamic CISO role.

Defining the CISO role

The Chief Information Security Officer is a senior-level executive and often a member of the C-suite. The CISO is responsible for developing and executing against an information security program that protects an organization’s people, processes, and technologies.

Primary responsibilities

The CISO’s primary responsibility is to move an organization’s cyber security agenda forward. In serving as the top leader in the cyber security space, a CISO needs to understand an organization’s existing cyber security challenges, emerging issues, what needs to be addressed, prioritization of initiatives, management of a strategic roadmap, how to develop cyber security policies that are compliant with both industry regulations and local laws, how to manage cyber security communications, how to work with a cyber security staff, and how to participate in high-level security conversations.

In the event of a cyber security incident, a CISO must work with his/her team to identify, analyze and evaluate risks. In addition, CISOs should be capable of analyzing incident costs, reviewing the overall impact of an incident, pursuing corresponding incident response plans, providing sophisticated incident reporting, and offering assurance messaging around an incident.

A proactive approach to threat management can easily stand a CISO in good stead, resulting in leadership recognition and a safer organization all-around.

How to become a CISO

CISOs need to have a proven track-record of success. In building a strong reputation and in showing your experience, aspiring CISOs may wish to:

1. Focus on the education element. Whether the education is formal or informal, most companies expect to see specific qualifications denoting that a person can carry out the job responsibilities of a CISO. Some businesses expect that in addition to a bachelors’ degree, candidates will have postgraduate qualifications in cyber security, such as a Master of Science in Cyber Security (MSCS) degree.

2. Accumulate relevant technical experience. Prior to applying to CISO roles, prospective job candidates need to prove that they have the real-world experience to lead an organization to cyber security safety and success. Technical knowledge must be up-to-date and should be relevant to specific threats in a given industry. The latter is especially important for new CISOs. The majority of CISO roles require a minimum of five years’ worth of related cyber security job experience.

3. Acquire leadership experience. As is inherent in any senior-level role, the CISO role is a leadership role. To that effect, aspiring CISOs need to know how to build a strong cyber security team and how to manage team members effectively, so that they provide the necessary components that contribute to an overall strategy. CISO roles tend to have management experience requirements. Some require 7-10 years of management as a minimum threshold.

4. Develop executive presence. In addition to management experience and capabilities, CISOs also need to have ‘executive presence’ or a certain gravitas (personality + confidence exuded from one’s demeanor), set of communication skills, personal presentation, and the ability to operate calmly in high-stress situations. There isn’t a precise definition of executive presence, but it’s a mark of your leadership potential.

5. Increase qualifications. Aspiring CISOs can expand their horizons and their leadership capabilities by pursuing high-quality, globally-recognized training programs, such as the Check Point Mind CISO Academy, that can prepare them to confidently lead enterprise transformation and to enable innovation.

6. Establish a strategic vision. Businesses looking to hire a CISO want to see candidates who can lead them into the future. Aspiring CISOs need to demonstrate an interest in personal growth and need to prove that they can support the growth and development of a talented, knowledge-hungry, and driven team.

Alternative paths

There isn’t a single clear-cut path that aspiring CISOs must follow. Rather, a series of cyber security certifications, a curious mind and a strong network of peers can help prepare individuals for the role.

Valuable skills to acquire

  • The technical skills are a must-have. Know all about network security, cloud security, identity access management, adopting and adapting infrastructure, along with tools and technologies that allow for the preservation of organizational data privacy, integrity and computing availability.
  • Security engineers who are interested in becoming CISOs often focus on problem hunting. CISOs need to not only be able to find problems, but to identify problems and vulnerabilities that aren’t apparent to those around them. Learning to ask the right kinds of questions and thinking about issues in unconventional ways take time and practice.
  • CISOs need to continuously update their mental models when it comes to thinking about cyber security. The mental model required for on-premise cyber security implementation is different from that required for the cloud. As an increasing number of automation and AI-based tools emerge, mental models will again need to be retrofitted.
  • Many aspiring CISOs sell their technical credentials to prospective employers. This is important. However, equally important is the skillset required for interfacing with the C-suite and boards.This group demands a solutions-focused attitude, recognition of profit and loss, and emphasis on leveraging cyber security as a business enabler (rather than a business cost-center). If you can find ways and demonstrate ways to increase revenue for your employer or potential employer, you’ll be an obvious value-add.

Setting the stage for success

All too often, business leaders set CISOs up for failure through the perception of cyber security as a zero sum game. Their mentality is ‘there should never be a single cyber attack that affects my organization’. With that thinking, in the event of an incident, a CISO will be deemed unsuccessful. He or she may be fired.

The most strategic CISOs know that they can set themselves up for success by working with executive-level stakeholders to create proposed benchmarks of success (ex. preventing 98% of attacks) and realistic KPIs.

CISO vs. CIO

For a long time, organizations failed to see the need to hire a CISO when a CIO already existed. Organizations questioned why a generalist type role, like that of the Chief Information Officer, couldn’t take care of cyber security.

However, as cyber threats increased and breaches became high-profile, greater accountability and security oversight became imperative. A CIO might provide the overarching IT plan for an organization, but the CISO is responsible for cyber security prevention and response efforts. When CIOs and CISOs work together, businesses can operate with maximal efficiency and digital safety.

Similar roles

For computer security professionals, the CISO role may look like the ultimate job role to pursue. However, there are similar roles that offer equivalent status, salary and levels of responsibility. For example, the Chief Data Officer (CDO) role may be of interest to some, while the Business Information Security Officer (BISO) role may be of interest to others.

For more insights into the CISO role, please see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, subscribe to the CyberTalk.org newsletter for executive-level interviews, analyses, reports and more each week. Subscribe here.


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