The Definitive Guide to Becoming a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer)

This article is about the career role of Chief Information Security Officer, or CISO. To see other career path resources, check out our career path sections here.

What is a Chief Information Security Officer?

A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is basically the head of an organization’s security team. You are the manager responsible for overseeing security procedures and making sure that a company’s security policies stay up to date.

According to Infosec Resources, a CISO’s responsibilities “encompass communications, applications and infrastructure, including the policies and procedures which apply.” Because a CISO is a managerial position, you should be familiar with all relevant concepts. Unlike other cybersecurity positions that allow specialization in a certain area, you are comfortable addressing all issues, from penetration testing to basic surveillance.

Since the demands on a CISO are so high, it’s important for you to have a strong background in cybersecurity. You also need to stay on top of current security trends, so if you’re that person who can’t get enough of reading about cyber threats and new preventative methods, being a CISO may just be the perfect career move for you.

Job Outlook for Chief Information Security Officers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for Computer and Information Systems Managers to increase by 11% over the next ten years and more. That’s an incredible rate of growth, much higher than average. Because CISOs are managers themselves, these numbers apply to them as well as more general IT managers.

The demand for CISOs is significant, and the average pay is about $142,000 a year with variations depending on expertise and the size of an organization. The reasons for this demand are numerous, including:

  • Too few cyber professionals with relevant experience
  • The growth of cyber threats in an increasingly technological world
  • The critical importance of protecting customer and proprietary data
  • An increase of internet usage, including Cloud services
  • The rising need to monitor network activity for inside as well as outside threats

Typical Job Responsibilities of a Chief Information Security Officer

As a managerial position, typical responsibilities for CISOs fall into three categories:

1) Oversee security operations. When something goes wrong, you’re the person who assesses the situation and implements a plan to improve security.

2) Implement a security plan. Because you’re up to date with current attacks and methods for protection, you’re the one an organization looks to when it’s time to update security policies and methods for protection. 

3) Stay up to date with cyber threats and protection methods. For all cyber professionals, it’s critical that you don’t fall behind in researching cyber threats and defense. Cyber attacks are always changing, and no matter how secure your organization may seem a persistent attacker will discover a weakness over time. 

In order to safeguard your company’s assets, you need to be an active defender, constantly investigating attack techniques and ways to counter them so that when a breach does occur, you are able to recognize and contain it.

Here is a list of CISO responsibilities taken from current job openings:

  • Leads development and oversees implementation of the IT strategy and roadmap
  • Develops and manages annual operating budget and capital expenditure budget
  • Develop, support, and advance strategies, policies, programs, and projects designed to continually improve and enhance cyber and information security posture and resiliency
  • Regularly review operation of security controls and recommend changes designed to improve effectiveness and/or counter emerging risks
  • Stay abreast of information security issues and regulatory changes affecting all aspects of a business and communicate to the company on a regular basis about those topics
  • Recruits, develops, and retains a highly qualified team of Information Security professionals
  • Owns the identification of needs, implementation, and expert utilization of information security tools
  • Develops comprehensive cybersecurity policy that ties to larger IT policy, integrates with security architecture, anticipates future risk areas, and is based on industry-leading best practices, policy and laws
  • Conducts internal security audits of all aspects of the IT architecture for compliance and to determine where vulnerabilities exits
  • Develops and manages an innovative and current cybersecurity training and awareness program that looks both internally at developing professionals in the field and educating employees

Typical Job Requirements of a Chief Information Security Officer

Because a CISO needs to be up to date with cybersecurity techniques, the job requirements can be pretty demanding. Requirements vary depending on position, but generally include:

Degree Requirements

At least a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, Computer Science, Cybersecurity, or a related field. A Master’s degree or higher is preferred. Occasionally, significant experience can supersede this requirement, but the majority of positions require a degree.

Experience Requirements

Because a Chief Security Information Officer should already be proficient in cybersecurity, experience is essential. Again, qualifications will vary, but an individual with senior managerial experience is usually preferred, frequently with 10+ years’ experience. The reason for this is self-evident: a CISO should be comfortable in their field, ready to use their practical skills in a variety of areas. 

Some jobs require experience in:

  • Management
  • Network design
  • Formal risk assessment frameworks
  • System administration
  • Budgeting
  • Security incident response
  • Several operating systems including Windows, Mac, and Linux

Certification Requirements

Industry certifications are frequently required. Depending on the position, certificated can include:

Technical Skills

Technical skills can include:

  • Network design
  • Reviewing logs
  • Security assessment tools
  • Familiarity with multiple platforms (VMs, Windows, Linux, Mac)
  • Application and role-based security
  • Mobile device management

Soft Skills

As a CISO, your soft skills are as important as your technical ability. At the very least, you need to:

  • Have effective leadership and management skills
  • Have strong communication skills, written and spoken
  • Be comfortable working with a team
  • Be a problem-solver

Work Environment

Your work is primarily indoors in an office environment. You should be available for face-to-face communication. CISO jobs are ADA accessible with no physical demands.

Typical Dress Code

Dress code usually depends on the situation, but it’s important for a CISO to maintain a professional appearance at all times. Business casual can be appropriate, but business formal is required for presentations, company events, and meetings.

Salary Information

Salaries range from $130,000 to $170,000 a year.

Similar Jobs

Jobs related to CISO positions include:

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager’
  • CIO (Chief Information Officer)
  • CSO (Chief Security Officer)
Asha Azariah-Kribbs

Asha Azariah-Kribbs

Asha Azariah-Kribbs studies computer science and cybersecurity. She has a degree in English.