How to Become a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is the C-level executive who is responsible for the information and data security for an entire organization or a business. CISO is considered to be the pinnacle of IT career and is a five-star general of an IT security department. It is the most prestigious and well-payed job among security professionals worldwide. A CISO can provide a level of accountability, thereby raising the overall standard of the organization’s security practices.

The main focus of a CISO is nothing but security. They need to select, supervise and provide suitable leadership and management for any initiatives taken in an organization that relates to cyber security. The overall information security in the organization is advised by a CISO and their responsibilities depends on the size and type of the organization. A good CISO must require technical background as well as a strong business perception. His role combines technical skills with great management and personality. A truly great CISO can minimize the risk of a data breach tenfold.

Implementing cyber security always remains as the topmost concern for any organization and so the demand for CISOs continues to grow. Here let us take a look at the responsibilities, requirements and certifications and much more that are needed for getting a CISO job.

CISO Responsibilities

A CISO requires a wide range of IT experience, strong leadership and communication skills. Having deep knowledge about information security alone is not enough to be a CISO. He must be able to understand the extensive vision and strategy for the organization, and take appropriate measures to ensure that its information assets and technologies are safeguarded properly. A CISO must speak in a language which the organization can understand. His responsibilities in an organization spreads across different zones of knowledge.

In order to easily understand the job of a CISO, it is better to learn the day-to-day responsibilities that he is supposed to undertake.

Security operations: Analyze any real-time immediate threats, and sort when something goes wrong.

Cyber risk and cyber intelligence: Be aware of the developing security threats, and help the board understand the potential security problems that might arise from acquisitions or other big business moves.

Data loss and fraud prevention: Make sure that the internal staff does not misuse, alter or steal data.

Security architecture: Planning, buying, and rolling out security hardware and software, and ensure that the IT and network infrastructure is designed with best security practices in mind.

Identity and access management: Make sure that the restricted data and systems are accessible only to authorized people.

Program management: Implement programs that reduce risks such as regular system patches. Design strategic plans that handle the implementation of information security technologies used within the organization.

Investigations and forensics: To determine how a breach happened in case of occurrence, deal with those responsible, if it is internal staff, and make plans to avoid the occurrence of the same crisis the next time.

Governance: To make sure that the above-mentioned initiatives run smoothly and get the funding whenever necessary and ensure that the corporate leader understands their importance.

Risk assessment, mitigation, and avoidance: A CISO must take thorough survey and inventory of information assets, intellectual property and other digital holdings of value, know the threats they are likely to face, decide what measures are to be taken to protect those things from any damage, loss or harm.

Legal and regulatory compliance: It is important to understand how an enterprise’s information assets and digital holdings fall within the scope of applicable laws and regulations and following with related requirements such as assessments, audits, reporting, privacy, confidentiality, etc. The officer must be ready to deal with a security breach, assess and deal with legal, business, and financial consequences.

Ensure that all corporate security policies are developed and compliant with the defined security standards.

Selection of IT security experts and guiding them all the time. Provide various training for them, assist them whenever needed, and amplify their leadership skills to help them reach a higher position.

Design and implement education programs to raise awareness and security compliance in the users.

Keep updated with all modern infrastructure for different security systems within the organization.

Check for existing vulnerabilities, threats, or events within the networks or systems of your organization.

Financial requirements must be considered while performing cybersecurity procedures that the organization would undertake. It is necessary to make cost predictions for every initiative undertaken in the cybersecurity departments. Also, make sure to estimate the costs needed for the maintenance of all the security assets owned by the organization.

A CISO must report to either the CIO or the CEO of the organization in terms of any security aspects.

Why does an organization require a CISO?

It is important to have a CISO in every organization. The nature of cyber threats has evolved and occur in large volumes. Almost all the companies irrespective of industries handle sensitive data and are prone to risk of data leaks and cyber-attacks. Every organization needs some professional whose first priority is security. In case of occurrence of data breach in an organization, a security professional is necessary to supervise the incident response plan. He must be able to interact with law enforcement and make appropriate fixes to the system.

A CISO plays an important role in business leadership. He can handle sensitive data, diminish the cyber threats and data leaks that can cost the organization both in terms of finance and reputation.

CISO Skills

A security professional learns more technical skills as they move to the top in the job hierarchy and when they become a CISO. A CISO must have lots of skills to fit to the position and should possess a mix of both technical and business knowledge.

Some of the hard skills required for a CISO includes

  • A CISO must be aware of the architectures of enterprise and security. They should know the practices and methods when it comes to IT strategy.
  • A good background in computer networking concepts such as DNS, authentication, VPN, proxy services and DDOS mitigation technologies is necessary. Experience with TCP/IP, routing and switching is also required.
  • Must be proficient to work with Windows and Unix like operating systems. They must have experience in various programming languages like Python, Java and PHP.
  • Must be able to define and develop network security architecture.
  • CISOs are expected to help with regulatory compliance and so it is necessary to know about PCI, HIPAA, NIST, GLBA and SOX compliance assessments as well.
  • Should be able to deal with frameworks like ISO 27001/27002, ITIL and COBIT.
  • Know protocols that deal with intrusion detection, intrusion prevention, and firewalls.
  • Techniques for ethical hacking and threat modeling and also the concepts of practices for secure coding is also essential.

The soft skills are also required for a CISO and are expected by organizations who hire them. The skills related to interpersonal aspects and negotiation skills are necessary. A CISO must have excellent communication skills and must be able to deal with different stakeholders within the organization. A CISO should be able to collaborate with the high-level executives and build strong relationship with the various departments in the organization. They need the skills to communicate with other C-level executives and the board. A CISO must also be able to handle any sorts of legal or regulatory requirement.

Educational Requirement

A CISO must possess a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and normally the candidates select a degree in Computer science, Cybersecurity, business, or related fields. The employees might demand that the CISO’s must have a Master’s degree in IT security. Nowadays candidates attain one or more Master’s degrees as well. Since the extensive understanding of business principles and practices are necessary for a CISO, an MBA degree is also pursued by many. MBA with certifications in the areas of Cybersecurity, Information Technology and IT Forensics can be taken.

Many CISOs hold Master of Science degrees in technical fields including Information Systems & Technology, Cybersecurity, Information Technology & Management, Computer Science and Digital Forensic Science.

The possible career path which is taken by the individuals to become a CISO include starting the career as a programmer or analyst, study to become a security analyst, get more certifications and training, supervise a Security team, obtain an MBA degree in the Information security field and then get promoted as Chief Information Security Officer.

CISO Certification Courses

To enhance your IT awareness, it is always good to invest in security-focused IT certifications and training that could brighten your resume. Here are a few relevant cybersecurity certifications to earn:

  • CISSP : Certified Information Systems Security Professional
  • CCISO : Certified Chief Information Security Officer
  • CISM : Certified Information Security Manager
  • CEH : Certified Ethical Hacker
  • OSCP : Offensive Security Certified Professional
  • CISA : Certified Information Systems Auditor
  • GSLC : GIAC Security Leadership
  • CGEIT : Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT

Job Experience

A CISO must have spent years in the field of information security with a strong technical foundation. It is not possible to get a CISO status unless you have extensive field experience. 6–12 years of work experience with at least five years in a management role is required for a CISO role. Experience in information security, risk management, IT, and government are all building blocks for CISO positions. An aspiring CISOs must have expertise in enterprise information security as a security analyst, security architect, consultant or ethical hacker. Once an IT security background is established, it is beneficial to have managerial IT positions to have management experience as well.


The training process to become a Chief Information Security Officer mainly involves having a proper educational background, getting ready for several certifications and many years of experience. There are institutions where one can attain security knowledge. The training opportunities include instructor-led training, computer-based videos, books, labs, and other materials, in-person training, etc. For a CISO, it is compulsory to be updated with the latest technology trends and constantly learn to stay ahead of the technology curve. A CISO must be aware of the current security tools and technologies and also keep an eye on new developments in the field.

Attend Local and International Security Conference

Like other IT areas, Info Security has conventions and conferences dedicated to it, such as CISO Summit, CIO Global Forum, Black Hat CISO Summit, (ISC)² Chapters, etc

CISO Salary

CISO is a high-level job and they are paid accordingly. CISO salaries vary massively by the size of the organization and it is typical to have a salary above $130,000. As of Mar 2019, the average annual pay for a CISO in the United States is $235,600 a year. It is worth noting that security salaries are growing relatively steadily in the past few years, especially because it is increasingly difficult to find talented candidates to fill highly specialized roles.


In mid-sized and large companies, there are both Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) involved. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) looks into the general technical issues that is faced by the company. They focus on the information system and digital management. They provide support to the technology solutions of the business. Recently, the CIO’s role also includes cybersecurity-related tasks as security tools are now being used in the daily IT activities of an organization.

A CISO is mainly worried about the security of the computer systems and databases in an organization. They deal with managing information security risks throughout the data life cycle. They must know where the sensitive data is located, how to protect it, what are the risks faced by the company, and also supporting the business’ objectives as well.

Both the CIO and the CISO protects and manages the assets and information of the company. While the function of the CIO is to ensure systems and information are readily available and accessible to those needed, the function of a CISO is to make sure that the authority is in place and that information is accessible to only those who actually need it and stays where it is supposed to be. When the CIO and CISO work co-operatively, the business operations of a company can maintain safety and efficiency.

Updated: 05 August 2020

Illustration: Rethish Ravi

Security Researcher & Consultant for the Government, Enthusiast, Malware Analyst, Penetration Tester He has been successful participant in various bug bounty