Imagine if the design for Apple’s next iPhone leaked or the secret formula for Coca-Cola made its way into competitors’ hands. All companies need to safeguard their data and proprietary information, including the privacy of their customers and employees, from external and internal threats.
Chief information security officers (CISOs) are integral to the security of their organizations’ computer networks and data. By implementing cybersecurity measures and response protocols, CISOs mitigate the threat of malware, ransomware, phishing, and other cyber attacks.
The CISO is an executive role that has grown in prominence as companies adopt digital information transfer and storage and as cyber attacks have become increasingly complex — and costly. IBM reports that the average cost of a data breach was approximately $9.44 million in 2022. In addition to the financial toll, data breaches can result in operational downtime and negative public perception, underscoring the important role of chief information security officers in modern business.
As one of the most senior-level careers in cybersecurity, becoming a chief information security officer calls for an advanced education as well as a significant amount of experience in information technology (IT).
What Does a Chief Information Security Officer Do?
A chief information security officer’s job description will vary depending on their company’s needs; however, foundational responsibilities include managing a team of IT professionals and working alongside a board of directors and executive leadership to set and accomplish cybersecurity goals.
A CISO’s primary duties include the following:
- Assessing and auditing computer networks and IT for potential weak points and implementing solutions
- Establishing security measures to detect, prevent, and mitigate cyber attacks
- Developing response protocols for successful cyber attacks
- Crafting disaster recovery plans for compromised data
- Providing ongoing training and continuing education to staff
- Keeping company leadership informed about the state of the network security
- Developing proposals for cybersecurity investments and presenting them to executive leadership
Chief Information Security Officer Salary and Job Outlook
Computer and information systems managers earned a median annual salary of $159,000 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Meanwhile, Payscale reports that the average chief information security officer made a median annual salary of approximately $174,000 as of June 2023.
While these figures serve as a baseline, several factors influence the precise amount a CISO earns, such as their level of experience, the type of organization they work for, and the region in which they work.
The job outlook for CISOs is also promising, reflecting overall demand for cybersecurity professionals. The BLS projects that employment of computer and information systems managers will grow by 16% between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the national average of 5% for all occupations.
How to Become a Chief Information Security Officer
While the precise path to becoming a chief information security officer varies, taking some key steps and honing specific competencies can improve an individual’s chances of qualifying for the role. The steps that an aspiring CISO should take include the following:
- Earn an undergraduate degree in IT, computer science, or a related field.
- Earn a graduate degree in IT, computer science, information security, or cybersecurity. A postgraduate education isn’t always required for CISOs, but many employers prefer to hire candidates with an advanced education.
- Gain several years of experience in information security, programming, risk management, and/or cybersecurity.
- Gain experience in budget management and financial forecasting.
- Develop leadership and project management skills.
- Become proficient in source code programming languages, such as Java, .NET, C++, and C#.
- Become proficient in information security management frameworks, such as NIST and ISO/IEC 27001.
Keep in mind, the education and experience required for the role are largely dependent on the posted chief information security officer job description. The hiring organization may have security or IT needs that are considered niche or specialized, such as using lesser-known programming languages.
Essential Skills for Chief Information Security Officers
In addition to the technical proficiencies the role demands, CISOs should also possess a diverse set of soft skills, particularly those related to leadership and interpersonal communication. The following are crucial soft skills for aspiring CISOs:
- Leadership and management capabilities
- Ability to communicate complex technical information to a range of audiences
- Strategic thinking
- Business acumen
- Auditing and threat recognition
Pursue an Executive Role in Cybersecurity With an Advanced Degree
Individuals seeking to become leaders in cybersecurity should explore the online Master of Science in Cyber Security program offered at The University of Tulsa. The 100% online program is designed for working professionals who want to move into leadership. Our expert faculty will help you develop the skills needed to defend the world’s most critical networks, protect sensitive, and strengthen core infrastructure.
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