How to Become a Chief Information Security Officer

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Chief information security officers (CISOs) oversee strategic, operational, and budgetary aspects of data management and protection. These professionals work closely with fellow executives to develop information security policies and procedures for a business or organization. They also manage teams of computer analysts, information security specialists, and comparable professionals to identify, neutralize, and eliminate security threats.

As individuals with advanced technical, business, and organizational skills, chief information security officers (CISO) work across economic sectors. They monitor security vulnerabilities, stay abreast of changing technologies, and allocate resources to facilitate efficiency and efficacy.

CISOs often work technical and managerial jobs to forge their paths to senior-level positions. According to PayScale, CISOs earn a median annual salary exceeding $160,000. Those with 20 or more years in the position can earn more than $170,000.

What Does a Chief Information Security Officer Do?

Tasked with protecting their organizations’ proprietary data and intellectual property, CISOs manage their companies’ overall security. As top information security professionals, CISOs boast extensive knowledge of their companies’ information technology practices and security needs.

CISOs identify weaknesses within existing information security technologies and programs. Through collaborations with executives and teams of information technology security experts, these professionals develop security policies and information protection practices. They introduce new technologies, oversee education programs, and provide leadership and guidance to personnel.

Additional duties include preparing budgets and financial forecasts for security operations and maintenance. CISOs also allocate financial resources, coordinate investigative and data recovery efforts, carry out risk assessments and audits, and ensure compliance with applicable regulations and laws.

CISOs hire information technology security professionals, building teams to carry out their organizations’ strategic plans. CISOs also create reports and relay technical information to lay individuals and computer savvy colleagues alike. Thus, these professionals should boast strong communication skills, flexibility, and problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.

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Steps to Become a Chief Information Security Officer

Prospective CISOs must pursue their career goals over a span of several years. Through continued education and career advancement, individuals build hard and soft skills for the role. CISO careers begin with undergraduate degrees. Learners can earn associate degrees in computer science, as well, but CISOs typically earn bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology, or a related discipline.

With an undergraduate education in the field, aspiring CISOs become entry-level computer, network, and system analysts or specialists. As analysts, individuals detect, prevent, and investigate cyber threats. They also research new security measures, mitigate infrastructure weaknesses, and conduct data retrievals. By gaining valuable experience in the field, individuals can advance to managerial or administrative roles.

Mid-level computer security professionals, such as security consultants, security engineers, and security auditors, foster technical and interpersonal skills. Prospective CISOs may work as entry- or mid-level computer information security professionals to build their knowledge and skills in the technical and leadership aspects of the position.

Positions as security architect, information technology project manager, or security director might represent the next step for future CISOs. As senior-level professionals, individuals in these positions blend organizational, leadership, and managerial skills with technical knowledge. To supplement and advance their competencies, many CISOs earn graduate degrees, as well. Master’s degrees in information technology, cybersecurity, or business administration may also boost employment opportunities and earning potential.

Many master’s programs allow students to specialize in subfields, supporting their pursuit of CISO positions. Professional certifications in system security, ethical hacking, and computer security incident management further enhance individuals’ abilities to thrive as CISOs.

Top Required Skills for a Chief Information Security Officer

CISOs possess an array of hard and soft skills. Education and experience build knowledge of programming languages; computer networks, software, and systems; and cybersecurity. The study and use of computer software and hardware allow individuals to identify applications and limitations, also giving insights into potential innovation and growth in the field. CISOs understand the regulations, standards, and compliance requirements applicable to an organization. They must also apply regulations to meet industry and government requirements.

By blending research competencies with soft skills like analytical thinking, CISOs can construct efficient information security policies, processes, and practices. These professionals may communicate verbally or nonverbally with colleagues and the general public. They relay technical information to individuals with little to no content experience, and they interact with highly skilled technical professionals.

CISOs possess the interpersonal and communication skills to work with entry- and mid-level employees. They also lead groups of information technology professionals, offering training and guidance to ensure cohesiveness and efficacy.

CISOs construct and implement incident management procedures. By identifying and responding to security threats and data breaches, chief information security officers develop plans to contain and mitigate future intrusions. They conduct regular security audits to prevent problems, prepare reports about security incidents, and look for techniques and tools to improve information security.

Chief Information Security Officer Salary

According to the BLS, top executives can expect an estimated 6% increase in employment from 2018-2028. With more than 150,000 new executive positions adding to the field, chief information security officers benefit from notable growth.

PayScale reports that CISOs in Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Boston, Massachusetts, earn the highest salaries. The states with the highest employment levels for top executives include California, Florida, and New York. Utah serves as home to the highest concentration of top executives.

According to PayScale, entry-level CISOs earn a median annual salary exceeding $105,000. Professionals with 1-4 years of experience earn more than $120,000 annually, while CISOs with more than 10 years of experience take home roughly $161,000 annually. The most senior chief information security officers earn more than $170,000 per year.

CISOs find work across industries, particularly benefiting from positions in the high-paying financial and extraction fields. In August 2019, CSO Online reported that more companies were hiring chief security officers or chief information security officers to combat increasing information threats.

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