Why and How to Become a CISO

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The big boss of an IT security department within an organization is the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). The main functions for a CISO are to select, oversee and provide appropriate leadership and management for any initiatives that are related to the main cybersecurity of an organization. In such a C-level position in large-scale organizations, you will sometimes consult in critical corporate security matters with the FBI, law enforcement, and government.

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You should expect to take a job that provides you with much power as well as freedom. While this is the usual case, you may find yourself with very low or even no power in some organizations. The following list gives you the main responsibilities that you may take while you are the CISO of an organization, leading the entire security domain.

  • You are responsible for selecting a bunch of IT security experts and guiding them all the time.
  • It is your own responsibility to design a dependable strategic plan that handles the implementations of information security technologies used within the organization. Additionally, your plan shall include the proposed enhancements to be applied to such techniques.
  • You have to make sure that all corporate security policies are developed and compliant with the defined security standards. Your supervision should also include all security standards or any procedures undertaken inside the organization.
  • You should make sure that all the development of any IT systems within the organization are consistent with security policies and with the strategies set for information protection.
  • You have to work with key stakeholders to develop a comprehensive IT security risk management system inside the organization.
  • You always have to evaluate the current systems and make sure they are secure according to the defined standards. This could be done through scheduled audits on such systems to ensure that security is well maintained.
  • You have to keep always updated with all modern infrastructure for different security systems within the organization.
  • You have to always think of potential security threats and predict them by the time they occur for the organization.
  • You have to look for any existent vulnerabilities or weaknesses, threats, or events within the networks or systems of your organization.
  • You should work on developing a perfect strategy to handle security incidents. Also, you should organize some investigative activities to be performed on the different security systems within the organization.
  • You should always be the focal point for any investigations within the IT security department. You should also direct a full study with recommended courses of action.
  • You should always work on allocating the resources in the most efficient manner. Using such security resources with maximum efficiency as well as correctness saves your company tremendous amounts of dollars.
  • Financial matters are also considered one of your main focal points when it comes to cybersecurity procedures that the organization would undertake. In fact, you should always make cost predictions of every step or project that is about to be performed in the cybersecurity departments. You should also estimate the costs needed for maintenance of all the security assets owned by the organization.
  • You should be an actual leader to all the staff working under you in the position hierarchy. This means that you should always hold different trainings for them, provide assistance whenever needed, and enhance their leadership skills such that they are able to take up the ladder of position to higher managerial positions in the short and long run.
  • You should always design and implement education programs that aim at raising user awareness and security compliance.
  • You should always work senior management to make sure of the implementation, review, maintenance, effective governance of IT security protection policies within the organization.
  • You will usually be responsible for many other non-technical tasks within your organization. In fact, in large scale companies, you are not usually expected to deal with your hands on technical matters. However, in fairly small companies, you are expected to work with your hands on some technical tasks as well as your managerial tasks.
  • You should always report to either the CIO or the CEO of your organization on security aspects of the organization.
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You should expect to stay in the information security for years and years before becoming the CISO of an organization. Throughout these years, you gain experience on technical as well as many other non-technical matters. You will also develop many more skills, and gain accreditations in the field of information security. This section shows you the full paths and the most efficient one that you may take if you are interested to become the big boss of security.

You may consider beginning with an entry-level position such as:

  • Security Administrator
  • Network Administrator
  • System Administrator

You may spend enough time in one of these positions until you have the sufficient confidence to move into the following step. You may now work on many of your interpersonal skills as well as technical ones in one of these positions:

  • Security Specialist
  • Security Analyst
  • Security Engineer
  • Security Consultant
  • Security Auditor

Your next step after getting experience from one of these jobs is to move into a senior level position within an organization. Such senior level job position will provide you with many diverse skills related to leadership, project management and organizational politics. You may consider one of these jobs for this purpose:

  • Security Manager
  • IT Project Manager
  • Security Architect
  • Security Director

Your next step should be the CISO. Good Luck man! Climb on the ladder.

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Most companies refer to the big boss position in the IT security domain as CISO. However, some other employers refer to the same job by other terms. The following list gives examples of these other terms.

  • Chief Security Officer (CSO)
  • Information Security Officer (ISO)
  • Global Head of Information Security

It is important to note that many small organizations have their security director acting as the CISO. They do not have a CISO job position.

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Looking at the PayScale figures, there are mainly two categories of Information Security Officers for which the salaries vary.

  • The first category is CISO. For this position, the average salary is $131,322. However, there is a great gap between the minimum and maximum salaries for this job again according to how big the organization is. The minimum is $74,082 while if you work for an organization that relies heavily on cybersecurity, you should expect up to $239,307 to earn annually.
  • The second category is CSO. This position though has a higher average salary of $139,763. Also, the gap between the minimum and maximum salaries for this position is really huge. One can expect to earn a salary of $58,734 and up to $223,558.

You may note that total pay figures include your base annual salary, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime pay and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable.

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First of all, you are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Cyber Security or a related technical field. Moreover, many employers began to require from their candidates to also carry a technical master’s degree with a concentration in IT security. This is because of the arising awareness about cyber security that employers started to gain. Finally, you should always seek for continuous training in the field as well as professional certificates. They make you really attractive for all employers.

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You are expected to have at least 7 to 12 years of experience in the field of IT and security. This is usually the basic requirement for any employer to begin considering your application. More specifically, of these years of experience, you should spend at least 5 years of experience in the field of security operations management and security teams’ leadership.

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As you go up the job hierarchy, you should gain many technical skills along the way until you become the CISO. You should have the same technical skills that your best engineers have within your organization or the same technical skills that the security director has. The following list points out the most important technical skills that you should have for this position.

  • You should be aware of both the architectures of enterprise and security.
  • You should also be knowledgeable of practices and methods when it comes to IT strategy.
  • You should have a solid background in computer networking concepts from a security perspective such as DNS, authentication, VPN, proxy services and DDOS mitigation technologies. Also, experience with TCP/IP, routing and switching is necessary.
  • You should be comfortable when dealing with frameworks like ISO 27001/27002, ITIL and COBIT.
  • You should be experienced with the common compliance assessments such as PCI, HIPAA, NIST, GLBA and SOX.
  • You should definitely be comfortable when dealing with both Windows and Unix like operating systems.
  • You should have hands-on experience working with different programming languages like C, C++, C#, Java and PHP.
  • You should be standing on a solid ground when it comes to protocols that deal with intrusion detection, intrusion prevention, and firewalls.
  • Knowledge of the concepts of practices for secure coding is also essential. In addition, you should be experienced with techniques for ethical hacking and threat modeling.
  • You should be aware of how network security architecture can be defined and further developed.
  • You should gain knowledge along the way of the rules and methodologies used for third-party auditing and cloud risk assessment.
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You are required to have a lot of soft skills to be able to fit perfectly with this position. Employers want to see that you have excellent oral and communication skills. Also, they want to see your organization, process-oriented thinking, strategic planning, and creative attack. In fact, you are expected to be a five-star general for the IT security department, which makes employers set very high standards for their candidates’ soft skills.

Skills that are related to your interpersonal aspects and negotiation skills are highly recommended for this job. Because of your job requirements, you are expected as a CISO to deal with different stakeholders within your organization and influence them. You should then be able to direct big teams, collaborate with high-level executives and build strong relationships with various departments within your organization.

At last, you are surely expected as a CISO to deal with much pressure when it comes to legal or regulatory requirements. You are also likely to deal with potential financial limitations for the intended projects and applications; you have to be able to adapt accordingly. You also have to be able to adopt new technologies when used within your organization to get continued with your planned projects and programs. In fact, all of these abilities are praised by employers, and they want to see them during the interview process.

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As a senior level manager, you are mostly required to have CISSP and CISM certifications. However, there are a bunch of other certifications that you may consider to add your skills, knowledge, and experience, which all increases your chances to get selected for this position. The following list gives examples of some important certifications for you to consider for this position.