Chief information security officer monitors his security operations team.

The Executive Line of Defense: How to Become a CISO


In today’s digital age, cybersecurity is more important than ever to protect both intellectual and personal information. As a result, professionals skilled to protect an organization’s data and information are in high demand.

Individuals with a technology background and interested in helping businesses protect data, proprietary information and internal communications are likely to be drawn to roles in cybersecurity. Those capable of implementing cybersecurity strategies, managing an information systems security team and working alongside other C-level executives may pursue a chief information security officer (CISO) role.

What Does a Chief Information Security Officer Do?

With so many titles for IT (information technology) roles, you may ask what does a CISO do as a critical member of an organization. Though sometimes working directly for the chief executive officer (CEO), these C-level executives more often report to the chief information officer (CIO) or the chief operations officer (COO). Providing guidance in security protocols and disaster recovery strategies, the CISO is charged with making company-wide decisions regarding security architecture, IT system operations, and prevention of data loss and fraud.

Although many of the responsibilities of this IT executive position depend on the size of the organization and its adherence to government regulation, common tasks exist across all industries. Professionals researching how to become a CISO will find a primary responsibility of the job is managing security operations that includes real-time analysis of firewalls and system vulnerabilities. They also provide up-to-date information on emerging cyber-attack strategies and determine the best investments in software, services and other tools to strengthen system security. 

In addition to identifying and fixing vulnerabilities in IT systems to prevent breaches, CISOs establish technology recovery protocols relevant to computers, servers, or wireless devices used by employees.

CISOs also maintain system architectures and, in some cases, contract ethical hackers to determine weaknesses where an organization’s IT system potentially can be breached.

Steps to Become a CISO

Those interested in attaining this high-level technology position must start by earning a bachelor’s degree and, in most cases, a master’s degree.

IT professionals often find that graduate-level degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity (MSCY), are beneficial to their career trajectory. MSCY programs are designed to provide students with the business acumen, management skills, and network security expertise needed to excel in a chief information security officer role.

In addition to advanced education, CISOs often possess IT certifications. The Certified Information Security Manager, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, and Offensive Security Certified Professional certifications are regarded by the industry as the top three choices.

Infosecurity Magazine suggests these certifications are ideal for IT security professionals. Each requires the holder to pass an exam and participate in continuing education to maintain it.

Future Growth of CISO Jobs

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that the number of jobs for top executives, including CISOs, is projected to grow by 8% between 2016 and 2026, which is equal to the average projected growth rate for all occupations. Exact employment growth, however, is largely dependent on the industry.

And while projected job growth rates in this career are stable, earning potential is significant. May 2019 data from PayScale reports the average annual salary of a chief information security officer was $158,000, with the highest earners receiving in excess of $216,000 per year.

Your Path Toward a Career as a CISO Starts Today

Aspiring CISOs need the educational background to become cybersecurity problem solvers as well as business leaders. The online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program at Norwich University provides graduates with the skills to understand, evaluate, and protect information assets.

One of the first institutions recognized as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security, Norwich offers students hands-on experiences, such as hackathons and forensic exercises. Students also have the opportunity to intern at a number of IT companies. Discover how an online MSCY from Norwich University can help you achieve your goals as a CISO.

Recommended readings:
How to Become a Cybersecurity Engineer
How to Become an Information Security Analyst
6 Trending Cybersecurity Careers

What Is a CISO? Responsibilities and Requirements for This Vital Leadership Role, CSO
C-Level Executive, Techopedia
Here’s What Cybersecurity Professionals at Companies Actually Do, and Why They’re So Vital, CNBC
How to Become a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Business News Daily
Master of Science in Cybersecurity, Norwich University
What Makes a CISO Employable? Infosecurity Magazine
Average Chief Information Security Officer Salary, PayScale
Top Executives, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
25 Industries Experiencing the Fastest Growth in the U.S. Economy, USA Today