How to become a CISO

Cybersecurity issues continue to permeate all areas of business, which means a great security organization – and a capable CISO to lead it – is essential for almost any business. But it takes a certain type of person with special skillset to thrive in the demanding, stressful environments that CISOs often find themselves in.

Essential CISO features

Consider the following traits that make a great Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).

Clear thinking under pressure

The most important quality in the security paramount role is the ability to think clearly under pressure. Unlike most professionals, the CISO must be ready to quickly solve key business problems in any area of ​​the organization.

For this reason, the CISO in particular cannot be a panic person. During a security incident, this is the only person who must be present at all times, understanding the dynamics of the situation and acting calmly in the face of incomplete information – even under pressure from management to provide immediate answers where they may not be available. Calmness in the face of disaster creates a mood where anyone can perform better under pressure.

ability to prioritize

CISOs must be able to strategically prioritize between myriad necessary actions during a crisis. Competing priorities in a security incident can include isolating the system, disconnecting the network, and informing various stakeholders—from management and employees to customers and law enforcement. A security leader must be able to prioritize what will most effectively and efficiently mitigate risk to the organization in any given situation.

Enjoys learning and new challenges

The cybersecurity environment will continue to evolve much faster than institutions can develop security policies or vendors can develop risk-mitigating technologies. New threats emerge almost daily, and employees must constantly adapt to this changing environment. A good CISO anticipates these shifts. A great CISO looks forward to the opportunity and seizes it to increase the organization’s security effectiveness in the face of these never-ending challenges.

Great communication skills

A CISO must be an exceptional communicator. Security affects all areas of an organization, from application development and testing to operations and customer service. The CISO must therefore be able to reach out to managers in all areas of the organization and discuss security issues in a language they understand.

The role of the CISO
The demanding CISO role requires broad knowledge.

CISO training backgrounds

The typical CISO career begins with an undergraduate degree, and many security leaders also have a master’s degree. Historically, CISOs have not necessarily had an educational background in computer science or information technology, although that has proven controversial.

Bachelor degrees

Some institutions now have cybersecurity programs, but a background in engineering or science fundamentals will arguably serve a budding CISO better.

The problem with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is that much of the technology discussed in class may no longer be relevant 10 years after graduation. On the other hand, a broad understanding of engineering principles and scientific method enables one to continue learning, asking questions, and solving problems as technology advances.

Graduate degrees

For further study, a degree in cyber security can be useful. But one could benefit just as much, if not more, from an MBA, which can provide better training in the business implications of technical decisions.

Remember that for a CISO, a thorough understanding of many technical domains and how they relate to business needs is more valuable than detailed expertise in configuring firewalls and setting up multi-factor authentication. Ideally, these technical experts work for security professionals.


Certifications have their place in cybersecurity career development, but they are not a fundamental requirement to be a CISO. Cybersecurity certifications are most useful for establishing your professional credibility and getting your foot in the door of a new business.

The certification that seems to have the most recognition today is the CISSP, which has optional majors in architecture, engineering, and management. This (ISC)2 The certification has broad applicability in the development of security policies and procedures.

Other respected certifications include EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker designation and ISACA Certified Information Security Manager. While these and other security designations are helpful in building professional credibility, certifications alone are not enough to guarantee a CISO position.

How to become a CISO

Consider these six tips to become a CISO:

1. Develop hard skills

While the CISO is the ultimate cybersecurity generalist, a security professional is unlikely to be a serious contender for the position unless they bring technical expertise to the table. Those who aspire to the CISO role should therefore be proficient in a specific domain and demonstrate their technical suitability and willingness to take on more responsibility.

It is less important which sub-area of ​​security one specializes in – managing firewalls, designing and operating SIEM systems, etc. What counts is the ability to position oneself as a credible expert in the sub-system or systems , in which you have invested a lot of time and energy.

2. Develop soft skills

As safety leaders progress in their careers, soft skills become increasingly important. These include the ability to be a team player, see the big picture and take responsibility when things go wrong. A great CISO also fosters a culture of transparency and openness, and is willing to share information with leaders, peers, and junior leaders.

CISOs also need to understand how cybersecurity fits into risk management and be able to make strategic decisions accordingly.

3. Anticipate future security needs

Cybersecurity, like technology, is constantly changing. A CISO must be able to credibly lead a security organization today while anticipating how it may evolve tomorrow.

As an aspiring CISO, learn to recognize, understand and embrace future challenges – and demonstrate this forward-thinking mindset to management. The highest security job will often go to the person who keeps an eye on the horizon.

4. Work to improve vulnerabilities

Of course, it’s tempting to play to your strengths and avoid using underdeveloped skills. But while CISOs don’t have to be experts at everything, they should be versatile. Everyone has flaws, and emerging security leaders should acknowledge theirs and work to overcome them.

5. Keep learning

The best CISOs have a passion for learning and view continuing education as an integral part of their ongoing professional development. This includes attending security conferences, where attendees can learn about new technologies and connect with like-minded people.

6. Prepare to be expendable

Some people achieve job security through obscurity. They think, “If I’m the only person who understands this hardware, software, system, procedure, etc., then I’m too important to replace them.” But on the other side of the coin, that person’s indispensability might also keep them from getting a promotion.

to be expendable. Teach subordinates how to do your job so you can get promoted—while also helping others get promoted and earn their loyalty.

The CISO is a big job, full of risks. It is also an exciting job and now more necessary than ever. While CISOs may seem superhuman, they are people who got where they are now with dedication, training, planning, and passion.

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