The job of the chief information security officer (CISO) in the enterprise is not getting easier. However, an assessment based on in-depth interviews with 138 corporate security leaders has found that their voices are being increasingly heard within the C-suite and beyond.

The challenges CISOs are facing come from new technologies such as mobile and cloud, from ongoing uncertainties about compliance with regulatory policies and, above all, from the relentless, sophisticated external threats posed by cybercriminals.

However, even as challenges multiply, IBM’s third annual CISO assessment, “Fortifying for the Future,” has found that security leaders are playing a more influential role within the enterprise. That role is expanding beyond the technical aspects of information security to become an integral component of the company’s strategy.

CISOs Gain Influence

In 2012, the first annual CISO assessment from the IBM Center for Applied Insights identified three roles for CISOs: responder, protector and influencer. The 2013 survey identified ways that CISOs could become influencers; this year’s results show that security leaders are, indeed, gaining influence in the enterprise.

The 2014 assessment found that 61 percent of the CISO respondents have achieved the role of influencer, and even more are moving in that direction. Ninety percent said they have significant influence within their organizations, and 76 percent report that their level of influence has increased significantly in the past three years.

Additionally, 82 percent participate at least quarterly in C-suite or strategy meetings, while 62 percent are developing their security strategy in conjunction with other strategies, particularly in the areas of IT, risk management and operations.

A New Definition of Security for the CISO

These gains in CISO influence have not taken place in a vacuum, with 82 percent of respondents reporting that the very definition of security had changed in the past three years.

This understanding of security has changed partly because of the ongoing revolution in technology. The cloud has become pervasive, and so has mobile connectivity. Both technologies have essentially undermined the old image of the corporate data network as an entity unto itself that could be barricaded from the outside world. Therefore, both call for a new, intelligence-centric approach to security.

However, security is also being redefined by the new and sophisticated level of outside threats. In the spectrum of concerns faced by CISO-level security leaders — from technology and budget to regulatory issues — external threats have become the leading challenge by a wide margin.

The growing external threat also helps explain the growing influence of CISOs within the enterprise. In the past couple of years, leading firms have been rocked by high-profile security breaches. On top of direct losses, the victims have been under fire from customers and the media. As Alex Konrad reports at Forbes, business leaders are cashing a reality check — information security is not just important, it is critical.

Insights from the 2014 CISO Assessment – See the infographic

more from CISO