The Five Most Critical Tasks in the CISO Job Description

Job descriptions are important in defining the responsibilities of a role, but the real job often gets lost in the details. Organizations must ensure that their employees — especially chief information security officers (CISOs) — are completing the tasks they were hired to perform. Otherwise, they run the risk of critical processes breaking down and data being exposed.

The Top Five Priorities for the CISO

Hiring managers and business leaders should use this short list of high-priority functions in the CISO job description to make sure they’re directing employees’ security efforts where they are most needed.

1. Develop Enterprisewide Security Programs

Keeping the enterprise safe from cyberthreats seems like an obvious part of the CISO’s job, but because it isn’t the only job function, it’s often sidestepped. Even if the security leader’s attention is only momentarily distracted, there could be serious consequences.

Protecting the enterprise’s digital assets is the first and most important job that the CISO addresses every day. Managing cybersecurity for an entire enterprise is not a simple task, but the mandate to protect the digital gates is above every other item in the CISO job description.

2. Identify, Report and Control Incidents

The job of the CISO is so important because cyber incidents are not just empty threats: They will certainly happen — in fact, they happen all the time. When they do, it’s the CISO’s duty to know about them and take action.

The first task is to identify that an attempt is taking place. That means having the right tools and services implemented across the enterprise to detect and announce threats. Once the problem has been identified, it needs to be reported. The level of reporting should be defined by the level of the threat or consequence of the attack.

Daily intrusions that are stopped in their tracks before doing any damage need to be logged and reported to the security community so that other attacks can be prevented. Threats that result in breaches or data theft must be reported up the chain of command with advice regarding the severity and remediation steps. Any public announcement will depend on the specifics of the incident and the company. Prepare a plan that identifies how and to whom these different levels of intrusion need to be reported.

3. Manage and Train Security Staff

Cybersecurity expertise is the most valuable skill in the IT job market, and the lack of qualified candidates is not expected to change for the foreseeable future. Develop a comprehensive plan to attract, train and retain professionals with the requisite skills and interest in pursuing a cybersecurity career.

Hiring the staff is the first, but far from the only, task. The security threat landscape changes daily, and today’s experience is only a starting point toward defending the enterprise against tomorrow’s threats. Employees need to be trained on a regular basis to help the CISO provide adequate protection for the company.

4. Monitor Threats and Take Preventive Measures

Cyberthreats originate from a seemingly unending and expanding set of sources. Some threats come through the front door as employees start their work days. Others come from competitors looking to gain an advantage or disrupt company operations, or through networks from cybercriminals in distant countries.

CISOs need to be part of the global cybersecurity community that monitors and explores these sources and their efforts. Sharing experience and knowledge with other security experts lightens the burden on individual CISOs — and can deliver advance warnings with regard to current and future threats.

5. Communicate Continuously

CISOs need to have robust cybersecurity measures in place for their networks, individual workstations and endpoints, but even the very best software can’t protect against the actions of users. Whether a user opens the wrong email or visits a malicious URL, his or her unintentional click can facilitate intrusion and the infection of the enterprise network.

It’s the CISO’s job to communicate with the entire staff about the methods cybercriminals use to gain access and how their actions can lead to a data breach. The messages need to be interesting — even entertaining — rather than threatening and redundant. Make a point to be a thought leader with regard to securing the enterprise. Show employees that you aim to protect the company, not to impede legitimate use.

Listen to the podcast: Directors are from Mars, CISOs are from Venus

The Increasingly Complex CISO Job Description

The CISO’s job is to protect his or her company and its digital assets. These five parts of the job description are only the top-line priorities.

Security leaders’ job requirements are multilayered, increasingly complex and vital to all business units within the organization. Without paying proper attention to these core responsibilities, the rest of the tasks in the CISO’s job description are irrelevant.

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Scott Koegler

Freelance Writer and Former CIO

Scott Koegler practiced IT as a CIO for 15 years. He also has more than 20 years experience as a technology journalist covering topics ranging from software and services through business strategy. Scott publishes ec-bp.com, a supply chain industry newsletter and has written for publications including Network Computing, Forbes, Internet Evolution, and many others.