How to Become a Chief Security Officer

Chief security officers (CSOs) are executives who are responsible for all aspects of their organization’s security. This includes managing daily operations of the information technology (IT) security program, oversight of risk assessment, and the development, implementation, and maintenance of security policies and procedures. Chief security officers ensure the confidentiality and integrity of electronic protected information and monitor program compliance as well as investigate and track incidents and breaches.

A chief security officer stands in a room surrounded by monitors and large screens of geographical locations.

CSOs may work for corporations, nonprofits, or government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, and their role has expanded as organizations have come to rely on IT for core operations. Chief security officers are often responsible for overseeing cyber security assets and policies to minimize risks that could harm the organization, its employees, or its physical and intellectual property. They are typically also closely involved in business planning, loss and fraud prevention, and privacy.

If you’re researching how to become a chief security officer, you will find that the path usually begins with the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, often followed by several years of work experience and earning a master’s or another advanced degree.

What Does a Chief Security Officer Do?

Chief security officers can have a wide range of responsibilities and levels of authority. Some chief security officers are only responsible for the physical security of the facilities and employees of a company, school, or organization. Others are responsible for digital and information security. In large corporations, chief security officers may provide both physical and informational security. CSOs may have duties similar to those of chief information officers and chief technology officers.

Cyber Security

As technology has fundamentally changed how businesses operate, the role of the chief security officer has evolved to include protection of information security, including protecting the company and employee information against unauthorized access. It’s imperative that chief security officers remain up-to-date with current trends in data management and security threats to design effective data security systems.

Physical Security

Chief security officers usually report directly to the company’s CEO or president. They are expected to be aware of political developments that may affect the company and its employees, for example, possible security breaches instigated by outside entities. CSOs may travel with executives and senior management to ensure their safety. They may also conduct training throughout the organization to ensure employees are aware of potential security breaches and how to properly report them to officials.

Chief security officers may have responsibility for coordinating crisis and security management programs and efforts throughout the company and informing all employees of changes to its security policies. A CSO may also be the public spokesperson for security-related company issues.

Other Responsibilities

To strengthen security initiatives, the chief security officer creates and maintains open channels of communication and support across various departments. Other tasks may involve designing custom data security systems for employee health insurance records. And they may need to prioritize security initiatives and issues.

In general, a chief security officer will ensure compliance with regulations and security policies, develop contingency plans, manage security breaches, and supervise development and application of security procedures and protocols.

Steps to Become a Chief Security Officer

Want to know how to become a chief security officer? The process begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in cyber security, business, or a related field. Further requirements include a master’s degree in cyber security, training, certification, and related work experience. The specific requirements for the position differ based on the company or organization’s job description.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

An academic degree in cyber security or a related IT discipline is usually required for a job as a chief security officer. Graduating with an online bachelor’s degree in cyber security, business, or a related field can provide a strong business background with a solid technical foundation.

Cyber security degree programs expose you to the inner workings of business security and provide the skills to perform some of the basic responsibilities required of chief security officers, such as maintaining procedures, standards, and policies to protect the privacy and integrity of data. These programs also provide leadership, project management, information technology, and analytical skills needed for the role.

Earn a Master’s Degree

The chief security officer field is very competitive, which means successful candidates must have up-to-date computer skills and broad industry knowledge. If you want to be considered for these in-demand positions, it’s to your advantage to have a master’s degree. An online master’s degree in cyber security can expand your options for a career as a chief security officer and round out your repertoire with the business fundamentals essential for leadership roles.

There are several additional advantages to earning a cyber security master’s degree, including gaining a broad understanding of advanced technical areas such as cloud security, mobile forensics, and artificial intelligence. Combining your technical knowledge with a real-world understanding of business skills and strategies will position you for high-level positions and salaries as a chief security officer.

Work Toward a Chief Security Officer Role

If your goal is to qualify for a high-level chief security officer role, you should plan to pursue positions in the field that allow you to gain experience as a leader. As with many executive jobs, organizations typically prefer candidates who have multiple years of experience, particularly in managing large teams and designing IT security solutions.

Chief security officers often have professional certifications in IT security, such as CompTIA’s Security+ and CySA+, or Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which is offered by (ISC)². Completion of specialized technological training programs may also be necessary. CSOs who provide physical security may need a background in law enforcement or criminal justice.

A chief security officer should have excellent communication, persuasion, and public-speaking skills. As you perform your job, you will need the ability to establish relationships, demonstrate analytical competencies, and exercise quick judgment using astute decision-making skills.

Chief Security Officer Salaries

The average chief security officer salary is about $135,768 per year, according to PayScale data from March 2019. Salaries range higher for those who have experience and educational credentials in cyber security, information security, IT infrastructure, or security risk management.

Employment Outlook for Chief Security Officers

The employment of chief security officers and other types of computer and information systems managers is projected to increase by 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As the demand for chief security officers continues to rise, so does the importance of their role. The International Data Corporation predicts that 75 percent of chief security officers will soon report directly to the CEO of corporations, which reflects their changing role in the business world.

The increased demand for chief security officers and the expanded range of responsibilities are strong indicators of a career with long-term growth and the potential for career advancement.

Explore Your Career Options

If you are considering a career in cyber security, know that it’s a field in need of more qualified professionals, and only a small pool of people have the necessary skills. This represents a potentially lucrative opportunity for educated professionals in the future, especially for individuals who have received postgraduate training in cyber security.

Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in cyber security and online master’s in cyber security programs offer educational paths that can help you prepare for a fulfilling career as a CSO. Visit the program websites to learn more.

Sources:

CompTIA, Certifications

CSO Online, “What Is a CSO? Understanding the Critical Chief Security Officer Role”

(ISC)², Certifications

Maryville University, Master’s in Cyber Security Online

PayScale, Average Chief Security Officer Salary

Security Magazine, Chief Security Officer

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Systems Managers