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  • Writer's pictureKarl DiMascio

Why would anybody want to be a CISO?

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

The role of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is undeniably demanding and crucial in today's digital landscape. CISOs bear the responsibility of safeguarding sensitive information, protecting against cyber threats, and ensuring compliance with regulations.

However, despite the high level of accountability they carry, CISOs often find themselves in a thankless position with limited corporate control.

In a recent "2023 Voice of the CISO" report by Proofpoint, 61% of the CISOs interviewed agreed they face excessive expectations. And over 70% of CISOs in the US and UK experienced 'burnout' in the past 12 months, with a global average of 60%.

In this article, we will explore the challenges faced by CISOs, including being made the scapegoat when things go wrong, the perpetual shortage of budgetary resources, and the lack of adequate authority within organizations.

The Accountability Burden

CISOs are at the forefront of an organization's security efforts, tasked with preventing data breaches, managing risks, and responding to cyber incidents effectively. However, when security incidents occur, CISOs are often the first to be held accountable, even if they were not provided with the necessary resources or executive support to implement robust security measures. Despite their best efforts, the blame is frequently placed solely on the CISO, tarnishing their reputation and leaving them to shoulder the consequences of failures that could have resulted from broader organizational shortcomings.

The Scapegoat Phenomenon

In many organizations, CISOs face the unfortunate reality of being treated as scapegoats when security breaches or incidents happen. They become the focal point for blame, regardless of whether the incident resulted from inadequate investments in security infrastructure, outdated technologies, or insufficient employee training. This scapegoating culture undermines the ability of CISOs to address security issues proactively and hinders their capacity to make meaningful changes within the organization.

Limited Corporate Control

Despite being accountable for an organization's cybersecurity posture, CISOs often lack the necessary authority and influence to implement necessary security measures effectively. They face challenges when attempting to enforce security policies, obtain sufficient budgetary resources, or influence decision-making at the executive level. This limited corporate control leaves CISOs in a precarious position, unable to fully execute their responsibilities and protect the organization as effectively as they desire.

Insufficient Budgetary Resources

One of the perennial issues faced by CISOs is the lack of adequate budgetary resources allocated to cybersecurity initiatives. Cybersecurity requires continuous investments in cutting-edge technologies, employee training, threat intelligence, and robust security infrastructure. However, due to budget constraints and competing priorities, CISOs often find themselves struggling to secure the funds necessary to fortify the organization's security defences adequately. This shortage of resources compromises their ability to mitigate risks effectively and respond to emerging threats.

Balancing Security and Operational Needs

CISOs operate in a delicate balancing act between security requirements and the operational needs of the organization. They must find ways to protect sensitive information without impeding business processes or hindering productivity. This challenge requires CISOs to navigate complex relationships with various stakeholders, advocating for security measures while ensuring the smooth functioning of day-to-day operations. Striking the right balance is a constant juggling act that often goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

Inadequate Support from Executive Leadership

For CISOs to be effective, they require unwavering support from executive leadership. However, in many organizations, cybersecurity is still perceived as a secondary concern, resulting in insufficient support and attention from top-level executives. Without executive buy-in and an organizational culture that prioritizes security, CISOs face an uphill battle in implementing comprehensive security strategies and initiatives. This lack of support further adds to the thankless nature of the role and places additional strain on CISOs' ability to fulfil their responsibilities effectively.

To address these challenges and improve the working conditions for CISOs, organizations must recognize the importance of empowering them with the necessary authority, resources, and executive support. By doing so, organizations can alleviate the burdens faced by CISOs and create an environment where they can thrive and contribute effectively to the organization's security goals.

Empowering CISOs starts with granting them the authority needed to make decisions regarding security strategies, policies, and investments. CISOs should have a seat at the table when important decisions are made, allowing them to provide valuable insights and influence the direction of the organization's security posture. This level of authority not only enhances the effectiveness of the CISO but also demonstrates the organization's commitment to cybersecurity.

In addition to authority, organizations must provide CISOs with the necessary resources to carry out their duties effectively. This includes budgetary allocations to invest in cutting-edge technologies, employee training programs, and security infrastructure. Adequate resources enable CISOs to implement robust security measures, stay ahead of evolving threats, and respond effectively to incidents. Organizations must understand that investing in cybersecurity is not an expense but rather an essential safeguard against potential financial losses and reputational damage.

Furthermore, executive support is crucial in fostering an environment where CISOs can thrive. Top-level executives should champion the importance of cybersecurity and promote a culture that prioritizes security throughout the organization. When executives demonstrate their commitment to security, it creates a ripple effect, encouraging employees at all levels to embrace a security-conscious mindset and actively participate in safeguarding the organization's assets.

By empowering CISOs with authority, resources, and executive support, organizations can shift the narrative surrounding the role. CISOs can then operate in an environment where their contributions are recognized, appreciated, and valued. This, in turn, enables CISOs to focus on their core responsibilities, proactively addressing security risks, and implementing strategies that protect the organization from cyber threats.

To sum up, it is imperative for organizations to recognize the significance of the CISO role and take concrete steps to alleviate the challenges faced by these professionals. By empowering CISOs with the necessary authority, resources, and executive support, organizations can foster an environment where CISOs can truly thrive and contribute to the organization's security goals. This not only benefits the individual CISO but also enhances the organization's overall security posture, ensuring a safer digital landscape for all stakeholders involved.

While I acknowledge that some organizations are taking steps in the right direction, it is disheartening to see that these efforts remain limited. I hope for a future where every organization recognizes the critical importance of the CISO role, on par with that of the CFO. In the meantime, I implore organizations to dismantle the blame culture that unfairly targets CISOs.

Let us foster an environment of collaboration and shared responsibility, where the focus is on collective efforts to strengthen cybersecurity rather than finding a scapegoat. Only then can CISOs truly flourish and make significant strides in protecting organizations against ever-evolving threats.

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