Security Performance Management

3 Critical CISO Roles and Responsibilities

Melissa Stevens | June 28, 2016

A chief information security officer (CISO) is a senior-level executive who wears many hats in the realm of cybersecurity — but is primarily responsible for translating complex business problems into effective information security controls.

A CISO is both a problem solver and leader. He or she is heavily involved in building out a full information security program with the well-known triad of information security in mind: “confidentiality, integrity, and availability,” or “CIA":

  • Confidentiality takes into account what a company needs to do to ensure sensitive data and information stays private.
  • Integrity is focused on the life cycle of the data and ensuring that it is always accurate.
  • Availability means that an organization’s hardware and software systems have constant uptime and that everything is maintained properly.

With this triad in mind, let’s look at three critical CISO roles and responsibilities.

1. Risk and compliance

Every CISO should be concerned with how information security affects legal requirements and is therefore responsible for ensuring that the organization is in compliance with both internal and external policies. For example, is the organization in compliance with HIPAA or PCI? A CISO writes (and adjusts) policies based on new rules or compliances.

An important aspect of risk management and compliance is establishing internal monitoring programs to ensure that information security controls are functioning as they are meant to.

CISO roles and responsibilities also extend to the organization’s supply chain. To manage and mitigate vendor risk, CISOs oversee the build out of full-fledged third-party vendor risk management programs.

2. Technical operations

The CISO of any organization is regularly involved in running vulnerability scans, penetration tests, and web application security assessments — among other technical operations. In this role, they’re checking to ensure the software and hardware configurations in their organizations and their vendors’ organizations are compliant with company and regulatory standards.

3. Internal and vendor communication

A CISO also functions as a link between various departments at a company and all of its third parties (at least as far as cybersecurity is concerned). They don’t just manage the information security team — they have their hand in many different teams. Therefore, they need to have good relationships with each vendor or department they work with, and clear visibility into their potential vulnerabilities.

A CISO constantly checks in with his or her team members, seeing how they’re solving any information security issues and if there’s any level of risk that has recently come up that needs to be addressed. Increasingly, a CISO is also responsible for reporting on cybersecurity to the Board of Directors.

CISO roles and responsibilities

CISOs know they can’t simply take security, privacy, and risk and boil it down to a simple, standard formula. Every organization is different. 

Accordingly, CISOs can’t put security controls in place just for the sake of having security controls. Instead, they must have their finger on the pulse of their organization so they can completely understand the unique business problems they face and solve them appropriately. CISO roles and responsibilities center on building the best vehicle to support the organization’s information security challenges from top to bottom.

This is a vital role in today’s security landscape, and it isn’t without its challenges. But for an individual who wants to take large risks and boil them down to technical and legal controls in order to keep a company safe and secure, it’s also extremely rewarding.

This post was updated on January 18, 2021.

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