Become a Cyber Chief Security Officer (CSO) – Careers & Outlook

Cyber security is a field that is rapidly growing and evolving. New technologies are rising and some are becoming less common, even when they're only a few months old. Every sort of organization these days is in need of a security officer who can help protect their digital and even physical assets. If you are a mid-career cyber security professional, you might consider moving up into a CSO position. On the other hand, you might be an aspiring college student who is interested in developing your computer skills. No matter your level, you are sure to find this page informative and enlightening. This page is dedicated to discussing how to become a Chief (Cyber) Security Officer.

What is a CSO?


A chief security officer is a member of an organization's top leadership. The CSO is charged with overseeing the cyber security infrastructure and computer security protocols. They also write security policy, including procedures related to physical safety, though this depends on the company. Some companies will have a separate executive who takes on this responsibility. The CSO may also have duties related to the organization's physical assets, which often entails installing high-tech equipment. There are similar titles to that of CSO. Some organizations use the term Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and sometimes a Chief Information Officer (CIO) may be responsible for cyber security.

Steps to Become a CSO:


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Step 1

There are many steps involved in becoming a CSO. After all, CSO is a top-level executive who achieves their post after ten or more years of hard work. Nevertheless, the journey to the c-suites begins with a single step. That step is to first determine that cyber security is the field for you.

Many budding cyber security experts discover their passion before they reach college age. They exhibit a natural talent for mathematics, and they might have a love of computers and electronics in general. It's common for young computer experts to begin teaching themselves computer programming languages.

It’s also common for future CSOs to have a love of puzzle solving and a natural inclination toward critical thinking. This will be vital later when they seek to uncover and investigate a security breach. They might also be fascinated by encoded, cryptic messages, and may trade coded messages with their friends.

Step 2

The second step on the path to become a CSO is education. If you are seeking to work at the top level of a corporation, you will want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science, mathematics, or some equivalent. These days, you can even find a degree in cyber security that is fully accredited. A degree in management information systems could also be helpful, as might a degree in computer information systems.

If your computer science department doesn't offer an infosec degree or minor, it’s vital that you take courses in cyber security or information security (infosec.) After all, you will need to hone your knowledge and skills so that you can land a job with a role in security systems. You should also take courses in linear algebra to help with cryptography.

Additionally, don't forget to scrutinize your computer science department's accreditation. Look for a national certification from an agency like ABET or CAE. ABET is an agency that accredits STEM programs, including computer science and cyber security. CAE is a designation created by a joint effort from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Schools that are designated as CAE-approved are considered to offer the very best in cyber security education.

Step 3

Whether you're working toward a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or a doctoral degree in computer science or a related field, you'll need to accrue some real-world experience along the way. Since cyber security is such a hot topic, you're sure to find many companies and government agencies eager to take you on as an intern. There are some fellowships with agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency that offer fellowships. To earn such a fellowship, you'll need to qualify for a security clearance. The payoff is tremendous, though. Some fellowships pay 100% of your tuition and provide full-time, paid work in the summer.

Alternatively, once you are into your third year of college, you could seek out a part-time job in an IT department. This will help you pay for college while providing experience. Some employers may even decide to offer tuition reimbursement. This may be particularly true for cyber security students since every company needs a top-notch security team to safeguard their digital assets.

Step 4

Once you have completed your degree, your learning should continue. Many future CSOs seek out an industry certification. To earn these credentials, you will need to take classes in the specific topic and then pass an examination. Thus, you can add the initial to your name and use the designation on your resume. There are many options, but you might consider (ISC)2's CISSP-CISSMP or ISACA's CISM certification. Both of those are aimed at management professionals.

When you renew your credentials, you will have to demonstrate that your cyber security knowledge is evolving by taking a series of courses. You may also need to take an exam to maintain some credentials. However, when you maintain your certification you will prove to your employers and your colleagues that you are a top notch professional whose knowledge and skills are contemporary with the cutting edge of cyber security technology.

What Does a Cyber Chief Security Officer Do?


A cyber chief security officer is the executive in charge of securing an organization's digital assets from cyber-attacks. This is an individual who details the best practices and the standard for their company's cyber security protocols. As security leaders, they work with their team to create the security architecture required to thwart a security breach.

On a day-to-day basis, the CSO might take meetings with their cryptographers, penetration testers, and others on the cyber security team. The CSO needs to be on the pulse of what is happening, including all of the gritty details. CSOs also confer with government agencies to learn of any potential cyber-attacks and to discover new security solutions.

In fact, research can comprise a large part of a CSO's daily life. Every day, hackers are attempting to launch cyber-attacks against commercial and governmental entities. If it’s known that black-hat hackers are able to crack certain security protocols, a CSO needs to know so that they can assess the potential risk to their systems.

Since a CSO holds a top-level position, they most often must work in the office and not remotely. However, given the COVID pandemic they might spend time working from home via teleconferencing.

Cyber Chief Security Officer (CSO) Skills to Acquire


  • Leadership:
    As CSO, you will need to exhibit leadership skills in order to land the job. Your competition may all have similar technical skills and knowledge but your ability to lead will make the difference. After all, you'll need to orchestrate multiple people with varying skills to do things like build a security system or respond to a cyber-attacks.
  • Communication:
    A large part of your leadership role will involve communication. You'll not only need to communicate with your technical teams, but you'll also have to report to the other top executives and perhaps a Board of Directors. When you address non-technical professionals, you'll need to be able to communicate highly technical details in a language they can understand.
  • Cryptography:
    Encoding files, including textual information, communications, and financial data, is a vital part of the cyber security universe. While you may not need to be a cryptographer yourself, you must have a strong working knowledge of the field in order to coordinate those for whom this is their career.
  • Penetration Testing:
    Professionals who engage in pen-testing are known as white-hat hackers because they attempt to break into a security system in service to the company itself. Their job is to exploit any weakness they can in order to help the cyber security team shore up any shortfalls in their security protocols. As a CSO, you should be familiar with this practice so that you can assess new pen-testing staff and coordinate their tests.
  • Security Architecture:
    As a CSO it's likely that you'll need in-depth knowledge and experience with security architecture. You'll need to have a vision for designing the security system and then a plan for implementing that security design.

Alternative Paths


While most CSOs typically attain at least a master's degree and have extensive experience in the corporate world, there are other ways to become a CSO. Since the IT field is reliant on technical skills, you can get a start in your cyber security career by learning the necessary skills on your own. You might take online classes from a non-academic resource, for instance, and the pass a certification exam to attain industry credentials. You could also attend a local community college and complete their CAE approved cyber security program. It’s also possible to land an entry-level job with a corporation, attain credentials independently, and then seek a lateral transfer into the IT department.

You might also complete a bachelor’s degree in computer science and then start your career in the military. If you are assigned a cyber security post, you could work up in the ranks. Once you retire from the military, you will have the leadership skills and experience to lead a corporate security team as CSO. Your military pedigree will surely include security clearances that are sure to impress most any corporate hiring agent.

Cyber Chief Security Officer (CSO) Careers & Salary


Where Might You Work?


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CSOs can be an employee of any sort of company whatsoever. No matter what the industry, every single company has most of their intellectual property stored on servers that are vulnerable to attack. Even industries that seem low-tech have machines that are operating on computer chips. Believe it or not, nearly every device with a chip can be hacked and thus needs security. That includes automobiles, refrigerators, and bulldozers.

If you are a healthcare IT worker, you might use your experience and specific knowledge of health systems to work as CSO atop a healthcare organization. If you study healthcare informatics and then learn more about cyber security, you can rise to the top in this rapidly expanding industry. If you choose this path, you will likely work in a hospital or on a health systems campus.

On a day-to-day basis you will probably work in an office, albeit one of the nicest offices in your organization. Though your work can likely be done from a remote location, you will typically need to be in the offices. This will depend on how you and your corporation feel about remote work.

Career Outlook


Cyber security is one of the hottest fields in the United States today. The increasing cyber threats are creating an insatiable demand for security professionals who can protect our nation's digital assets from cyber-threats. This is borne out by statistics published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which aggregates employment data for the nation.

The BLS does not track the specific employment designation of CSO, but they do provide data for information security analysts and chief executives in general. Information security analysts may work for CSOs, but their median salary is currently over $99,000 before bonuses and other compensation. For computer systems design, the BLS reports that top executives are earning a mean annual wage of $229,000.

While information security analysts are projected to increase their numbers by over 30% in the years between 2019-2029, it’s reasonable to assume that CSOs will also see an increase. However, that dramatic rise is unlikely since CSOs can oversee numerous cyber security employees. They are likely to continue to see their pay increase, as the importance of cyber security is sure to rise in the coming years.

Jobs


There are many different positions available for a wide range of employees. Your background may be more industry-specific, such as healthcare, or you might be able to adapt to other environments, such as a community college. Nevertheless, if you are ready to advance your career as an upper-level executive, you should find little trouble finding a wealth of opportunities.

  • Chief Technology Officer:
    This position may be found within nearly any business in any industry that needs a top IT professional who can work on software development, support systems-wide improvements, and have knowledge of cyber security. When you're not working on the network you may need to address any incidents related to a breach or other cyber-attack.
  • VP Information Security:
    This position requires a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a background in business management disciplines. You may need to have at least one certification such as: CISSP, C|CISO, and CISM. To succeed, you will also need strong leadership and communication skills.
  • VP Chief Info Security Officer:
    This position may be in the financial industry or with a healthcare company. You'll have to have a full working understanding of the compliance issues involved in the specific field in which you work. This position does require a degree. You’ll need to be an excellent communicator with all relevant technical knowledge and skills.
  • Chief Security and Privacy Officer:
    Many of these roles can be found in the healthcare field and other fields where privacy is of utmost importance and the position focuses on leadership as well as technical knowledge and abilities. You must be able to roll out security initiatives, identify and address incidents, as well as delegate responsibilities to the appropriate professionals.

Find Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Jobs Near You


Advancing from Here


Once you become a CSO, you might want to advance even further. Though this is often a top position, you might consider moving into the very top position of Chief Executive Officer. To qualify for a CEO position, you may want to check your managerial skills and experience. It may also be a good idea to complete an Executive MBA program.

You can also pursue entrepreneurship as a consultant. With your experience and skill set, you can surely manage teams that help smaller companies build and improve their security systems. If you are also skilled with designing systems to ensure the physical safety of hard assets, your firm is sure to expand rapidly.

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