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10 most important tasks for a CISO and tips for being successful

The role of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is vital in today's technologically-driven business environment. As the guardians of an organization's information and data, these professionals play a pivotal role in building the digital security culture and policies and procedures.

At its core, the CISO leads defending an organization from cyber threats, ensures that all parts of the organization understand the value of information security, and aligns security policies with overall business objectives.

With so much resting on their shoulders, it's evident that the role of a CISO is fundamental for the continuity and development of an organization in the digital era, where cyber threats are on the rise.

What does a CISO do?

A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is a top-tier executive responsible for shaping and implementing an organization's cyber security strategy.

Often reporting directly to the CEO, the CISO spearheads efforts to shield the company's data assets and technology infrastructure from cyber threats. They design policies, conduct risk assessment, ensure regulatory compliance, and lead the response to security incidents.

Full-time CISO or other information security responsible?

More often than not, the role of a CISO is a full-time position, particularly in larger organizations that handle vast quantities of sensitive data. These organizations understand the criticality of robust information security and designate a full-time CISO to shoulder this responsibility.

The CISO, in this case, is devoted solely to implementing strategies to safeguard the corporate data environment. They are often part of the executive management team, heading a specialized information security department.

However, it's very common for smaller businesses to task other key individuals with these information security responsibilities.

These organizations may not have the resources to assign a full-time CISO, thus the role might be incorporated into the duties of another executive position such as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or IT Director, for instance. These individuals will oversee information security duties, in addition to their primary roles within the organization.

Despite the scenario, security awareness remains paramount whether an organization assigns a full-time CISO or delegates these responsibilities to other existing roles.

What kind of backgrounds do successful CISOs have?

Before we dive into the core tasks of a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), let's take a brief look at common backgrounds that prepare professionals for these roles. A CISO is not born overnight; instead, they often have a varied experience in different areas of security which gives them a broad understanding of the diverse challenges associated with keeping organization’s information secure.

A blend of technical know-how, management abilities, and robust communication skills are some of the key ingredients in the making of a successful CISO.

Some successful CISOs come from a technical background, having served in roles such as network or system administration, software development, or IT project management. This hands-on experience with technology infrastructure is invaluable in understanding the security threats and vulnerabilities that a business may face.

Some CISOs have served in risk management or audit roles, which helps them to develop a strong understanding of governance, regulation, and organizational controls. These experiences provide know-how for prioritizing and managing a organization's security risks effectively.

Another beneficial background for CISOs is operations. Having experience in facilitating a organization's day-to-day operations allows for an intricate understanding of how security initiatives can impact these operations. This practical insight assists in implementing security measures that are effective yet non-disruptive.

In recent times, we have also seen a rise in CISOs with a background in law or business. These CISOs bring a unique perspective to the role, helping align security strategies with business objectives and ensuring that security policies comply with legal requirements, standards or customer requirements.

Remember, while these backgrounds are common, it's important to note that every organization is different. What matters most is a CISO's ability and willingness to adapt, learn, and continually hone their expertise in the quickly evolving cybersecurity landscape.

10 most important tasks for a CISO - and tips for being successful

Being a successful Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is a complicated and demanding role. It requires a blend of skills and knowledge in all aspects of information security management. In the following sections, we're going to delve into the top 10 most crucial tasks for a CISO. These tasks are intended to provide a snapshot of the breadth and depth of responsibilities a CISO generally carries, span everything from security strategies and objectives, defining policies, risk management, and much more.

1. Maintaining top-level security principles and security objectives

CISO's maintain organization's top-level principles related to information security. These principles should be guiding the creation of more detailed security policies and guidelines, which are often defined by other individuals as well.

Top-level security principles should define what are the main security principles the organization is committed to and they can be gathered together as the top-level information security policy. It's also the role of the CISO to regularly re-evaluate and adjust the principles plans based on new threats, vulnerabilities, and other environmental changes.

CISO should also be defining the top-level security objectives for the organization. The point of the security objectives is to clearly define what are currently the most important goals for the security work. These objectives need to be measurable, so the organization can follow their achievement.

So, a CISO isn’t just maintaining a static, one-off strategy and set of objectives but rather an ever-evolving ecosystem that needs to adapt and grow in real-time with the organization and its ever-changing environment.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Separate top-level principles from detailed policies and guidelines. There's an important role for both.
  • Use top-level security objectives to commit organizations top management to reaching them. This helps resourcing and alignment around information security.

2. Defining and monitoring security policies and guidelines

As a CISO, creating robust security policies and guidelines is one part; ensuring that they're constantly monitored and updated is equally monumental.

Policies serve as a roadmap for your information security journey and should be clear, comprehensive, and practicable. Policies should define, what kind of security measures you are implementing. They should cover all aspects, from access control to incident response, technical vulnerability management, partner management, and more.

Guidelines serve as the security manual for your employees. They should tell unequivocally what kind of rules need to be followed in different everyday situations to support organization's information security. Guidelines should cover important aspects for employees e.g. use of mobile devices, password management, authentication and acceptable use of data systems, and more.

The digital world is dynamic and so are its threats. Therefore, a stagnant policy isn't going to serve your purpose. Regular reviews and revisions are the key to effectiveness. Monitoring ensures that the guidelines are being followed and informs you about possible improvements. Some effective measures you can employ are assigning owners for all parts of policies, using yearly reviews, gathering employee feedback and doing regular audits.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Target policies for correct people. If a policy is about logging and detecting incidents, you need to distribute it for the persons necessary for its implementation - but not all personnel. If the policy is about secure remote work, you need to make sure everyone knows the related guidelines.
  • Separate the "security measures and guidelines". We recommend splitting policies to implemented measures (e.g. having a process, using technology) and guidelines (rules everyone must follow). This way you can make policies easier to comprehend.

3. Risk management and other continuous improvement of information security

Risk management is a crucial part of a CISO's role, requiring both a strategic and practical mindset. You need to be continuously vigilant, assessing new threats and vulnerabilities while ensuring your organization's security measures are up-to-date and effective. This is not a one-time event, rather, it should be a never-ending process of refining and improving the information security practices.

CISOs role in risk management especially focuses on creating a procedure that feels useful and efficient and involves the right parties. The goal of risk management is to allow an organization to focus resources where they'll make the most difference. You might want to use unit-specific workshops, monthly sessions or a continuous process, but anyway an organization needs to create a risk management process that works for them and let's them find the correct security investments.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Using smart tools. ISMS, GRC or risk management tools will help you connect the risk thinking to the actual treatment actions and their monitoring.
  • Frequent top management reporting. CISOs role is not just about identifying and mitigating risks, but also about communicating these risks and getting top management committed in decreasing them. Risks work better for top management communication than technical details or requirements.

4. Incident detection and management

At its core, incident management and detection is about building up robust defense mechanisms and responding swiftly when things go wrong. As a CISO, you'll be at the helm of these efforts, designing processes for prevention and response, but also ensuring quick people-driven reporting of incidents and learning lessons from occurred incidents.  

CISOs can't just wait for cyber-attacks to happen; they need to anticipate them with a healthy suspicion. You may want to regularly conduct e.g. penetration tests to test the strength of your defenses. When an incident occurs, there needs to be a well-established communication plan to quickly bring all involved parties up to speed. This not only expedites recovery, but it also serves to reassure stakeholders that the situation is being managed effectively.

Remember, a CISO's role is one of constant vigilance and endless learning. By learning from every encounter, you'll be on your way towards continuous improvement.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Regular practice and revisions. For incident management to be effective, the plans need to be regularly practices and updated.
  • Follow communication on latest cyber security trends. You can find many organizations communicating about new attack methods, fresh vulnerabilities, and evolving best practices. By keeping yourself up-to-date, you can spot changes that are relevant for you.

5. Security awareness programs and other personnel involvement

You may have the most advanced and sturdy security infrastructure, but the fact remains that the weakest link in any security system tends to be the people who use it. Understanding this principle can really enhance your effectiveness as a CISO.

The starting point for employee awareness are clear security guidelines they need to follow. This is not replacing training (and key security people need more of it), but it can ensure everyone understands their minimum responsibilities and the importance of information security during the first day in the job. These guidelines should be regularly updated and targeted for different roles.

Get creative in organizing learning sessions and improving employee security knowledge in other ways too. Create regular newsletters, quizzes, and Q&A forums on relevant security topics. Incorporate real-time incident examples and case studies in these sessions to provide a practical understanding. In this digital age, an aware and well-informed team can be one of the best defenses against potential security risks.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Set the minimum requirements crystal-clear. What is every employee (from day 1) responsible of? We recommend it's knowing their guidelines and obeying them. If some people have more security responsibilities, that should be as clear too.
  • See the collaborative aspect in information security. Security teams have for too long sat out in isolation from the rest of the organization. Bring information security to the center to really start creating a culture around it.

6. Planning security architecture and technology

When you are crafting your organization's security plans, carefully chosen technological protections are of course of utmost importance.

Successful security architecture and technology planning requires staying ahead of the curve in terms of emergent technologies and threat intelligence. This means being vigilant about implementing new security measures as they become available and also adapting current protocols to address any vulnerabilities.

Make sure to consider the latest technologies and methodologies in the cyber world, but only implement those that are most relevant to your business. Every organization has unique requirements in terms of information security, and using a one-size-fits-all approach can leave gaps in your defenses.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Start from risks, not from technology. A while ago our team researched popular security technologies and found over 1500 highly popular ones. Because you clearly can't use them all, make sure you focus on ones that address risks that are relevant for your organization.
  • Learn and utilize, don't just deploy. Make sure you budget resources (especially people's time) also for learning and using the selected technology efficiently - not just buying and deploying it.

7. Monitoring and reporting about compliance

Compliance isn't about checking boxes on a list. It's a strategic task that involves understanding the dynamic between regulations, best practice standards, organizational goals, and technological capabilities. While navigating through these complex variables can be challenging, maintaining a strong compliance posture is a key responsibility for a CISO.

Commonly accepted best practices (e.g. ISO 27001 standard) offer also a shared security language towards stakeholders (e.g. your customers or your own top management). They will also help you compare the maturity of your organization's security to something meaningful.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Take advantage of compliance frameworks. By selecting some information security standards (ISO 27001, CIS 18, NIST CSF or similar) as the backbone of your security program, you'll be basing your efforts on tested best practices, understanding your current maturity level better and developing your compliance communication.
  • Use compliance automation tools. Compliance shouldn't be on the forefront of CISO's attention - your own security measure should be. Compliance automation tools (like can turn your measures into compliance reporting and improve your compliance posture without your team needing to dive into 200-page PDFs full of complex requirements.

8. Supply chain management and monitoring

CISOs need to think about security not only from the point-of-view of the own organization, but also extending to the full key supply chain including numerous partners, suppliers, and third-party vendors. This may seem like a daunting job, but it's totally manageable when approached systematically.

Vital step in supply chain management is identifying the key suppliers and third-party vendors. Then the organizations needs to make decisions on what kind of assurance is needed about the security of these key partners. Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so it’s crucial to ensure each key partner in on the wanted security level. Closer collaboration, contractual measures or audits can facilitate the process.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Identify the critical partners. Who are the partners that directly affect the continuity of offering your services? Who are the ones that can't be easily replaced? And who are processing very confidential data?
  • Clearly decide wanted assurance level. Will you only accept key partners that are certified? That have filled your security questionnaire with strong answers? Or ones that vaguely promise good security?

9. Security budgeting and resourcing

As a CISO, you have an important role in influencing your organization's security budgeting and resourcing.

Budget planning means forecasting the funds necessary for security initiatives - e.g. for reaching the top-level security objectives. Always the CISO's goal is to find the balance between the level of security required and the budgetary resources available. This shouldn't be too stiff though, as very long-term budgeting can be challenging especially in the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats and technology.

Resource allocation is equally critical. It involves assigning both human and technological resources to various security activities. Effective resource allocation ensures all security operations are sufficiently staffed and equipped to function optimally. Nowadays there's a big shortage of skilled cyber security talent, which can make this sometimes very challenging.

About 65% of CISOs report that they lack the necessary staff to handle their cybersecurity needs.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Keep a buffer. It's a good practice to maintain some buffer in your budget for unexpected expenses, such as sudden technology upgrades or unforeseen security incidents.
  • Grow your security team from within. Finding and hiring cyber security talent from outside can be challenging and you might need quite extensive vetting processes. Training security-minded individuals to step-by-step growing information security roles can often be a safer and less resource-intensive way to go.

10. Fostering information security collaboration and communication!

Fostering security-related teamwork within the organization should be an important aspect of a CISO's duties. This is vital in promoting an encompassing culture of digital and information security that integrates everyone from the top tier of the firm down to its most junior employees.

A CISO can be a key player in cultivating an environment that welcomes security issue discussions. Employees should feel comfortable coming to you or your team, knowing they're contributing to the overall security landscape of the organization. Here, it's important to incentivize folks to share their innovative ideas or express their concerns.

Additionally, regular information sharing sessions can be highly advantageous. These sessions could include new threat briefings, introductions to new security protocols, or reinforcing existing cybersecurity measures. Always keep in mind the importance of non-technical personnel and tailor your communication style and language depending on the target audience.

Tips for CISO success:

  • Keep it simple. Your ability to explain complicated security matters in simple terms will be your best tool in fostering information security collaboration and communication with all employees.
  • Collaborate externally too. Working together with sources like cybersecurity communities, industry-specific interest groups or governmental security agencys can be easy and extremely valuable. While learning from others' experiences, be also willing to share yours to contribute to the larger cybersecurity community.


As we've explored, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) plays a pivotal role in an organization's security profile, guiding measures that defend against cyber threats while fostering security-conscious culture and communication. A successful CISO ideally possesses technical knowledge, robust management abilities, and excellent communication skills.

From guiding principles and objectives, crafting security policies and guidelines to risk management, incident management, and even supply chain control, a CISO's responsibilities are vast and complex. It's a management role where you will need to often delegate and oversee, and one where you can have a real impact on your organization's security, business continuity and ultimately its success.

Remember to stay agile, keeping updated and adaptable to the evolving cybersecurity landscape while maintaining a focus on risks specific to your organization. Never forget your most important tool: communication. Keeping everyone in your organization informed and engaged can turn your staff into a powerful line of defense.

In conclusion, a CISO's contributions are invaluable to an organization's cybersecurity posture and overall success. Embrace your role's multi-faceted challenges with confidence, and always aim for continuous improvement and learning, for yourself and your team.


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