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The 10 Most Unglamorous Duties of the Modern CISO

10 Hidden Responsibilities of the Modern CISO

The responsibilities of the modern CISO are many and varied, and it’s hard work and due diligence that keep companies afloat 

The Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is rightly perceived as the guardian of an organization’s digital fortress, a heroic and knightly role shrouded in cutting-edge technology and strategic cybersecurity operations. A champion against the unknown and a team trailblazer, the role of the CISO involves silently maintaining digital operations with apparent ease. Often, it’s a role that only gets noticed when something goes wrong. 

Having a CISO–led incident response team reduces the cost of a data breach by as much as $14 per compromised record.
[IBM] 

Speaking to one of our clients recently, they likened the role to a swan, “Gliding along effortlessly on the surface, but paddling hard against the flow underneath.”

On the surface, the job demands in-depth knowledge and practice in several key areas: 

  • Strategizing Cybersecurity Initiatives: Developing and implementing innovative cybersecurity strategies to protect the organization’s digital assets. Implementing zero-trust and other best practices for the best possible organizational protection. 
  • Leading Incident Response: Overseeing the response to cyber incidents, ensuring quick and efficient mitigation of threats. 
  • Advising on Emerging Technologies: Staying abreast of (and advising on) the latest cybersecurity technologies and trends.  
  • Driving Cybersecurity Culture: Cultivating a strong cybersecurity culture within the organization through training and awareness programs.  
  • Risk Management: Mapping vulnerability, evaluating current security posture, prioritizing cybersecurity risks, and implementing measures to mitigate them.  
  • Collaborating with Leadership: Collaborating with top management to align cybersecurity strategies with business goals.  
  • Managing Security Teams: Leading and mentoring a team of cybersecurity professionals. 
  • Regulatory Compliance and Audits: Ensuring compliance with relevant cybersecurity laws and regulations and overseeing audits.  
  • Innovating Cybersecurity Solutions: Exploring and implementing cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions and practices, going beyond traditional network infrastructure while staying up on evolving cybersecurity trends 
  • Building Relationships with External Stakeholders: Networking with other cybersecurity leaders, government agencies, and vendors to stay ahead of threats. 

However, underneath where the flow is, the day-to-day reality of a modern security leader involves tasks that are far from the limelight yet are crucial to the fabric of an organization’s security posture. New technologies are driving changes in business operations, including within the cloud, DevOps, the Internet of Things, data analytics, and artificial intelligence. Often invisible to the rest of the C-Suite, here’s a brief look at some of the less glamorous yet essential duties of the CISO in 2024 and beyond. 

  1. Policy Writing and Documentation

    The modern CISO spends a surprising amount of time crafting and revising security policies, procedures, and guidelines. It’s a meticulous task that requires a deep understanding of both the organization’s objectives and the evolving threat landscape. The unglamorous truth is that for every high-octane cyber incident, hours of policy documentation and late-night tapping of pencils against teeth lay the groundwork for an effective response.

  2. Compliance Auditing

    Cybersecurity regulatory compliance is an unending marathon. CISOs are often found wading through the latest regulations, ensuring the organization meets standards like the Asia-Pacific PDPA, HIPAA best practices, or the newest requirement of PCI-DSS 4.0. This involves coordinating audits, remediation tasks, and often, translating the legalese of compliance requirements into actionable security measures for their teams.

  3. Budget Battles

    Significantly less exciting than battling cybercriminals, fighting for budget allocation can be the most challenging part of a CISO’s role. Convincing the board to invest in cybersecurity often means navigating complex financial discussions, justifying cybersecurity ROI, and often making tough calls on resource allocation.

  4. Vendor Vetting

    CISOs can spend a surprising amount of time in meetings with vendors, assessing the security offerings that may or may not align with their organization’s needs. It’s a delicate dance of due diligence and negotiation, often accompanied by the necessity of poring over service-level agreements and parsing through technical specs. to find the true value they need with the right ROI.

  5. Security Awareness Training

    A surprising amount of a CISO’s role involves education. Crafting security awareness training programs for employees is hardly glamorous but is increasingly essential. Fostering a culture of cybersecurity compliance is all about finding creative ways to transform seemingly mundane best practices like recognizing the signs of phishing into engaging lessons that stick.

  6. Incident Reporting

    When a security incident occurs, the CISO is often tasked with the unenviable job of reporting the bad news. This involves not just informing stakeholders but also explaining the technical details and implications of the breach in a way that non-technical leaders can understand and act upon.

  7. Data Privacy Management

    Data privacy is inseparable from security. CISOs must be privacy advocates, managing personal data and navigating the minefield of privacy laws. It’s a task that requires a fine balance between business objectives and ethical considerations of user privacy.

  8. Crisis Management

    CISOs must act as the calm during the storm of a cyber crisis. Beyond the technical response, they must manage communications, coordinate with different departments, and maintain business continuity. The role often morphs into that of a crisis manager, which is a far cry from the cybersecurity heroics one might expect.

  9. IT Hygiene Supervision

    Basic IT hygiene, such as managing patches and ensuring proper configurations, is hardly the stuff of cybersecurity legend, but a constant drive to improve security posture is critical. As the saying goes, “Always be Patching” (ABP), and a CISO must champion these fundamental and essential tasks, and even lead by example. Overseeing the regular updates and maintenance that keep systems secure may not be exciting, but its impact is undeniable.

  10. Juggling Legacy Systems

    CISOs often have to work with outdated legacy systems that are critical to business operations but vulnerable to security risks. A potential minefield of plate juggling, ensuring these systems are not a liability, involves a surprising amount of time strategizing over integrations, ringfencing, upgrades, or replacements to modernize legacy applications. 

The modern CISO role is a veritable murky pool of complex, often unglamorous tasks that are critical to the security and resilience of an organization. It is recognized as one of the professional roles most susceptible to occupational stress, and practitioners must be aware of how to avoid burning out at work.

While they may not always be in the cybersecurity spotlight, these duties are the unspoken backbone of what keeps companies safe and organizations afloat. Without a doubt, the role of the CISO is far more complex than it appears on the surface. 

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