Chief Security Officer Career Guide & Outlook

Learn What a Chief Security Officer Does, the Requirements Needed and Job Growth

A Chief Security Officer isn’t responsible for only physical security in the workplace. They are also responsible for digital security. This IT specialist has command of the knowledge necessary to rise to the C-suites. The CSO guards digital assets, intellectual property, information systems, and the physical security of a workplace or facility, plus that of assets and employees. They may hold a slightly different job title such as Director of Corporate Security or Vice President of Corporate Security. It hasn’t always been this way. Information security and physical security were often handled by separate departments that sometimes feuded over territories of responsibility.


While both titles can be used interchangeably, you should know that the roles do have some differences. In some organizations, the CSO is responsible for the digital and information security, as well as the physical security of its employees and facilities. In other organizations, they may be responsible only for the physical security. To add even more confusion, CSOs may also carry out duties that Chief Information Officers or Chief Technology Officers are responsible for in other organizations.

The typical Chief Information Security Officer oversees cyber security for an organization. They analyze cyber threats as they are happening and they ensure that defensive mechanisms, such as firewalls, are capable of resisting threats. They assess the potential security risks of new protocols and products, detect fraud, protect the organization from data loss, construct network security, and manage data access.

However, this role may vary due to business structure, industry, and company size.

CSO Career Description and Responsibilities

The CSO’s career is one of the highest-ranking executives within an organization. Because companies are storing more and more data digitally, and conducting ever more business meetings and conferences online, this puts more and more pressure on the IT department. The CSO becomes even busier, finding that it’s necessary to collaborate even more with other managers and risk management specialists.

CSOs must be able to demonstrate the depth and breadth of their experience concerning IT and cyber security. They should have worked in IT early in their career, beginning in an entry-level position and moving up into management.

If a CSO works in an organization where employees are required to travel frequently, the CSO may be responsible for making sure those employees are safe. Some employees may travel to area with an elevated risk to their security and physical safety.

What are Their Responsibilities, Common Duties and Tasks?

The CSO works to create and maintain a safe environment for employees within the organization. They ensure the protection of the employees, assets, and information. CSOs coordinate crisis security management programs, as well as making sure managers inform every employee of changes to security policies.

The CSO reports directly to the CEO/president or to the vice president of Human Resources. They are responsible for ensuring they are current regarding political developments inside and outside the company and they should be ready to protect the company and employees from potential security breaches coming from outside or inside the company.

How to Become a CSO

You’ll have to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in cyber security or a related field to begin moving up the ranks toward Chief Security Officer. You may also need to earn your master’s degree in cyber security, along with related cyber security certifications and related work experience. These requirements are general requirements; individual organizations or government agencies may also have some of their own requirements they look for when hiring for their c-suites. Make sure you research the requirements of companies you would be interested in working for so that you know what is expected of someone in the position.

An MBA may also be a good step toward the C-Suite and a career as a CSO. After all, it is a management position and you will be competing with other cyber security experts. A master’s degree may give you the knowledge and the edge you need to get the position. A degree at this level helps to round out your qualifications and makes sure you understand the fundamentals of business, which will help you communicate with other c-suite executives and the managers working under you.

Once you are working in a cyber security role, look for new roles that may enable you to gain the experience you need as a leader. Plan to put several years into gaining experience in areas such as designing IT security solutions and managing large teams of people. You should also make an effort to earn professional certifications, such as CySA+ or CompTIA’s Security+.

Typical Requirements for Employer Hiring

Employers hiring candidates for CSOs have several requirements that candidates must meet.

These include:

  • Demonstrated ability to educate company stakeholders
  • Experience in developing new awareness programs and encouraging a security mindset from top to bottom
  • Ability to collaborate closely with the Chief Auditor and others
  • Ability to collaborate well with the governance, audit, and infrastructure management teams
  • Ensuring proper privatization of business, technology, and operations functions
  • Ensuring the presence of proper backup and recovery mechanisms
  • CSO will, with the Chief Risk Officer, define the correct mandate, structure, and reporting relationships for the IT Management function
  • Show at least a decade of broad technology experience in application development and infrastructure services
  • Have a strong working knowledge of industry best practices (NIST, ISO, SANS, COBIT, CERT)
  • Possess extensive knowledge of legislative and regulatory compliance requirements (HIPPA, SOX, PCI, and others)
  • Be experienced in managing complex information technology programs, especially within financial services or information security sectors
  • Experience managing vendor-sourced solutions and consultants
  • Able to ensure that vendor performance and deliverables meet required specifications
  • Have the ability to communicate security-related concepts and risks, as well as cost-effective program design and mechanics to several audiences including the board of directors, technical and non-technical associates, business partners, customers, and vendors
  • Demonstrate excellent interpersonal, verbal and written communication, and presentation skills
  • Have a history as an effective, accomplished change leader with prior employee management responsibility; be able to demonstrate ability to implement and guide adoption of new risk management programs
  • Must be able to direct people across the organization and ensure alignment of resources across functions and the organizational environment
  • Ability to be creative and develop new security procedures, using a thorough approach
  • Ability to work independently
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree, with appropriate field experience; Another advanced degree or an MBA is preferred

Skills Needed

CSOs who want to be successful in their positions need specific skills. These include a knowledge of security policies and procedures and an understanding of risk management and risk control. The CSO also must have excellent cyber security skills.

Because they will be managing a cyber security team, they also need to be able to carry out operations management. Security testing and auditing are a part of the CSO’s daily work as well. They need to be well-versed in carrying out regular audits and testing of the security procedures and software.

CSO Salary and Earning Potential

The median annual salary for a CSO is $148,000; entry-level median annual salary is $78,000 and late-career median annual salary is $215,000. The required education, knowledge, and skills that a CSO must have when they begin their careers is underscored by the responsibility they hold to protect their organization’s digital and physical property.

As with most positions, the actual income you are able to command depends on where in the US you are looking to work, your work history and experience level, the size of the hiring company, what industry the company is a part of, and many other factors. It’s important to take all these things into account when you are considering the salary a position offers. It may be that a company seems to be offering you an unfairly low salary, but the CSO position covers a more restricted set of responsibilities than some, or the CSO is considered to be under the CISO in the company hierarchy.

Outlook & Jobs

By 2021, U.S. organizations will announce at least 3.5 million job openings for cyber security experts. Currently, 40,000 new positions in cyber security remain empty. With lower-level positions in cyber security increasing, the demand for CSOs is likely to increase as well.

Organizations, both small and large, must protect larger and larger stores of electronic data; this means that they need experts in security, protection, IT and, cyber security. This includes protecting data and being able to communicate the critical importance of ensuring that everything and everyone is protected.

In 2014, cyber-criminals stole data from such large companies as Home Depot, J.P. Morgan, and Target. If these large organizations are so vulnerable, what does this imply for smaller companies? The CSO has the specialized education and training to help protect organizations from cyber-threats and the risks associate with these crimes.

Between 2018 and 2028, the employment of top executives is predicted to grow 6% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is about the same as the average growth for all other occupations. The growth of executive employment varies from occupation to occupation; it also relies on the rate of growth for each industry. Cyber security experts and managers are badly needed in many industries such as manufacturing, banking, finance, government, healthcare, technology, retail, education, and non-profits.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts cyber security to be one of the fastest growing fields in the near future. The demand for these positions is on the rise and all business is going to need to keep their data safe from potential external and internal threats.

Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

The CISO executive oversees cyber security systems and information security, as well as all departments associated with these systems.

Chief Security Officer (CSO)

These executives deal with data and physical security systems, controlling database and facility entry and all departments that deal with cybersecurity professionals and surrounding policies.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

This executive deals with development and implementation of computer systems. They receive organizational reports on the use and effectiveness of tech in regards to online systems security.

Computer Forensics Investigator

Analyze computers or web-based applications in the search for forensic evidence of a crime. This is done in support of the law after commission of a crime, or in efforts to assess a network's vulnerabilities.


Cryptographers are responsible for deciphering encrypted data. They might do after the commission of a crime. They also work to create better encryption to create stronger networks and safer data storage.

Incident Responder

Incident responders work with companies or governments to respond quickly after a possible threat has been detected. They find the source of the issue, determine if it’s a real threat, and discover how the incursion occurred.

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers seek to create an incursion. By doing so, they reveal the weak points of a security system so that these points can be secured better in the future.

Risk Analyst

Cyber security risk analysts spend their time looking for systems, procedures, or malware which could cause unintended negative occurrences, such as system crashes or slowdowns. They help create procedures to fix these problems quickly if they do occur.

Security Administrator

Cyber security administrators are responsible for dealing with all security and safety issues. They may create procedures or policies in order to maintain a companies overall security.

Security Analyst

A cyber security analyst maintains networks and fix issues that come up during normal operation. They may also identify threats and neutralizing them as quickly as possible.

Security Architect

This position requires you to choose or design security elements, whether physical parts that will become a part of the system or the virtual system that will provide access to all the company's data.

Security Auditor

These specialists may be kept on retainer or brought in after changes are made to a system. They provide a system-wide audit to make sure there are no chinks in the armor of the network or system.

Security Consultant

Security consultants devise security plans should they experience an incursion or help companies that are just getting started set up their security system from the ground up.

Security Director

The director of security helps create and review all policies and procedures related to security. They also ensure compliance with local or federal laws related to security concerns, such as the safety of patient data.

Security Engineer

A security engineer is responsible for creating computing systems which increases security and they solve any issues turned up by a security audit or incursion incident.

Security Manager

The security manager oversees entry level and senior security staff on a day-to-day basis, making sure staffing is steady and all issues are dealt with and reported to the highest-level security professionals.

Security Software Developer

Specializing in security software solutions, they create software for individuals to use on home computers or advanced solutions meant for multi-billion-dollar industries or even government agencies.

Security Specialist

This is an entry-level position in which a specialist may monitor or troubleshoot system or network issues. They may perform basic test procedures, reporting all activity and feedback to their manager.

Vulnerability Assessor

This security specialist tests systems for vulnerabilities, much in the same way penetration testers do. Instead of performing penetration testing, they look through applications or software for possible weaknesses and data security leaks.

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