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What is a CISO?

Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are responsible for digital security in companies. Their field of responsibility requires diverse qualifications and a holistic view of IT security, data protection, compliance and business. 

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CISO: a definition

The acronym CISO stands for Chief Information Security Officer. CISOs bear overall responsibility for information security in companies and therefore require a holistic view of all aspects of data protection, data security as well as compliance. As a rule, the CISO is a member of the Executive Board who is supported by a committee or a group of Information Security Officers. The latter, in turn, are responsible for implementing all information security measures in their departments or locations.

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What are the duties of a CISO?

Depending on the industry, the company and the current state of digitalization, the tasks of a CISO vary greatly. For example, security decision-makers in highly regulated industries such as finance or insurance must deal a great deal with compliance and legal requirements resulting from the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the IT Security Act (IT-SiG) and other regulations such as VAIT, MaGo, MaRisk and KonTraG. If the company belongs to the critical infrastructures (KRITIS), responsible CISOs must regularly prove that they use all available cybersecurity options to protect their systems. Fixed procedures for risk management and constant auditing are also prescribed here.

IT security with a business focus 

Modern IT security integrates seamlessly into operations and ideally helps to optimize and accelerate processes. As proactive protection, intelligent security mechanisms take effect even before any attacks. In this way, the effects of an attack can be limited, and regular business operations can be resumed as quickly as possible. In turn, the necessary services must be provided with an appropriate budget. The task of a Chief Information Security Officer is to meet this universal requirement.


What qualifications does a CISO need? 

The requirements profile for a CISO includes a wide range of skills. These include:


Generally, CISOs deal with the creation and maintenance of a holistic security strategy for corporate IT. In doing so, professionals aim to define tailored security policies and processes to adequately protect business operations. At the same time, IT security must not compromise the requirements of the core business. The CISO is also responsible for reviewing the security concepts that have been developed and implemented. For example, different attack scenarios must be simulated to put the effectiveness of the company's own processes to the test and monitor them. This also includes crisis communication with customers and business partners.


To meet these high demands, CISOs are required to have a great deal of technical expertise. Most security decision-makers have in-depth professional experience in IT security, network administration and programming. Additional knowledge is also essential for the implementation of legal requirements. It is not only a matter of reliably protecting one's own systems against data leakage or cyberattacks, but also of complying with the requirements of legislators and industry associations. Essentially, this is about implementing digital security successfully and in compliance with the rules. In addition, CISOs are also expected to have leadership skills and business acumen. These skills help to negotiate the necessary security budget and to optimally adapt the protection processes to the core business.


In addition, soft skills are also of key importance for CISOs. They must develop a feel for the employees in the company and sensitize them to cybersecurity issues. Digital protection in the professional environment is not just about technological approaches. Cybercriminals primarily focus on the users themselves with spear phishing, malware spam and other social engineering attacks. In most cases, such attacks are much easier than fighting their way through multi-layered security concepts such as firewalls, malware scanners or encrypted communication channels. Awareness training and random practical tests are therefore essential components of a comprehensive IT security strategy.


Communication skills also matter. CISOs usually work closely with CIOs and must convince them and the management of their security concepts. CISOs also represent the company to the outside world and answer security-specific questions from customers, partners and authorities.

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CISO: What you need to know

Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are responsible for information security in companies and must be well versed in the areas of data protection, data security and compliance. In addition, they need both technical knowledge and soft skills such as employee leadership and strong communication skills. Key responsibilities also include providing an adequate budget for all required IT security strategy processes.

CISOs often come from the executive board and do not work alone: they are supported by a committee or a group of information security officers who are ultimately responsible for implementing all information security measures in their departments or locations.