Chief Security Officer: Job Description and Salary

In 2021, the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack disrupted the largest petroleum delivery system in the United States. The disruption spurred fears of a nationwide gasoline shortage and fueled panic buying, causing gas station outages along the East Coast. In mid-May, days after the attack, ABC News reported that 7.7% of gas stations in Virginia and 8.5% of stations in North Carolina ran out of gasoline. Similar outages were reported in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

The attack served as yet another reminder of the maliciousness of hackers and the significant cost of cybercrime, which continues to grow. Globally, the cost of cybercrime could reach more than $10 trillion annually by 2025, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. The harm caused by these attacks underscores how vital it is for organizations of every size to have an effective cybersecurity strategy and qualified professionals to help them execute it.

Students interested in advancing to senior cybersecurity positions may find that the chief security officer (CSO) role aligns with their ambitions. A chief security officer’s job description involves developing strategies to protect company data, setting online safety protocols and identifying potential breaches before they occur, among other responsibilities.

One way aspiring CSOs can develop the skills they’ll need to be successful is through earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity. This type of program can provide graduates with the in-demand technical knowledge and leadership skills needed to excel in a high-level cybersecurity role.

Chief Security Officer Job Description

Like other C-level roles, a chief security officer — sometimes referred to as chief information security officer — is the highest-ranking person responsible for cybersecurity at an organization. They work at companies of all sizes, in various industries, and their role is to mitigate network and computer security risks.

The importance of the CSO role has grown as the risk of cyberattack has risen. Professionals working in this capacity are responsible for managing the security of an organization’s digital and sometimes physical assets, as well as keeping employee, company and customer data secure.

Although the specific duties of a CSO can vary widely based on the size and type of organization they work for, common responsibilities may include the following:

  • Managing, investigating and resolving crises, such as digital security breaches
  • Overseeing day-to-day network security operations
  • Identifying possible security risks and developing risk mitigation plans
  • Developing an organization’s security protocols and ensuring they comply with state and federal regulations, particularly in areas such as privacy, health and safety
  • Working alongside IT managers to develop and implement budgets
  • Researching new and emerging types of cyberthreats and updating security protocols as needed
  • Safeguarding company data and trade secrets and mounting effective responses to cybersecurity threats

Chief Security Officer Salary

Salary data from various sources reflects the high earning potential of the chief security officer role. The median annual salary for CSOs was approximately $149,900 as of May 2022, according to Payscale, with a salary range between $72,000 and $232,000.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a stand-alone category for CSO, professionals working within this capacity fall under the blanket category of “chief executives,” which includes chief executive officers and chief operating officers. The median annual wage for all chief executives was $179,520 as of May 2021.

Salary ranges for this position vary widely based on a variety of factors, such as an individual’s experience level and the industry or organization they work for. For example, the BLS notes that chief executives employed in professional, scientific and technical services earned a median annual wage of $208,000 or more during the same reporting period, while individuals employed with government institutions earned $104,730.

The location where a CSO works also can influence earnings. For example, the May 2021 annual mean wage of chief executives in Illinois was $244,390, while chief executives employed in Minnesota earned $213,270, according to the BLS.

Job Outlook for Chief Security Officers

In light of the growing frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks, the BLS expects the demand for cybersecurity professionals, including chief security officers, to be high over the next several years.

Although the BLS projects that overall employment of top executives will grow by just 8% between 2020 and 2030 — about as fast as the average for all occupations — it estimates that job growth for information security analysts will be very strong, growing by 33% over the same period. These professionals have a similar job description to chief security officers, albeit in a less senior role. They plan and execute network security strategies to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems.

Job growth within this sector will be driven by a high demand for experienced, qualified professionals who understand how to prevent hackers from accessing and stealing critical information, including proprietary data and customers’ personal information, such as their Social Security and driver’s license numbers, among other sensitive data. The BLS also projects that the increased use of cloud computing services, especially by small and medium-sized companies, will drive the demand for information security experts throughout the decade.

A chief security officer and a colleague look over data on a laptop.

Challenges Faced by CSOs

Effective CSOs understand that network security strategies need to be regularly updated, as cybercriminals are constantly adapting and changing their tactics. Organizations that fail to update their security protocols, even briefly, are at risk of attack. Data from SonicWalls’s 2022 Cyber Threat Report indicates that global ransomware attacks spiked by roughly 1,885% in 2021.

The growing ubiquity of remote work — a trend that surged considerably in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — has also presented unique challenges to cybersecurity professionals. According to a 2020 PwC report cited by ABC News, when companies around the world shifted from having employees working on-site to working full time at home, often on unsecured networks, there was a marked increase in various types of cyberattacks, including cryptojacking, IoT malware, encrypted threats and zero-day attacks.

PwC partner Nicola Nicol observed that at the start of the pandemic, hackers specifically targeted teleworking employees, who were perhaps not thinking about cybersecurity the same way they would have if they had been working from the office.

Consequently, CSOs with strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and who understand the importance of staying current on new cybercrime techniques and technological developments, are likely to have the best job prospects.

Pursue a Dynamic Career

Cybersecurity is a fast-paced, dynamic field, and professionals interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity, including chief security officer roles, need to constantly update their skill sets to meet the moment.

Are you ready to expand your technical expertise and leadership skills in ways that can help spur the career growth you’ve been looking for? Discover how earning an online Master of Science in Cybersecurity from the University of Nevada, Reno can help prepare you for what lies ahead.

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Cybercrime Magazine, “Cybercrime to Cost the World $10.5 Trillion Annually by 2025”

GDS, “6 Information Security Challenges Facing the CISO in 2021”

IBM, “How Much Does a Data Breach Cost?”

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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Chief Executives

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Top Executives