How to Become a Chief Security Officer

According to Statista, in 2020 alone there were 1,001 reported data breaches in the U.S. that exposed the sensitive information of a total of 155.8 million individuals. Because data is such a fundamental part of modern business, information security experts are in demand across industries.

At the head of a company’s security force is the chief security officer (CSO), sometimes called the chief information security officer (CISO). CSOs work to cultivate a secure and safe company culture by implementing measures that protect data and sensitive information, and help departments communicate securely. To do this, a CSO must have significant expertise in cybersecurity issues such as digital forensics and internet security, which an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Cybersecurity can help establish.

What Is a Chief Security Officer?

A chief security officer is an organization’s highest-level security executive. CSOs directly oversee a company’s security strategies, processes and training programs, including physical and digital security. They create and supervise security operations to protect the company’s interests and assets by testing systems for weaknesses, assessing risks and tracking incidents of hacking or leaks.

This can include implementing keycard access to company buildings, prohibiting the use of social media on work computers and stress-testing firewalls. The CSO is also responsible for training employees in how to avoid phishing or malware attacks. They investigate information breaches and security incidents, while shoring up weaknesses in physical and technical security.

CSOs must also monitor emerging cyberattack methods and advise the CEO regarding investments in security software and services.

The CSO briefs the cybersecurity team on a threat.

Skills Needed to Become a Chief Security Officer

A chief security officer has a versatile position that demands an array of skills to meet its many challenges. Whether or not an aspiring cybersecurity professional has these skills can determine how successful they will be in the field.

Technical Skills

CSOs must have extensive expertise in hardware, software and networks. They must be fluent in concepts like cryptography and blockchain, as well as in various security communications subjects, such as data privacy and authentication techniques.

Risk Assessment Skills

A key responsibility of a CSO is measuring a company’s exposure to risk. They use a combination of technical knowledge and analytical skills to locate threat sources, identify vulnerabilities, determine the likelihood of exploitation and its probable impact, and calculate overall risk, which dictates how a company prepares for potential breaches.


CSOs act as liaisons between cybersecurity experts and the executive team, and must be able to communicate clearly with both. Being able to explain complicated computer security issues to managers without a technical background is crucial to success in the role.

Education and Career Path to Become a Chief Security Officer

The path to become a CSO requires a strong educational and experience background.


To reach the CSO position, a bachelor’s in business, cybersecurity or computer science is a minimum requirement. However, most cybersecurity specialists who reach the C-suite have the advanced knowledge of digital forensic techniques, property protection systems, computer firewalls and antivirus software taught in a program like that of a Master of Science in Cybersecurity.


Aspiring chief security officers can earn certifications that build on their technical or industry knowledge and can give them a competitive advantage over their peers. A few of these certifications include:

  • Certified Chief Information Security Officer (CCISO): Focuses both on technical knowledge and the executive application of information security management principles
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): Teaches high-level hacking methods and techniques for lawful, professional hacking jobs
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): Tests skills in designing, implementing and managing a premier cybersecurity system

According to Cybersecurity Insiders, certifications are pivotal to advancing a cybersecurity career.


On average, CSO positions require seven to 10 years of information technology security experience. This includes jobs in programming, risk management or government, usually in roles such as ethical hackers, security analysts or security architects. It’s possible that an individual will fill more than one of these positions as they advance in the field.

Aspiring CSOs should also become involved with the cybersecurity industry itself. This means seeking out networking events with other professionals, participating in webinars with experts in the field and joining cybersecurity organizations.

Become a Cybersecurity Professional

If you’re interested in a career in the evolving field of cybersecurity, you should consider the merits of a well-crafted education designed to prepare you with the cutting edge knowledge of cybersecurity practices you’ll need to succeed.

The University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Science in Cybersecurity is designed to lay the foundation for a successful career. With courses such as Digital Forensics, Fundamentals of Integrated Computer Security, and Cryptography and Blockchain, the program will help prepare you for the evolving world of cybersecurity. Take the first step into your future today.

Recommended Readings:

Digital Forensics Analyst: What They Do and How to Become One

Coding Resources for Kids and Teens

Getting into Cybersecurity with a Master of Science Degree


Cybersecurity Insiders, “How to Become a CISO in 5 Steps”

EC-Council, Certified Chief Information Security Officer Certification EC-Council – C|CISO Program

EC-Council, The Ultimate Ethical Hacking Certification

Forbes, “10 Critical Skills for a Successful CISO”

Houston Chronicle, “Roles & Responsibilities of a Chief Security Officer”

ISC2, CISSP — The World’s Premier Cybersecurity Certification

LBMC, 6 Essential Steps for an Effective Cybersecurity Risk Assessment

SecureWorld, “Chief Security Officer Role: ‘This Is What I Do’”

Security Intelligence, “How to Get on the CISO Certification Path”

Statista, Annual Number of Data Breaches and Exposed Records in the United States from 2005 to 2020

WiseGeek, “What Does a Chief Security Officer Do?”