Resources Whiteboard Series Introduction to Information Security: What is a CISO?

Introduction to Information Security: What is a CISO?

A Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is the tip of the spear for an organization’s cybersecurity program. CISOs identify threats, manage risk, implement security controls, and increase organizational resiliency. Sedara has several “virtual” CISOs (vCISOs) who split their time serving as CISOs for different organizations. This article covers what CISOs do and how they protect your organization’s most valuable assets.

What Do CISOs Do?

A CISO’s primary responsibility is to protect an organization’s information assets. This includes protecting sensitive data along with the IT assets that support business operations. In order to protect an organization’s information assets a CISO serves as a trusted, expert adviser to all stakeholders. Information technology is so deeply embedded in daily activities that most organizational stakeholders use IT assets to collect, process, and store data integral to business operations. Therefore, CISOs must be adept at working with different groups of people and capable of promoting actions for all stakeholders aligned with overall business objectives.

The CISO is also ultimately in charge of an organization’s information security controls. From identity and access management to network security to incident response, the CISO has a holistic grasp of cybersecurity strategies that promote defense-in-depth against today’s most serious cyber threats.

Preventing Threats

CISOs protect organizations from a diverse threat landscape. Threats can manifest as both deliberate attacks from internal or external malicious actors, or they can be unintentional from an internal stakeholder, such as the accidental loss of a laptop or the sending of sensitive data to the wrong recipient.

Threats from malicious actors are varied and increasingly sophisticated. Malicious actors often seek to steal data and disrupt business operations for financial or political reasons. CISOs are skilled at countering threats from social engineering, to malware, to data exfiltration using different security controls.

Managing Risk

Before security controls are implemented, CISOs must determine what an organization’s risks are. Risks can be understood as the result of a threat exposing a vulnerability. Therefore, CISOs conduct risk assessments, taking in the unique operating conditions of an organization, uncovering the likeliest threats, and determining their impacts. Once risks are understood, then CISOs can help an organization respond to them by mitigating, transferring, or accepting the risk.

Risk mitigation is achieved by implementing different security controls. Risk transference is achieved by shifting resources onto third parties, such as through insurance or cloud service providers. Risk acceptance is the option of last resort, whereby an organization acknowledges the presence of the risk after exhausting all other options. An organization will always face some residual risk, and the CISO ensures this risk poses as small a threat to the organization as possible.

Implementing Security Controls

One of the main roles of a CISO is leading the implementation of security controls that will lessen the cyber risk posed to organizations. Just as the cybersecurity threat landscape is diverse, so too is the menu of security controls.

A comprehensive cybersecurity program must take into consideration all of the following activities: governance, risk management, asset management, awareness and training, physical security, network security, identity management and access control, data retention and destruction, configuration and change management, vulnerability and patch management, supply chain management, logging and analysis, and resiliency planning. CISOs must have a nuanced understanding of each of these domains, understanding what kinds of controls can reduce the risks posed by different threats.

Improving Resiliency

Because risk can never be fully eliminated even the most sophisticated security controls are incapable of preventing all cyberattacks. IT can be made safer, never fully safe. Therefore, CISOs help organizations prepare to respond to data loss or service disruption through resiliency planning.

From backups to incident response, disaster recovery, and business continuity plans, CISOs are adept at helping organizations rapidly respond to threats, mitigate the harm, and return to normal operations. They include all relevant stakeholders in the development of these plans, and they conduct frequent tests of the plans to ensure the organization is prepared to act.


CISOs have a crucial role to play for every organization. They serve as the tip of the spear for an organization’s cybersecurity program, identifying threats, managing risk, implementing security controls, and increasing resiliency. They orchestrate all stakeholder groups to take action in support of business objectives. They are in charge of protecting an organization’s most valuable data assets and IT operations. Every organization should consider appointing a CISO in today’s threat landscape.

How Can Sedara Help?

Sedara has vCISOs available to take an organization’s cybersecurity program to the next level. They provide ongoing supervision and support and advise about threats, risk, security controls, and resiliency strategies. Contact Sedara today to learn how a vCISO can help your organization.

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