What Is a Chief Security Officer?

The chief security officer (CSO) is a company executive responsible for the security of personnel, physical assets, and information in both physical and digital form. The importance of this position has increased in the age of information technology (IT) due to the dangers of hacking, ransomware, and data theft.

CSOs are typically responsible for online safety protocols, risk management, and responding to security incidents. Some tech companies may have a chief information security officer instead of a CSO, reflecting the digital focus of their responsibilities.

Key Takeaways

  • A chief security officer, or CSO, is an executive responsible for the safety and security of company data, personnel, and assets.
  • One key responsibility of the CSO is preventing data breaches, phishing, and malware, by developing robust safety protocols and crisis management.
  • CSOs may also be responsible for physical security, such as preventing trespassers and protecting physical assets.
  • Some tech companies may have a chief information security officer (CISO) instead of a CSO. This distinction reflects their focus on cybersecurity.
  • CSOs are increasingly in demand, due to the specialized nature of their skill set.

Understanding Chief Security Officer (CSO)

The term chief security officer was primarily used to describe the person responsible for IT security in a company. In some cases, that definition still applies. But in more recent years, the role of a CSO has expanded to include overall corporate security such as a company's personnel and physical assets along with digital and physical information. 

The person holding the title is also sometimes referred to as a chief information security officer (CISO). In some cases, the person is also known as the vice president or director of corporate security, which consolidates all forms of corporate security under a single department.

In some tech companies, the CSO role may be replaced by the CISO: Chief Information Security Officer.

Role of the Chief Security Officer

The CSO is a member of a company's upper management team. In this role, the CSO is responsible for developing and overseeing policies and programs used in the mitigation or reduction of compliance, operational, strategic, and financial security risk strategies relating to the personnel or staff, any assets, and other property.

History of the CSO

The role of the CSO was not in high demand about a decade ago. But the position has become very popular in recent years, and according to USA Today, has become hard to fill. That's because CSOs are rare and hard to find.

Many CSOs come from different backgrounds—some from the government, while others come from the corporate world. 

They may be hard to find, but many companies still do not have a CSO in their management teams. Other firms end up looking to fill the position when they have suffered some sort of damaging breach

What Does It Take to Become a CSO?

In order to be a CSO, the person should have a solid background in computers as well as experience working in environments where they will be exposed to various problems, whether they are related to physical security, cybersecurity, or informational issues. The candidate should know about the business they will be protecting and must be a good communicator. Because security can come with a heavy cost, the candidate will need to be able to relate plans and requirements to the rest of the management team with ease. 

The CSO is responsible for developing password security protocols, protecting company data, and responding to potential breaches after they occur.

Responsibilities of the CSO

The CSO is responsible for executing and overseeing, among others, the following duties:

  • Day-to-day operations: Implementing and overseeing strategies to assess and mitigate risk, safeguarding the corporation and its assets, crisis management.
  • Security: Developing, implementing, and maintaining security processes and policies, identifying and reducing risks, and limiting liability and exposure to informational, physical, and financial risks.
  • Compliance: Making sure the company is compliant with local, national, and global regulations, especially in areas like privacy, health, and safety.
  • Innovation: Conducting research and executing security management solutions to help keep the organization safe.

The Bottom Line

Many experts say there is a small pool of talent from which companies can choose when hiring CSOs—there just aren't enough to go around. But it will become a position that will continue to be in high demand since many companies are experiencing breaches and threats to their security.