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Who Should the CISO Report To?

The information security challenges faced by organizations are dependent on the unique characteristics of the business. This means there is no one “right” answer for where the CISO sits on the org chart. The strategic goals, risk management strategy, and maturity of your organization are all key factors in determining the most effective reporting structure. So, without a defined best practice, how do you evaluate who your CISO reports to?

Know where you’re starting: Understanding your organization’s current culture and information security challenges is key to positioning your CISO for success. Does your organization grasp that security is not just an IT thing? Are your business leaders collaborative and actively working to include the security team in strategic and operational discussions?

It is also important to understand how information security interacts with your strategic objectives. If information security is viewed as a hindrance or obstacle, having your CISO report to a C-Suite executive could result in biased security decisions. However, if information security is perceived as a key piece of meeting strategic objectives, having your CISO report to a C-Suite executive could be an effective structure.

Outline your information security goals: Knowing where your organization wants to be regarding information security in three to five years will help you evaluate the best reporting lines for your CISO. If your organization looks to the CISO for leadership in aligning the information security goals with business objectives, placing your CISO near the CEO will provide them with the insights and collaboration to help fulfill expectations.

Perhaps your organization relies on the CISO to help business leaders solve problems in alignment with the information security goals. This would require the CISO to be more hands-on with the details of day-to-day business and aligns more closely with the CISO reporting to the CIO, CRO, or COO.

Define success: What does security success look like for your organization? While all companies would like to remain incident free, the world we live in asks when, not if, our first/next security incident will take place. When the next incident occurs, how will you evaluate your CISO’s success? If success means the CISO and their team efficiently manage the incident from an enterprise-wide standpoint, you need to ensure the CISO is in a seat that provides the needed authority and influence.

Timing matters: If your organization is struggling to make information security a cultural priority, moving the CISO may help provide a kickstart for change. By positioning the CISO higher in the organization you can demonstrate information security is an organizational concern not just an IT concern and increase visibility of the connection between the organization’s strategic objectives and information security objectives.

Maybe your organization has successfully made information security an organizational priority but has determined a move for the CISO would better enable them to meet your information security goals. Having a clear communication plan that instills confidence in current performance and expected benefits of moving the function can give your organization a renewed energy.

There is not a “one size fits all” answer for who your CISO should report to. The key to successfully placing your CISO is a detailed analysis of your culture, your information security goals, and the definition of success.

Bethany Deeds, CPA, CISA - Senior Information Technology Auditor

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