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CIO vs. CISO vs. CRO: Who Should Lead Cybersecurity?

Cio vs ciso vs cro

CIO vs. CISO vs. CRO – who holds the keys to the future of your organization’s cybersecurity efforts? 

Keep reading for insights into how these roles differ and how they will shape the future of enterprise cybersecurity.

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CIO vs. CISO vs. CRO – An Overview of Job Roles

Here is a quick breakdown of the key differences between these jobs:

  • A CIO (Chief Information Officer) is responsible for the information infrastructure of an enterprise. The CIO manages IT operations and activities related to acquiring and implementing technology. In recent years, the CIO’s role has expanded to include other areas, such as business strategy, data management, and cybersecurity.
  • A CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) focuses on information security programs, including prevention, detection, and response to cyber attacks. They typically report to the CIO or the CEO, depending on the organization in question.
  • A CRO (Chief Risk Officer) assesses risks and develops risk mitigation programs. They evaluate risks in a variety of areas, including everything from financial investments to the regulatory landscape to cybersecurity. Then they will design risk mitigation strategies, such as business continuity plans and organizational resilience strategies, then work with other specialists to implement those strategies.

These three roles overlap somewhat, since cybersecurity is a discipline that involves IT as well as risk.

Which IT Leader Should Guide Cybersecurity Efforts?

The real issue in many organizations is maintaining clear boundaries and responsibilities, while improving communication and maximizing cooperation between these three offices.

For instance, if the CIO and the CISO are lateral positions, then there is a risk of conflict over budgets, programs, and priorities – and that conflict, in turn, can create problems that interfere with cybersecurity success.

If, on the other hand, a CISO reports to the CIO, then there will be fewer conflicts. However, depending on the CIO’s temperament and priorities, there may also be a risk that cybersecurity receives less emphasis than if the CISO reports directly to the CIO.

CROs, who usually report to the CEO, have less expertise in cybersecurity than in other fields, such as regulatory law. For that reason, they will naturally need to defer to other other IT professionals when it comes to cybersecurity recommendations. But since they report directly to CEOs and boards, they do carry a great deal of authority.

To reiterate, the question of “who” should lead cybersecurity efforts should really be reframed. 

Instead, it is best to ask how cybersecurity responsibilities should be delegated among these roles.

Factors to Consider When Creating a Reporting Structure

There is no single right answer when it comes to assigning cybersecurity responsibilities and developing a reporting structure.

When making this decision, consider factors such as these:

CIOs are busy 

Since many CIOs are expanding their duties to include a wide range of IT efforts, they may become overburdened if they are also tasked with managing cybersecurity.

That in and of itself can become a vulnerability, particularly as the organization scales and expands its scope of business.

In such instances, it is perhaps best to hire additional IT professionals to handle security. 

Cybersecurity involves more than just IT

Cybersecurity is a technology-driven field, certainly, but it also extends beyond actual tools.

In many organizations, for instance, breaches occur as a result of employee oversights and negligence. 

Multiple studies have found, in fact, that employee negligence or human error cause a huge portion of breaches – between 40% to 95%, depending on the survey. 

The takeaway: IT leaders who focus too much on technology may not be able to design a truly comprehensive cybersecurity program. Therefore, to build a holistic and well-rounded program, it is a good idea to have a team of security leaders from several departments.

Building productive working relationships is as important as the reporting structure

Cybersecurity, as mentioned, requires support from a variety of areas, from both IT, cybersecurity, as well as individual departments.

The entire organization, in fact, must be onboarded with cybersecurity efforts, so even department heads, managers, and employees themselves should be involved. 

For example, an organization that wants to reduce human errors and instances of employee negligence may involve HR. HR, after all, can help with security-related employee onboarding, developing appropriate security training methods, and cultivate a security-conscious culture.

Every industry is different

Not all industries need the same level of cybersecurity.

Industries such as healthcare and finance, for instance, must maintain high levels of security. After all, they handle sensitive patient data and must adhere to strict government regulations.

In these cases, CISOs should have more authority. Allowing them to report to CEOs directly can give them that authority and ensure cybersecurity stays a top priority.

On the other hand, some companies may not have such strict security needs. 

A company in the agriculture sector, for example, will hardly have the same IT or security demands of a fintech company. They can therefore invest far less in both IT and cybersecurity – having a CISO will likely be superfluous in such an organization.

Key Takeaways

Every organization is different and has its own unique needs. 

Some are big and some are small. Some require more security and some require less. And some have organizational structures that are more complex than others.

Since all of these factors affect the decisions regarding security-related command structures, it is important to assess one’s own circumstances carefully when designing a cybersecurity program.

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