CISOs still struggle for respect from peers

Despite greater security awareness, most C-suite executives continue to undervalue CISOs, survey shows.

Chief information security officers (CISOs) continue to have a hard time gaining the respect of other C-suite executives despite the heightened focus overall on information security.

In a survey of 203 U.S.-based CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and other top executives, 74% of the respondents said CISOs did not deserve a seat at the leadership table. More than six in 10 did not believe their CISO would succeed in a non-security related leadership position in their organization.

About 44% of the executives surveyed said that CISOs should be held accountable for organizational data breaches. At the same time, more than 50% said they did not believe information security executives should be responsible for cybersecurity purchases.

Market research firm Opinion Matters conducted the survey on behalf of ThreatTrack Security in June and July.

The results highlight the challenges that CISOs face in earning the respect of their peers.

Many companies, including large ones, have balked at the idea of even appointing a CISO to oversee information security. Retail giants Target and Neiman Marcus for instance, hired their first CISOs only after suffering major data breaches.

Those companies that have a CISO have tended to relegate them to a purely operational, fire-fighting role with little say in overall risk management. Over the years, CISOs have often complained about not having enough clout within their organizations to effect real change.

The situation stems from an overall misunderstanding of the CISOs role in enterprises, said ThreatTrack Security president and CEO Julian Waits. Many in the C-suite view the CISO function as purely technology related and fail to appreciate the broader role that security executives can play in mitigating and managing overall operational risk, Waits said.

More than half of the C-suite executives in the survey said that CISOs provide valuable guidance on cybersecurity matters. However, they also felt that their CISOs did not possess enough broad awareness of organizational objectives or business needs to deserve a place at the leadership table. Barely a quarter said their CISOs were doing a good job of improving day-to-day information security practices.

While business executives appeared ready to blame CISOs for data breaches, they were less ready to give their security executives the authority needed to mitigate risk in a meaningful way, Waits said.

Many of the executives, for example, were reluctant to give CISOs full purchasing authority because of concerns about security tools hampering business processes, disrupting service levels and decreasing productivity. More than a quarter of those who participated in the survey said their CISOs had made purchasing decisions that had led to negative effects on the financial health of their organizations, Waits said.

Somewhat surprisingly, CEOs in the survey tended to have a more charitable view of CISOs compared to CIOs. A greater number of CIOs said that chief information security officers should be held accountable for data breaches, compared to CEOs. Similarly, more CEOs gave their CISOs an "Excellent" rating on their job, compared to CIOs.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

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