The Changing Face of CISOs in India's Digital Landscape

In India, the understanding and execution of the CISO role are still evolving.

The modern CISO in India needs to be a combination of a technologist, strategist, communicator, and risk and transformation manager. These myraid skills will enable them to safeguard the business's digital assets while developing a security culture.

In the realm of cybersecurity and information security, a new role has steadily gained prominence - the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). While the position has been subject to extensive debates concerning its functions, responsibilities, and reporting, it's becoming increasingly clear that the role is indispensable in our data-driven world.

Traditionally, most Indian organizations haven't had a dedicated CISO. Information security and cybersecurity responsibilities have often been absorbed by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). This approach, however, has led to certain limitations and conflicts.

Understanding that information security isn't confined to information systems or IT is crucial. It spans physical security, human resources, finance, administration, and third parties. A CIO or CTO may often focus on IT security alone due to limited bandwidth, lack of domain expertise, or avoiding conflicts. This curtails the role of a CISO, confining them to be head of IT Security & Governance, thereby diminishing their effectiveness.

In the Indian context, cybersecurity and information security terms are often used interchangeably. Consequently, the Chief Cyber Security Officer may become synonymous with the CISO. As such, it's critical for organizations to explicitly delineate the roles and responsibilities of the CISO before appointing one.

A competent CISO is responsible for comprehensive information security management, encompassing cybersecurity, IT security, Operational Technology (OT), Internet of Things (IoT), and physical security. To run the function independently and effectively, they must be adequately empowered. Contrarily, this doesn't entail a power struggle with the CIO. Instead, the CIO can offer vital support to the CISO function. Regardless of reporting lines, the CISO and CIO must collaborate closely to ensure organizational security.

The perception that a CISO role signifies the end of a professional's career is misleading. Many CISOs have transitioned to becoming CIOs. Therefore, instead of viewing the CISO role as a career end-point, it should be seen as an opportunity for career enhancement and progression.

In India, CISOs usually ascend from IT security or IT governance roles and, thus, may lack a deep understanding of fraud management, risk management, business innovation, and transformation. It's time to rethink and reshape this. The role of a CISO is not just to react to threats but also to proactively identify risks, devise robust strategies, and align security initiatives with business objectives.

In conclusion, the CISO role in India has significant potential for growth and development. With a clear role definition, suitable empowerment, and the right set of skills, a CISO can genuinely become an organization's cyber guardian. As organizations evolve with technological advancements, so must the CISO, evolving from a technical expert into a strategic partner.

Admittedly, there's a long road ahead. However, as we tread this path, it's essential to remember that in cybersecurity, standing still is moving backward—the key lies in relentless advancement - a trait that every CISO should embody.

The author is a renowned Cyber Security, Public Policy, Government Affairs Specialist, and Digital Technology Expert based out of New Delhi.

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