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Publication date: June 6, 2023

The Reality of CISO Burnout

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Written by Angela Polania

Angela Polania, CPA, CISM, CISA, CRISC, HITRUST, CMMC RP. Angela is the Managing Principal at Elevate and board member, and treasurer at the CIO Council of South Florida.

In a world where cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and prevalent, organizations need someone at the helm who understands the intricacies of Cybersecurity. CISOs are not just tech-savvy individuals; they are strategic thinkers and first responders who align security efforts with the organization’s goals. They develop comprehensive security policies, establish protocols, and ensure compliance with regulations and industry standards. By doing so, they safeguard not only the organization’s assets but also its reputation and the trust of customers and partners.

The CISO laundry list of responsibilities is causing unprecedented stress and burnout. Unfortunately the scope of their role is directionally proportional to the growth of the threat landscape, budget reduction, increase in Federal and State regulations, staffing shortages, as well as the overall employee burnout running rampant throughout the Cybersecurity industry with nearly 75% of CISO’s surveyed saying they had employees quit during the past year due to stress.

In a 2023 study conducted by cynet of CISO mental health:

94% of CISO’s said that they are stressed at work

65% expressed that their stress compromises their ability to protect their organization

74% left their jobs in 2022 due to on-the-job stress

77% said that their work stress is damaging to their physical health

“The reality is that security teams are inundated with alerts – required to manage an overwhelming number of cybersecurity threats coming from all directions. The surge in work responsibilities is putting a spotlight on cybersecurity program gaps with many outside of the IT department questioning the safety of the organization. Nearly 80% of CISOs surveyed said they had received complaints from their bosses, colleagues, or subordinates about how security tasks were being handled.” (HackerNews)

So what can be done to combat this wildfire of fatigue? In an ideal world, there would be a bottomless pit of resources and qualified applicants chomping at the bit for a place on the team, with seamless automation and no capped budget. While we dream our crazy dreams, let’s talk actionable solutions:

Put accountability on the company to lift the burden. Organizations need to invest in their CISO’s by providing resources like increased automation capabilities, better training opportunities, and the ability to outsource tasks. More than half of CISO’s surveyed expressed the need to improve workflow by consolidating security technologies on to a single platform. Promoting work-life balance as part of the company culture and providing mental health support are great ways to help their leaders and team members start to manage the emotional impacts of their work.  

CISO’s in smaller organizations are at a higher risk of being overwhelmed due to the tendency of less money and resources, and a lack of emphasis on the importance of cybersecurity. This can be more difficult to remedy as those don’t come cheap and are less likely to be put ahead of other profitable department needs. In this case, CISOs in small businesses should prioritize tasks based on risk, establish clear security policies and procedures, and leverage automation and cost-effective solutions where possible. It’s also important to seek external support through partnerships with managed security service providers, industry associations, or peer networks to share knowledge and best practices. Building strong relationships with stakeholders and promoting a security-conscious culture throughout the organization can further enhance the effectiveness of the CISO’s role in small businesses.

For organizations that need protection but do not have the budget for an in-house CISO, or are losing leaders due to stress, Virtual CISO (or vCISO) might be the right option. A  Cybersecurity professional or consulting firm can provide CISO services to organizations on a part-time or remote basis. Instead of hiring a full-time Chief Information Security Officer, organizations can engage a vCISO to fulfill their information security leadership and advisory needs. The advantage of engaging a virtual CISO is that organizations can access high-level security expertise and guidance without the costs associated with a full-time CISO. It allows organizations to tailor the level of engagement based on their specific needs and budget.

If you are interested in exploring Virtual CISO options, connect with an Elevate consulting associate to discuss our unique and tailored services!

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