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State Security Chiefs Grapple With Recruitment, New Mandates

CISOs are gaining attention outside the IT office and cyber funding isn’t a top challenge — for the first time in survey history. But CISOs still wrestle with talent gaps and need to strengthen local relationships to build whole-of-state approaches.

NASCIO Director of Policy and Research Meredith Ward; Michigan CSO and CIO Laura Clark; Connecticut CISO Jeff Brown; and Deloitte Principal in US Government and Public Services Srini Subramanian participating in a panel discussion.
Left to right: NASCIO Director of Policy and Research Meredith Ward; Michigan CSO and CIO Laura Clark; Connecticut CISO Jeff Brown; and Deloitte Principal in US Government and Public Services Srini Subramanian.
David Kidd
State CISOs are gaining new “strength and authority” while wrestling with skills gaps and need for tighter bonds with local governments, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) and Deloitte report. The biennial study surveyed CISOs from all 50 states and three territories.

The pandemic propelled new levels of digitization — with CISOs working to keep it all secure and private — and the rest of government has become increasingly aware of cyber threats. For many CISOs, that’s lead to more engagement with legislative and executive branches, but persistent challenges remain.

CISOs are grappling with talent gaps and weak relationships with local agencies. The latter has emerged particularly as an obstacle to whole-of-state cybersecurity and new federal grants requiring collaboration with local partners.

CISOs also remain concerned about ransomware and other malware, while seeing foreign state-sponsored espionage as an increasing threat.

Today’s state CISOs must strive for statewide cybersecurity approaches, revise recruitment and retainment approaches that appeal to more job seekers, and advocate for reliable, long-term dedicated cybersecurity budgets enabling them to tackle the needs of the present and prepare for the future, the report recommends.


Workforce Gaps


Many CISOs are taking on more responsibilities and confronting ever-more sophisticated cyber attackers, but don’t have all the capabilities they need on staff and struggle to hire more.

Sixty-two percent of CISOs said personnel don’t have all the “knowledge, skills and behavior” to meet current and anticipated cybersecurity requirements. This is a familiar problem, with 70 percent of CISOs saying the same in 2020.

Hiring woes have gotten worse: 50 percent of CISOs said there is “inadequate availability” of cyber professionals — a sharp jump from the 28 percent saying the same in 2020.

A chart listing the top five challenges CISOs highlighted in 2020 and in 2022. In 2022, “inadequate availability of cybersecurity professionals” was the second most cited issue, up from fourth-most cited in 2020.
In 2022, “inadequate availability of cybersecurity professionals” was the second most cited issue, up from fourth-most cited in 2020.
States struggle to win recruits, in part because of monthslong hiring processes that give competitors plenty of time to snatch up the candidates instead.

Plus, states may need to offer more than traditional hiring pitches, focused on retirement plans, job stability and meaningful public service. Today’s younger candidates often want a diverse, inclusive environment and at least part-time remote work options, per the report.

Only 25 percent of CISOs offer remote work, Deloitte’s Principal in US Government and Public Services practice Srini Subramanian said.

Some adherents are finding success:

“We are fully remote and I think people are really enjoying that. We certainly hope that that will continue,” said Connecticut CISO Jeff Brown during NASCIO’s annual conference. His office reassesses its remote work policy about every six months.

Michigan, meanwhile, has shifted into a hybrid model as the pandemic receded, with staff spending two days in the office, CISO and CIO Laura Clark said. The state isn’t exclusively focused on productivity, Clark said, but also looks at benefits like the observational learning that occurs among on-site colleagues.

States are also testing other lures, with Brown suggesting sign-on bonuses and putting job titles into the right language to reach recruits. Changing a job title from “ITA3” to “Deputy CISO” will draw more applicants, for example.

But it’s not all about hiring: states can also make strides by continually training their existing staff, collaborating with higher education institutions to build up workforce pipelines and supplementing in-house capacity with contractors and other third parties, the report notes.

Whole-of-State Security


CISOs have been firming up their positions within the state enterprise, garnering recognition beyond the IT office. All states now boast CISOs, and 44 percent have their roles and authorities established and funded by law or statute.

Many also communicate more frequently with legislators and governors. The portion of CISOs who are “never” required to report to the governor about cybersecurity statuses or postures shrunk from 18 percent in 2020 down to 8 percent in 2022, for example.
Chart showing that the share of CISOs who never have to report to the governor declined from 2020 to 2022. The same is true for the reporting to the state legislature and to the agency secretary or deputy secretary.
But work remains to connect outside the state enterprise — such as with local government, public higher ed, health-care systems and the private sector. Only 35 percent of state CISOs cited “strong” collaborations with non-educational local government entities during the past year, and even fewer collaborated strongly with K-12 or public higher ed.

That’s a key problem, with local agencies lagging behind state counterparts in adoption of enterprise security services. States could put everyone on better standing by stepping in with intelligence sharing and supports like cybersecurity training.

“The majority of localities are small to mid-size, and they very much need the help,” said NASCIO Director of Policy and Research Meredith Ward.

States CISOs first must establish trust if they want local agencies to accept their services, Clark advised. That means having regular meetings and conversations, focused on local partners’ needs: “Have the conversation they want to have, not the conversation that you want to have,” she said.

That’s an issue CISOs are noticing as they consider how to use the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program (SLCGP). Eighty percent of the money must support local governments, through direct funding or shared services. This could be an opportunity for deepening collaboration, but trust is a hurdle: 63 percent of CISOs said the greatest obstacle to fulfilling SLCGP requirements would be “resistance by local government to state oversight.”

Chart showing that states list “local government resistance to state oversight” as the top obstacle to meeting the requirements of the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program.
Launching new arrangements could help bring parties together. Higher ed can act as a “bridge between state and local governments” such as by hosting shared SOCs, the report suggested, and joint cyber task forces could further foster partnership. NASCIO conference audience members noted that getting executive backing behind such a task force — like North Carolina’s executive order — can especially encourage collaboration.

Empowered Roles


Building and maintaining a strong cybersecurity program requires resources that won’t vanish with political and economic changes.

Executive and legislative branches should ensure CISOs have the authority and reliable, continued funding to power these and other efforts, the report said. That includes a designated cyber budget — a concern for the 46 percent of CISOs who still see these funds come out of the general IT budget.

Still, as CISOs look ahead, they currently have fresh resources to help them. The federal relief funds and cyber grants have helped, and 30 states saw cyber budgets grow. That includes 23 percent of CISOs reporting a more than 10 percent increase. (Admittedly, “cyber spending was not very high to begin with,” Subramanian noted.)

NASCIO has been running this survey every two years since 2010 and, Ward said, “This is the first time ever that CISOs didn’t say that budget was their top concern.”

CISOs also may be working alongside more colleagues, with the past two years seeing an uptick in the number of states with chief privacy officers, chief risk officers or identity program directors.

Looking Ahead


As CISOs consider the threat landscape, 67 percent consider phishing and pharming as a “very high or somewhat higher” threat in the coming fiscal year — fewer than the 85 percent saying the same in 2020. Meanwhile, 75 percent regard ransomware and other malware as growing threats and 54 percent named foreign state-sponsored espionage.

As they prepare for this year and the next, CISOs are focused on areas like cybersecurity strategy, multifactor authentication, risk assessments, endpoint detection and response (EDR) and enterprise identity and access management (IAM).

Michigan, for one, has been homing in on IAM as part of a move toward zero trust, and Brown noted IAM is a key part of fraud reduction.

“This is a really simple subject that’s really hard to get right,” Brown said. “IAM is really ‘who are you and what are you trying to do?’”

Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.
Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including <i>Government Technology</i>, <i>Governing</i>, <i>Industry Insider, Emergency Management</i> and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.
Lauren Kinkade is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.
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