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By Cam Sivesind
Thu | Nov 30, 2023 | 11:13 AM PST

The role of the Chief Information Officer has undergone significant transformations over the past few decades, driven by the rapid advancements in technology. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and generative AI, questions have arisen regarding the continued relevance of the CIO title and whether it accurately reflects the evolving nature of the job.

Traditionally, CIOs were responsible for managing and overseeing the IT infrastructure of an organization, ensuring the smooth operation of systems and applications. However, as technology has become more complex and pervasive, the CIO's role has expanded to encompass a broader range of responsibilities, including:

  • Strategic IT leadership: CIOs are now expected to be strategic leaders, driving the organization's digital transformation agenda and aligning IT initiatives with business goals.

  • Data management and analytics: CIOs play a crucial role in managing and analyzing data, extracting valuable insights to inform decision-making.

  • Cybersecurity: With increasing cyber threats, CIOs must prioritize cybersecurity, ensuring the protection of sensitive data and systems.

"I think we are too focused on titles. We have too many 'Chief' titles that are not actual Executive Leadership Team members. Chief should mean something," said Patrick Benoit, Global CISO for Brinks and member of the SecureWorld Houston Advisory Council. "I think we need a C-Level leader over all technology with subordinate leaders that address key expertise in sub-areas like data, applications, etc."

"Whether you call it CIO or not is immaterial. Getting a true executive leader that can help guide such a holistic team is the critical aspect," Benoit said. "By the way, the CISO should not be reporting to the CIO. Again, chief should imply executive leadership. A CISO reporting to a CIO is basically putting the CIO in charge of reporting risk about his domain. That is a huge conflict of interest. The moral of the story is that we should organize for function not title."

The rise of AI and ML

The emergence of AI and ML has further transformed the IT landscape, introducing new challenges and opportunities for CIOs. AI and ML are capable of automating tasks, making predictions, and generating insights, potentially leading to increased efficiency and innovation. However, these technologies also raise concerns about job displacement and the potential for misuse.

The topic of AI making the CIO role defunct is covered in this Diginomica blog: "It is hardly surprising that AI has caused the CIO issue to raise its head again, for AI is going to be at least as widespread, and as deeply penetrating into the heart of every business as digitalization," the author writes. "In practice, perhaps the real question should be whether there should be more positions included in the C-Suite, if full benefit is to be taken from the capabilities of new technologies—and the ways they can be exploited."

Redefining the CIO role

In the face of these changes, the CIO's role is being redefined to encompass the following:

  • AI and ML evangelist: CIOs must become advocates for AI and ML, educating stakeholders about their potential and ensuring their responsible implementation.

  • Skills development: CIOs must invest in upskilling and reskilling their IT teams to adapt to the changing demands of the digital era.

  • Human-AI collaboration: CIOs must foster a culture of collaboration between humans and AI, ensuring that AI complements rather than replaces human expertise.

Is the CIO title obsolete?

While the CIO title may not perfectly encapsulate the evolving nature of the job, it remains a widely recognized and respected position. The key is for CIOs to adapt their skills and responsibilities to meet the demands of the digital age, embracing AI and ML while ensuring that the human element remains central to the IT function.

The CIO role is not obsolete; rather, it is undergoing a period of transformation. CIOs who embrace change, develop new skills, and foster a culture of innovation will continue to play a pivotal role in driving organizational success in the digital-first era.

But what about CISOs and AI's effect on their role?

While the CIO is the focus of this blog, I'd be remiss to just ignore the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and the impacts AI and ML is having on the role. Most of it is positive, despite the bad guys using AI to improve their efforts to hack, disrupt, and annoy.

CNBC's Jim Kramer recently interviewed Microsoft security executive Vas Jakkal, who said the tech giant relies heavily on generative AI intelligence for the cybersecurity side of its business.

"We have the superpower of generative AI, which is helping us defend at machine speed and scale, especially given the cybersecurity talent shortage," Jakkal said on the episode that aired November 27. "We also have to make sure that we leverage AI for real good, because it has this power to elevate the human potential, and it's going to help us solve the most serious of challenges."

Some facts Jakkal revealed:

  • Microsoft is seeing 4,000 password attacks per second.
  • There are two types of cybersecurity threats: espionage related to geopolitics, and financial cybercrime. Microsoft can use data to train its AI models to understand these threats.
  • Microsoft is partnering with 15,000 companies and organizations with 300 security vendors building on the company's platforms.
  • Microsoft's security division is now valued at more than $20 billion.
Trend Micro launches first-ever AI-powered cybersecurity assistant

Trend Micro released its Trend Vision One (Trend Companion) platform on November 27. According to the company's press release:

Trend Companion could potentially reduce analyst time spent on manual risk assessments and threat investigations by 50% or more thanks to a plain language interface which:

  • Explains and contextualizes alerts
  • Triages and recommends customized response actions
  • Decodes and explains complex scripts and command lines
  • Helps analysts develop and execute sophisticated threat hunting queries
  • Helps incident responders develop OSQuery queries in the IR and Forensics module

This is a prime example of using AI for good.

ChatGPT one year in: what do CISOs think?

ChatGPT, a large language model chatbot developed by OpenAI (which has been in the news way too much lately for other reasons), has been met with mixed reactions from CISOs since its release in November 2022. While some CISOs see ChatGPT as a potential tool for automating cybersecurity tasks and generating creative ideas (see the Trend Micro news above), others are concerned about its potential security risks and ethical implications.

[RELATED: Safeguarding Ethical Development in ChatGPT and Other LLMs]

In a recent survey of CISOs, 55% said that they were interested in using ChatGPT for cybersecurity, but only 22% said that they were currently using it. The CISOs who were using ChatGPT said that they were using it for a variety of tasks, including generating security reports, identifying potential threats, and creating phishing simulations.

The CISOs who were not using ChatGPT said that they were concerned about the potential security risks and ethical implications. They also said that they needed more time to assess the potential benefits of ChatGPT before they could justify using it in their organizations.

Regardless, generative AI is here to stay. Tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard are increasingly being used by cybersecurity professionals for a variety of tasks, including:

  • Threat intelligence: Generative AI can be used to generate realistic and plausible threat scenarios, helping cybersecurity teams to better prepare for and respond to potential attacks.

  • Vulnerability assessment: Generative AI can be used to identify potential vulnerabilities in software code and systems, helping cybersecurity teams to prioritize remediation efforts.

  • Security awareness training: Generative AI can be used to create realistic and engaging security awareness training materials, helping end-users to learn about and identify potential threats.

  • Phishing simulations: Generative AI can be used to create realistic phishing emails, helping cybersecurity teams to test their end-users' ability to detect and avoid phishing attempts.

  • Incident response: Generative AI can be used to analyze large amounts of data and identify patterns that may indicate a cyberattack, helping cybersecurity teams to respond quickly and effectively to incidents.

Here are some specific generative AI tools that are being utilized by cybersecurity professionals:

  • Deepfence Threat Intelligence Platform: This platform uses generative AI to generate realistic threat scenarios based on real-world data.

  • Veracode Static Analysis for Java: This tool uses generative AI to identify potential vulnerabilities in Java code.

  • KnowBe4 Phishing Simulator: This tool uses generative AI to create realistic phishing emails.

  • Recorded Future: This platform uses generative AI to analyze large amounts of data and identify patterns that may indicate a cyberattack.

In addition to these specific tools, there are a number of open-source generative AI models that can be used by cybersecurity professionals. These models include GPT-2, GPT-J, and BLOOM.

As generative AI technology continues to develop, expect to see even more innovative and powerful tools emerge that can be used by cybersecurity professionals to improve their defenses against cyberattacks—and by bad actors to improve their attack schemes.