Cybersecurity vs. Information Security: Is There a Significant Difference?
We are in a time where businesses are more digitally advanced than ever, and as technology improves, organizations security postures must be enhanced as well.
With these advancements in inter-connectivity comes the need for businesses to have the proper security framework and procedures in place to protect their most valuable assets.
Failure to do so could result in a costly data breach, as we’ve seen happen with many businesses.
The cybercrime landscape has evolved.
Threat actors are going after any organization. So to protect your business’s data, money, and reputation, it is critical that you invest in an advanced security system.
But before you can start developing a security program for your organization, it’s vital that you understand the different types of security and how they all work together.
These two words “Cybersecurity” and “Information Security” are generally used as synonyms in security terminology, and create a lot of confusion among security professionals.
So, let’s now look at Cybersecurity vs Information Security:
Cybersecurity is a subset of information security while others think the opposite.
Below, we’ll explain those distinctions, review a couple of important areas of overlap, and discuss why this differentiation — and the evolution of these definitions — matters in the security sector.
What is cybersecurity?
It is often defined as the precautions taken to guard against crime that involves the Internet, especially unauthorized access to computer systems and data connected to the Internet. Cybersecurity is all about protecting data in its electronic form.
Included in this is the process of implementing technology to protect this electronic data.
Often information technology security professionals and cybersecurity professionals will work hand in hand to protect a company’s data and prevent unauthorized access. Although in many instances today, both an IT security professional and a cybersecurity professional will not be employed by a company.
In many companies, cybersecurity professionals will be found addressing the needs of protecting all data.
Examples of cyber attacks
When cyber-threat actors target your organization, they research not only your business but your employees as well.
They know that employees outside of IT security aren’t as aware of cyber threats, so they execute cyberattacks that exploit human vulnerabilities.
Through the process of social engineering, threat actors manipulate people into giving them access to sensitive information.
The most common social engineering attacks include:
- Phishing: usually in the form of emails or chats, where the threat actors pose as a real organization to obtain personal information
- Pretexting: when a threat actor impersonates an authority figure or someone that the target would easily trust to get their personal information
- Baiting: threat actors leave a malware-infected device, such as a USB or CD, in a place where someone can easily find it. Then unknowingly use the infected device on their computer and accidentally install the malware, giving the threat actors access into the target’s system
- Blackmail: when a threat actor requests personal information in exchange for some form of reward, i.e., money, gifts or a free service
As a business leader, it is your responsibility to build a culture of security awareness and fill in the gaps in your team’s cybersecurity knowledge and understanding.
Your workforce must be informed of cybersecurity risks, so it will be less likely for an employee to fall victim to an attack.
Provide your employees with the necessary training and technology to strengthen your organization’s human firewall and mitigate the possibility of a cyberattack.
What is Information Security?
Information security is another way of saying “data security.” So if you are an information security specialist, your concern is for the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data. (This is often referred to as the “CIA.”)
Most current business data resides electronically on servers, desktops, laptops, or somewhere on the Internet.
Up until a decade ago, all confidential information migrated online, which was earlier on stored in a filing cabinet.
And some confidential information still is!
InfoSec is concerned with making sure data in any form is kept secure and is a bit broader than cybersecurity.
So, someone could likely be an information security expert without being a cybersecurity expert.
When you’re creating your information security program, you’ll want to start with having the proper governance structure in place.
Governance is the framework established to ensure that the security strategies align with your business objective and goals.
Management bridges the gap between business and information security, so the teams can efficiently work together.
The framework also defines the roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities of each person and ensures that you are meeting compliance.
When InfoSec experts are developing policies and procedures for an effective information security program, they use the CIA (confidentiality, integrity, and availability) triad as a guide.
The components of the CIA triad are:
- Confidentiality: ensures information is inaccessible to unauthorized people—most commonly enforced through encryption—which is available in many forms
- Integrity: protects information and systems from being modified by unauthorized people; ensures the data is accurate and trustworthy
- Availability: ensures authorized people can access the information when needed and that all hardware and software are correctly maintained and updated when necessary
The CIA triad has become the de-facto standard model for keeping your organization secure.
The three fundamental principles help build a vigorous set of security controls to preserve and protect your data.
How do cybersecurity and information security integrate?
Both work as a physical security component.
If you have a warehouse full of confidential paper documents, you need some physical security in place to prevent anyone from rummaging through the information.
And as more data becomes digital, the process to protect that data requires more advanced IT security tools.
So, while you can’t put a physical padlock on a desktop computer, you can put a lock on your server room door.
In other words, if your data is stored physically or digitally, you need to be sure you have all the right physical access controls in place. This way, you’ll prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access.
Both take the value of the data into consideration. If you’re in information security, your primary concern is protecting your company’s data from unauthorized access of any sort.
But if you’re in cybersecurity, your primary concern is protecting your company’s data from unauthorized electronic access. But in both scenarios, the value of the data is of utmost importance.
Both individuals need to know what data is most critical to the organization so they can focus on placing the right controls on that data.
In some scenarios, an information security professional would help cybersecurity professional prioritize data protection. Then the cybersecurity professional would determine the best course of action for the data protection.
But with the changing security landscape over the past decade, things aren’t always this black and white.
The Evolution of Information Security & Cybersecurity
Over the last decade, we’ve seen a fusion between cybersecurity and information security, as these previously coveted positions have come together.
The challenge is, most teams don’t have an information security professional on staff — so the responsibilities of a cybersecurity professional have expanded dramatically.
Cybersecurity professionals traditionally understand the technology, firewalls, and intrusion protection systems needed, but weren’t necessarily brought up in the data evaluation business.
But today, that is changing.
As this subject becomes increasingly essential for businesses, the role of cybersecurity experts is evolving so they can properly protect data.
Business partners and investors are increasingly aware of the importance of this topic.
Companies are asked regularly about their effectiveness in securing data and managing risk in both cyber and physical forms.
Should I be worried about both?
The confusion comes from the fact that data and information are often stored digitally on a network, computer, and server or in the cloud.
Hackers gain access to this information to exploit its value.
The value of the data is the biggest concern for both types of security.
As referenced above, in information security, the primary concern is protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data.
In cybersecurity, the primary concern is safeguarding unauthorized electronic access to the data.
In both circumstances, it is important to understand what data is most damaging to the organization. Then a security framework can be established with proper controls in place to prevent unauthorized access.
Where there are dedicated resources in separate teams, both teams will likely work together to establish a data protection framework.
With the information security team prioritizing the data to be protected, and the cybersecurity team is developing the protocol for data protection.
Because of the evolution of this position, it’s easy to understand why many people discuss cybersecurity and information security in the same breath.
In sum, while cybersecurity can be viewed as a subset of information security, ultimately both focus on data protection.
Both cybersecurity and information security personnel need to be aware of the scope and the shared mission to secure the organization.
- The George Washington University
Tulane University, Online Master of Professional Studies in Cybersecurity Management
- Tulane University, Tulane School of Professional Advancement
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Systems Managers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Information Security Analysts