Cybersecurity vs Information Security: What's the difference?

By Phoebe Fasulo

Posted on May 4, 2020

Cybersecurity and information security are often used interchangeably, even among some of those in the security field.

The two terms are not the same, however. They each address different kinds of security, and it’s important for any organization that’s investing in a proper security framework to understand each term, what it means, and the difference between the two. So, what are they, how are they different, and why are these terms so often confused?

It may help to think of each term in terms of what specifically it’s protecting.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is defined by NIST as the “ability to protect or defend the use of cyberspace from cyber attacks.” While there are other definitions — CISA has its own definition as does ISO — most of them are similar.

Put simply, cybersecurity is related to attacks from the outside of an organization. It is the framework of protecting and securing anything that is vulnerable to hacks, attacks, or unauthorized access which mainly consists of computers, devices, networks, servers, and programs.

Cybersecurity also pertains exclusively to the protection of data that originates in a digital form — it’s specific to digital files, which is a key way it differs from information security. So when we talk about cybersecurity, we are automatically discussing digital information, systems and networks.

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What is information security?

We tend to think of computers and digital information when we think of information security, but meaningful, valuable data can be stored in many forms.

Information security primarily refers to protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data, no matter its form. Information security can just as easily be about protecting a filing cabinet of important documents as it is about protecting your organization’s database.

Information security is, broadly, the practice of securing your data, no matter its form.

Below is NIST’s definition of information security:

Protecting information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide:

  • Integrity, which means guarding against improper information modification or destruction, and includes ensuring information nonrepudiation and authenticity
  • Confidentiality, which means preserving authorized restrictions on access and disclosure, including means for protecting personal privacy and proprietary information and
  • Availability, which means ensuring timely and reliable access to and use of information.

Why are these terms confused so often?

To be fair, there is some overlap between cybersecurity and information security, and that causes some justified confusion about the two terms.

Most information is stored digitally on a network, computer, server or in the cloud. Criminals can gain access to this information to exploit its value.

The value of the data is the biggest concern for both types of security. In information security, the primary concern is protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data. In cybersecurity, the primary concern is protecting unauthorized electronic access to the data. In both circumstances, it is important to understand what data, if accessed without authorization, is most damaging to the organization, so a security framework can be established with proper controls in place to prevent unauthorized access.

Where there are dedicated resources in separate teams, it is likely that both teams will work together to establish a data protection framework, with the information security team prioritizing the data to be protected and the cybersecurity team developing the protocol for data protection.

How SecurityScorecard can help

Businesses are more technically and digitally savvy than ever. With these advancements in interconnectivity comes the need for businesses to have the proper security framework and procedures in place to protect their most important assets.

SecurityScorecard can help you monitor both your cybersecurity and your information security across 10 groups of risk factors with our easy-to-understand security ratings. Our ratings continuously monitor every part of your security operation.

We monitor your information security by keeping an eye on your data and the systems and networks you have in place to protect it, and we also monitor your cybersecurity by making sure your organization’s systems are patched when they need to be, and that there’s no hacker chatter about your organization on the dark web. Once your score drops, you’ll know that something has changed, and our platform will then offer remediations to help you fix the problem before there’s a breach.

Cybersecurity and information security might be different, but they are both equally important to your organization. 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 your enterprise.

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