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Information security vs cyber security vs network security: What are the differences?

A guide to the essential differences between information, network, and cyber security and the basic tenets of each

Three lines of wooden hexagonal blocks that diverge into three discrete lines, on a bright blue background

In the digital world, security has never been more important. It’s more than likely that you’ve heard of the increase in attacks over the past few years, from ransomware and malware, to phishing and social engineering.

No matter the type of attack, it’s essential that organisations around the world understand the different attack surfaces they need to protect in their business and the different ways attackers can try and infiltrate your company. They also need to comprehend what cyber security skills the business needs to do this.

It can be challenging at times to keep up with all the developments in the security world. To help you, we’ve put together this guide to explain the differences between three different types of security: information, cyber, and network.

Sometimes these terms are conflated and used together, and in most cases this won't be a serious problem. However, when it comes to defining a business security strategy, it's important to know what each term means in isolation. If your IT department is calling for new products to be implemented and has cited these types of security as the justification, then fret not, we’re here to explain exactly what they mean.

What is information security?

A close up shot of a log in menu on a computer screen showing the password field filled in

Information security, or infosec, describes the process of protecting data from any unauthorised access. The full definition, according to the US’s Computer Science Resource Center, is: “The protection of information and information systems from unauthorised access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability.”

To aid this, information security policies tend to be organised around something called the CIA triad: Confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

  • Confidentiality: Ensuring sensitive information isn’t disclosed to unauthorised users while making sure that authorised users have access to it
  • Integrity: Making sure that the data is accurate and complete. Here, the information shouldn’t be edited by anyone who isn’t authorised to access it
  • Availability: Data needs to be available when it’s needed. For example, a denial of service attack (DoS) could prevent this from happening

There are a number of best practice industry standards created to follow the triad and help organisations have the best information security possible. These standards include password strength, use of antivirus software, access controls, security awareness training, and more.

Organisations can meet their information security standards by implementing a strict risk management process. It should identify information, related assets, and the threats and impact of unauthorised access. It should also monitor activities and make adjustments to address any new issues or improvements that have emerged, as well as evaluating any risks to the organisation.

What is cyber security?

A shield with a keyhole on a radar system denoting cyber security

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Cyber security is essentially the process your organisation needs to go through to protect itself against the changing cyber security landscape. This includes the specific tools and technologies needed in a company’s armoury to fight these security threats, as well as maintaining compliance across the board. Additionally, all members of your organisation need to stick to these policies to make sure the business is fully protected.

As cyber threats evolve, these security policies need to be continuously evaluated and updated if need be. Your hardware and software, for example, should be something you trust, but you should also know that it will have to be periodically updated to stay on top of the latest threats. This could be an operating system, security product, or even cloud-based services.

It’s also key to ensure that staff follow these policies and procedures. For example, your business could have the best security on the market, but it makes no difference if employees continue to use their own devices to access your data, which may be less protected. You might also have an extensive anti-virus product deployed, but you still need to ensure that employees are aware of the danger that threats like phishing emails pose.

What is the difference between information security and cyber security?

These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, so it’s important to understand the differences between them. While information security is the protection of your data from any unauthorised access, cyber security is protecting it from unauthorised access specifically in the online realm.

For example, cyber security is concerned with the prevention of ransomware attacks, spyware, or compromised social media. An example of information security is implementing controls for intrusion detection systems, or making sure that hard-copy files are securely locked down. Information security offices need to understand and identify which information is confidential or even critical to the business, and which might be targeted by a cyber attack.

Some people might ask which is more important; information security or cyber security. Remember, however, that these two security areas go hand-in-hand. Your organisation needs to have clear policies and procedures around how to deploy both of these defences, not just one of them.

Both cyber security and information security are continuously evolving. Overall, there are two questions that your organisation needs to understand: What is our most sensitive or critical data, and what measures are we implementing to protect it?

What is network security?

An abstract render of the European continent at night, with lines of glowing blue light emanating from London

Network security is how an organisation protects the usability and integrity of its network and data by implementing protection measures. It includes both the hardware and software involved in a network and stops a variety of threats from entering or spreading through it.

It works by combining a number of defence layers at the edge and in the network. As you might have guessed, there’s a number of different policies and controls in each security layer. For example, authorised users need to be able to access the network resources, while bad actors should be blocked from carrying out any threats, attacks, or exploits.

Network security is essential for all organisations as it directly affects their ability to safely deliver services or products to employees and customers. It doesn’t matter if it’s enterprise applications or accessing a remote desktop, ensuring the protection of data and apps on your network is vital for your business, as well as securing your reputation.

What is the difference between information security vs network security?

Information security protects information from unauthorised users, data modification, and access. Network security, on the other hand, must protect the data flowing over a particular network. While network security focuses purely on the network, information security is concerned with information overall, irrespective of where it’s located.

For example, when it comes to attacks, network security will have to protect your network from specific threats like DDoS attacks, trojans, zero day attacks, and spyware. Information security, meanwhile, must protect your data, no matter the threat or location.

Simply put, network security is a type of cyber security that specifically focuses on protecting your network. Information security is much broader and also involves network and cyber security.

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