Cyber attacks have become par for the course for enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) over the last couple of decades.
The prospect of a cyber security incident – which may range from a minor malware infection to a major ransomware attack, with the likes of phishing and social engineering in between – is close to certain for many organizations. This is why maintaining and iterating on a strong security posture is essential across modern businesses.
But security isn’t straightforward and there are different pillars that all come together to form an organization’s outlook. Indeed, information security, cyber security, and network security are all different pillars businesses need to pay attention to, which ensures there aren’t any holes that cyber criminals can exploit. There are different aspects of your business that you need to protect, and slightly different schools of thought around each one – including which particular cyber security skills are required.
It can be easy to conflate these categories of security, which may come to complicate matters when devising a comprehensive business security strategy – so it’s important to know what each school refers to and what each entails. That’s why we’ve put together a quick guide on the differences between information security, cyber security and network security, so you know exactly what your business needs when keeping the hackers out.
What is information security?
Information security, also known as InfoSec, largely centers around preventing unauthorized access to critical data or personal information your organization stores. It is the “protection of information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability,” according to the US Computer Science Resource Center (CSRC). Information security also involves three categories: confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
- Confidentiality: Ensuring sensitive information isn’t disclosed to unauthorized users while making sure that authorized 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 authorized 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 also several industry standards organizations must adhere to if following this triad, including maintaining password strength, using antivirus software, deploying access controls, security awareness training, and more.
Organizations 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 unauthorized access. It should also monitor activities and make adjustments to address any new issues or improvements that have emerged, as well as evaluate any risks to the organization.
What is cyber security?
This is the process your organization must follow to be aware of the latest and emerging cyber security threats and trends – and to protect itself in light of the changing cyber security landscape. Having a healthy cyber security posture involves adopting policies such as zero trust, and using new tools and technologies to fight prospective threats where appropriate, as well as maintain compliance. Additionally, all staff within the organization must stick to these policies to make sure the business is fully protected.
As threats evolve, security policies need to be continuously evaluated and updated if need be. Your hardware and software – including endpoints and operating systems – for example, should be functional and secure to the best of your knowledge, but should also be periodically updated and refreshed. Software that you need to continuously assess includes security services, endpoint management tools, or even cloud services.
It’s also key to ensure staff follow any policies and procedures you put in place. Your business could have the best security tools out there, but it makes no difference if employees continue to use their own devices without IT’s knowledge to access data. You might also have an extensive antivirus product in force, but you must still ensure employees are aware of the dangers of phishing emails.
What is network security?
Network security spans how an organization protects the usability and integrity of its network and data. This field includes both hardware and software involved in a network and aims to prevent a variety of threats from entering the business’ networks or spreading through it.
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It works by combining a number of defensive layers at the edge, and within the network perimeter. As you may assume, different policies and controls are available in each security layer. For example, authorized users must be able to access network resources, where it’s required for their specific roles, such as in a least privilege access regime, while bad actors must be blocked from carrying out any nefarious actions.
Network security is essential for all organizations 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 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 unauthorized access, cyber security is protecting it from unauthorized access specifically in the online realm.
For example, cyber security centers around preventing ransomware attacks, spyware, or compromised social media accounts, for example. An example of information security is implementing controls for intrusion detection systems or making sure hard-copy files are locked down. Chief information security officers (CISOs) need to understand and identify whether any information is confidential or critical to the organization and whether it might be targeted by hackers.
Some people might ask which is more important but these two areas go hand-in-hand. Your organization must have clear policies and procedures around how to deploy both forms of defense – not just one. Both are continuously evolving too. Ultimately, your business must understand, first, what and where the most sensitive data lies, and secondly, which specific measures it’s putting in place to protect that data.
Information security vs network security: What’s the difference?
Information security protects information from unauthorized users, data modification, and access. Network security, on the other hand, must protect 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 involves protecting your network from specific threats like DDoS attacks, trojans, zero-day attacks, and spyware. Information security, meanwhile, involves protecting the data from leakage or access without permission, no matter the type of threat or the data’s location.
Cyber security vs networking security: What’s the difference?
It isn’t always clear where one begins and ends, but network security is broadly a subset of cyber security which, itself, is a subset of information security. While cyber security centers around how to protect the organization from different types of cyber attack, network security specifically focuses on defending against anything that may compromise the integrity of the corporate network.
Network security aims to protect data as it travels through the network between users and endpoints and normally involves protecting against DoS attacks, viruses, or worms, as well as preventing unauthorized access. This may also involve taking measures to prevent, say, social engineering attacks in which hackers aim to seize employees’ credentials – alongside other methods normally deployed to breach the network. Cyber security, meanwhile, protects the data living inside endpoints as well as corporate servers, and protects everything within the digital realm. As such, cyber security covers all the devices that an organization owns, and cyber security practitioners will normally aim to negate the threat from malware, phishing, SQL injection, and zero-day exploits, among other forms of attack.
Why your business needs all three working in harmony
It feels as if the scale of cyber security threats is expanding, but what’s also clear is the variety of attack vectors and opportunities for hackers to strike is increasing. Having effective information security policies in place is crucial to this, with the volume of data expanding. But so too is adopting cyber security principles to stay abreast of the latest threats. Strong network security policies, meanwhile, ensure the organization’s corporate network is airtight, and all data transmitted across it is safe from exploitation.
ITPro created this content as part of a paid partnership with Jamf. The contents of this article are entirely independent and solely reflect the editorial opinion of ITPro.
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Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.