Cybersecurity vs. Information Security: Is There A Difference? (Yeah)

cybersecurity vs information security

“Is there a difference between cybersecurity and information security?”

This is not only a pertinent question within the tech community, but it is also vital when considering growing the cyber capabilities of a company with roles like information security analysts or cyber security analysts.

Most see Cyber Security as a subset of Information Security, but there's more to the story. The distinction is very important as each field matures and evolves.

What is Information Security?

Information security is another way of saying “data security.” For a more technical definition, NIST defines information security as “[the protection of information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability.”

Nowadays, a lot of business data is electronically stored on computer systems and in the cloud, but previously it was kept in physical filing cabinets.

Even though this has changed, some confidential and sensitive information is still kept in that manner. Information security focuses on ensuring that all data, in any format, is kept safe and secure.

The CIA Triad

If you are an information security specialist, your primary concern is for the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of your data (this is often referred to as the “CIA or CIA Triad”). These crucial concepts are at the heart of successful information protection.

Confidentiality - The act of protecting data from being observed by any unauthorized persons. An example of protecting confidentiality would be the act of preventing passwords from being stolen or the theft of an employee’s computer.

Integrity - The act of maintaining and assuring the accuracy and completeness of data over its entire lifecycle(1). Essentially, this means that data cannot and should not be modified by any unauthorized persons. A breach of integrity would include something like the implementation of malware hidden in another program. See Solarwinds as an example of a breach of integrity.

Availability - The act of maintaining the ability to access and use data when needed. If there is an attack that brings down your network, whether temporary or locked out, then that is a failure of availability. See the Colonial Pipeline attack as a good example.

Thus, the role of an Information Security Analyst (or "Info Sec Analyst") vs a Cybersecurity Analyst is that the Info Sec Analyst manages large and small computer systems with the goal of securing any data form against computer-related crimes.

Their duties encompass a broad spectrum, from monitoring network activity to analyzing potential security risks and vulnerabilities

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a practice of safeguarding digital information stored on electronic systems, including computers, servers, networks, and mobile devices, from unauthorized access and malicious threats.

It involves recognizing what data is significant, where it is located, the potential risks, and the methods and tools necessary to protect it from certain risk vectors.

Where the Info Sec Analyst mentioned above manages digital information broadly, Cybersecurity Analysts specifically protect digital data from online threats.

They play a pivotal role in identifying significant data, understanding potential risks, and employing tools and methods to shield it from cyber threats. Their focus is narrower yet highly specialized, dealing with the complexities of digital data security.

2 Ways Information Security and Cybersecurity Overlap

  1. Both cybersecurity and information security involve physical components. If an organization had a warehouse full of confidential paper documents, they clearly need some physical security in place to prevent anyone from rummaging through the information.

    As more data becomes digital, the process to protect it requires more advanced IT security tools.

    While you can’t put a physical padlock on a desktop computer, you can put a padlock on your server room door.

    In other words, if your data is stored physically or digitally, you need to be sure you have the right physical controls in place to prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access.

    For example...

    A fictional example where information security and cybersecurity can overlap can be seen in the TV show “Mr. Robot.” The main character, Elliot, overcomes the weakest link in any information security strategy—people—to get access to unprotected internal networks which are not fully cyber secure.

    As season 1 Ep 5., progresses, Elliot talks his way past a few employees so he can gain access to a secure storage facility and destroy a target company's data tape backups by altering the temperature in a particular room.

    Although the example in the show may seem overly stylized, it clearly shows the importance of training employees on what to look for in a cybersecurity attacker, whether online or in a physical component, to maintain strong cybersecurity practices.
  2. Information Security and Cybersecurity both take the value of the data into consideration If you’re in information security, your main concern is protecting your company's data from unauthorized access of any sort—and if you’re in cybersecurity, your main concern is protecting your company’s sensitive data from unauthorized electronic access.

    In both scenarios, the value of the data is of utmost importance.

    Whether you’re practicing information security or cybersecurity, you need to know what data is most critical to your organization so you can focus on placing the right cyber risk management and monitoring controls on that data.

    In some scenarios, an information security professional will help a cybersecurity professional prioritize data protection—and then the cybersecurity professional will determine the best course of action for the data protection.

Evolution of Information Security and Cybersecurity

The security landscape has been drastically altered in the past 10 years, even prior to COVID, which has been making it harder to determine the boundaries between cybersecurity and information security. The roles of these two departments have often merged, making it difficult to distinguish between them.

The challenge is that 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 cyber intrusion protection systems needed, but weren’t necessarily brought up in the data evaluation business.

However, business and technology evolution is changing that dynamic very quickly.

As this subject becomes increasingly important for businesses, the role of cybersecurity risk management experts is evolving so they can properly protect data. Business partners and investors are increasingly aware of the importance of this topic, and companies are asked regularly about their effectiveness in securing data and managing both physical and cyber risk.

Cybersecurity ratings can help with this task.

What are Cybersecurity Ratings?

Cybersecurity ratings are a tool your organization can rely on to proactively reduce risk throughout your attack surface.

Ratings use expansive data-scanning technology to provide an outside-in view of your organization’s security posture, along with your third-party ecosystem.

Rather than relying on intuition when it comes to cybersecurity, ratings provide an evidence-based assessment of a company's cyber safety.

By analyzing data in real-time, security ratings serve as a reliable method for disseminating information regarding the success of a security program and aiding in the making of decisions regarding security performance.

Because ratings are easy to understand, they can be used to communicate internal and vendor risk to a non-technical audience in the C-suite and boardroom or with the vendor in question.

Bitsight Security Ratings are similar to a credit score and can range in value from 250 to 900, with a higher rating equaling better cybersecurity performance. Presenting risk in this format makes it easier for everyone to tell how well–or poorly–their organization is protected.

What differentiates Bitsight Security Ratings is that they don't rely on traditional program evaluation techniques like penetration testing, internal audits, questionnaires, or on-site visits. We leverage externally observable data from sources across the world, then map this data to individual organizations.

Bitsight is the only security ratings provider with proven outside validation of its ratings, which have been demonstrated to correlate with data breach risk as well as business financial performance, including stock performance.

We use a dedicated committee to govern our ratings algorithm and associated policies As such, Bitsight’s customers can trust our data to make meaningful business decisions based on our cybersecurity analytics.

Communicating cyber risk in financial terms

While security ratings are a useful tool for conveying organizational risk to executives and the board, senior leadership also needs to understand the context behind the ratings. This means one thing: “bottom line it for me.” How will a cyberattack impact our balance sheet? What will it cost the company if it becomes the target of ransomware, denial of service, supply chain attacks, and so on?

That’s where Bitsight Financial Quantification comes into play.

Bitsight Financial Quantification complements Bitsight Security Ratings by simulating your organization’s financial exposure as if it were the victim of a real cyberattack.

With this, you can translate the technical side of cybersecurity into terms that executives and board members understand – which can help support justification for cybersecurity funding and ROI. As you invest in the right security controls, you can also show how that exposure lessens over time.

Summary of Cybersecurity vs. Information Security

It’s easy to understand why many people discuss cybersecurity vs. information security in the same breath. And, you can see how the questions that information security and cybersecurity try to answer are, in essence, the same:

  1. How do we define what data is critical to us?
  2. How do we protect that data?
  3. How do we measure the impact of our cybersecurity controls?
  4. What areas of our security program need improvement?
  5. How can we effectively report cybersecurity performance to executives and the board?

But they are not the same.

Understanding the differences and using the right tools to bridge the gap can go a long way toward ensuring a lower risk profile for your organization.