If you have been paying attention to the news, you’ve noticed a number of high profile data breaches over the last few years. A lot of what is reported about these breaches can be confusing. People throw out terms, and it becomes hard to tell what they mean. Most of us have become familiar with the term Cyber security, but in many of these discussions, people also use the term information assurance. Is there a difference?
What is the difference between Cyber security and information assurance? The two are very close, but there is a difference. The goals of Cyber security and information assurance are slightly different. Essentially, the two differ in the scope of what they are trying to protect. Cyber security is the preventing and defending against attacks and unauthorized use of computer systems, including networks, programs, and data. Information assurance is the protection of digital and non-digital information assets.
Here are ten differences that will help you better understand what Cyber security and information assurance really is.
One of the major differences between Cyber security and information assurance is how long the job has existed. Cyber security is directly attached to computer systems and has only been around for 40 years. Here are some of the important moments that led to today’s reliance on Cyber security.
- Creeper: This was the first computer worm. It was sent out in 1971. Although it was not malicious, it announced what was capable over networks and led to the need to protect your network or computer.
- Robert T. Morris: Cyber security became more prominent in the late 80s when Robert T. Morris sent out a worm that infected UNIX systems and almost crashed the internet. This worm led to the creation of deadlier worm and viruses, which in turn led to a market for Cyber security.
- Melissa: Melissa was one of the more famous viruses that infected millions and caused the worldwide failure of email systems. Although many of these viruses were aimed at financial gain, they ended up infecting unintended victims and became a media sensation.
- Anonymous: This was one of the first hacker groups that came into the limelight in the early 2000s. Many of them are just looking to cause chaos, but the threat they pose has made Cyber security a more specialized field.
Information assurance, on the other hand, goes back to WWII. Information assurance isn’t only
concerned with protecting digital data but all forms of information; however, they may exist. Many date the concept of information assurance back to the Nazis and their Enigma machine.
Enigma was an encryption device that was used by Germany during WWII to protect important information about the war effort from the Allies. After WWII, the United States developed many strategies to protect information. Soon after, businesses and private practices developed similar methods. The field became known as Information Assurance.
2) Information Versus Data
Just like information assurance and Cyber security, information and data are two terms that most people do not realize are not interchangeable. Information and data are not the same things.
- Data is a group of numbers, names, etc. that have little to no context.
- Information is the meaning behind those numbers, names, etc.
For example, 121977 appears to be just a number. It appears to have no meaning; therefore, it is just data. If you are told that 121977 is a birthdate, you have given that number meaning, and it is now information.
Information assurance tries to determine what data is actually information and what value that information has. An information assurance manager will not waste resources protecting data that is not information, especially if it will detract from the protection of more valuable information.
Cyber security does not tend to make this distinction. They focus on keeping others outside of their network out, whether they are after data or information. They do not assess the value of the data or information but try to protect it all equally.
3) Information Format
When people are talking about Cyber security, they are specifically talking about the protection of digital data and information. Cyber security and cyber laws deal with information that is kept on
- The Internet
- Social Media
- Cloud Storage
Someone who works in Cyber security only works with information that is kept in a digital format.
Information assurance is concerned with all types of information. They work to protect hard copies of information as well as digital. This difference is slowly disappearing, though, as more businesses are moving away from hard copies and putting all their data and information onto mainframe computers.
4) Design Versus Implementation
Even though Cyber security falls under the umbrella of information assurance, the specialists that work under those titles have very different jobs.
An information assurance manager designs ways to protect information. It is possible that they would never even work with bytes or programing. It is the job of the Information Assurance manager to determine what information has value, how exposed that information might be, and what needs to be done to protect it better.
Once others implement those measures, it is the job of information assurance to determine if the measures are working. Information assurance managers must:
- Determine how a company is using its information.
- Determine how valuable that information is.
- If the information is valuable, they must determine how likely it is to be stolen.
- If it is likely to be stolen, they must complete a plan to protect the information.
- Once a plan is in place, they must test to see if their plan is working.
Cyber security specialists are the ones who implement the measures. They write code, put up firewalls, use anti-viral programs, chase down hackers. They do the actual protection of digital data and information. The Information Assurance Manager is like a lawyer or lawmaker, while the Cyber security specialist is the policeman.
5) To Compute or Not To Compute
Because of some of the differences at the core of these two positions, it goes to follow that they have a different relationship with computers.
Information assurance managers do not need to actually work with computers to do their job, although it is very common for information assurance managers to have a strong background in computers, coding, and digital data security,
Because the information assurance manager is deciding what data is important and designing the ways that it should be protected, they never have to get on a computer. They leave the technical aspects up to the Cyber security specialists.
Cyber security specialists only work with computers. Their whole job is protecting information and data that is present either on a computer mainframe, in the cloud, or on the internet. They must be extremely proficient with computers to complete their jobs. They have to know coding, programming, and scripting, where an information assurance manager can get away with not knowing it at all.
6) Past, Present, And Future
A good information assurance manager is concerned with risk management. They would normally do this by:
- Looking at past attacks
- Determining what information or data were the attackers looking for
- Seeing how did they go about trying to get it
- Figuring out what left the data or information open for attack.
The information assurance manager would then come up with new guidelines to protect that information or data in the future.
Cyber security specialists are concerned with the present. They are setting up programs and firewalls to stop the attacks from happening now. They are constantly working to keep up with the technology being used in the attacks and keep the data or information out of the attacker’s hands.
7) Training Versus Creating
Information assurance isn’t just about developing ways to protect information; it is also about constantly evaluating current guidelines and procedures to make sure information is as secure as possible.
Along with this evaluating process, information assurance managers have to make sure that all employees are aware of and properly trained on those guidelines and procedures. Any lapse in employee awareness can lead to breaches. Information assurance managers are responsible for the actions of people as well as machines and regulations.
Cyber security specialists are not necessarily managers of people. The main concern of a Cyber security specialist is that the proper programs and firewalls are in place and that those programs and firewalls are advanced and up to date.
While every Cyber security specialist needs to be up to date on the latest programing and hacker tactics, they are not really involved in the training of employees. Cyber security is more concerned with the tools used to stop breaches than with the people who use those tools. They deal with improving the tools, not the employees.
8) Outside Versus Inside Threats
A Cyber security specialist tries to protect a network from attacks by an outside entity. Their only concern is stopping someone from outside the network, getting into the system, and stealing data. The firewalls and programs they run are intended to protect the network from the outside world, not from people already on the network.
Let’s say that a guy from cubical 7 walked over to cubical 2 while the inhabitant was away, popped in a thumb drive, and downloaded a bunch of classified information that he didn’t normally have access to. Cyber security would not have anything to say about this obvious theft. It does not fall under their jurisdiction. It is not on the internet, and it is not coming from outside the network.
It would be of concern to an information assurance manager, though. Information assurance tries to protect all information and data from attacks wherever they may originate from. It would be an information assurance manager that would design a system of passwords or encryption for certain levels of clearance.
It was an information assurance policy that forced cubical 7 guy to cubical 2 to steal in the first place, and it would be information assurance that would figure out how to not let it happen again.
9) Job Level
Although both information assurance and Cyber security require a high level of technical skill and higher-level thought processes, they are not equal in most business structures.
Cyber security is a more specific job that tends to fall under the umbrella of information assurance. With that being the case, information assurance managers tend to be higher up the corporate ladder than Cyber security specialists.
Another way of thinking about the two positions is that Cyber security is the factory worker who sits on the line building a product while an information assurance manager is a white shirt who sits in corporate devising ways to sell more of the product. While there is possible upward mobility for the line worker, the white shirt starts off higher up the chain.
10) Degree Programs
With all these other differences, it should be no surprise that the route to either job is different as well. Both Cyber security and information assurance have very distinct paths to a finished degree.
While there may be some overlapping classes that need to be passed, the types of classes that make up the majority of an information assurance degree program are not similar to what is offered to a Cyber security student.
If you are looking to go into Cyber security, many college degree programs will include classes like:
- Computer Forensics: These courses tend to cover the principles and techniques for digital forensics investigation and the computer forensics tools you can use. Many of these classes talk about the forensics procedures to ensure court admissibility of evidence, as well as the legal and ethical implications as well as how to perform a forensic investigation on both Unix/Linux and Windows systems with different file systems.
- Advanced Computer Security Issues: These classes deal with questions like why are some security technologies deployed, and others fail, how we measure security and assess risk, and the economics of security. Some of them will study recent cyber-attacks and try to get inside the minds of the attackers.
It is also common to cover some of the state-of-the-art research results and on-going research activities in a number of topics in software security, web security, security, and privacy issues in cloud computing, mobile devices and networks, and medical devices and systems.
- Basic Scripting and Programming: These courses help you learn the basics needed to write code, a must if you are dealing with Cyber security and the internet. Without at least a basic understanding of programming and scripting, you will not be able to do this job.
- Operating System Components: These classes are fundamental overviews of operating systems. They address operating system structures, processes, process synchronization, deadlocks, CPU scheduling, memory management, file systems, secondary storage management.
While a degree in information assurance may include some of these classes, the core of the program would look more like this…
- Cryptography: These classes cover important tools for ensuring the privacy, authenticity, and integrity of information involved in modern digital systems. They tend to discuss encryption, message authentication codes, digital signature, and key agreement protocols. Mathematics is vital to cryptography, so it’s mathematical underpinnings are usually covered in depth.
- Data Analysis: These classes usually examining the history of information assurance, its relationship to data analysis, and why the two are needed to help businesses deliver a complete picture of their data and information. They will explore the qualifications for the data analyst as well as the analytic tools associated with the position.
- Information Assurance: Although most of these courses today examine the fundamentals of network security involved in creating and managing secure computer network environments, some will also discuss non-computer forms of information protection.
Both hardware and software topics should be considered, including authentication methods, remote access, network security architectures and devices, cryptography, forensics, and disaster recovery plans.
- Security Infrastructure Design: These classes will focus on combining strategic concepts of infrastructure and tool placement while also diving into their technical application. They tend to discuss and identify what solutions are available and how to apply them successfully.
They will also talk about the strengths and weaknesses of various solutions and how to layer them cohesively to achieve defense-in-depth. They normally look at the fundamentals of up-to-date defensible security architecture and how to engineer it. They also delve into the latest technologies and their capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
Although some use the terms information assurance and Cyber security interchangeably, they are not the same. Cyber security is a more specific term and position, while information assurance has a wider scope. Cyber security is a type or branch of information assurance. Knowing these differences will allow you to better understand the world of information and data protection.