Cyber Security vs Network Security: Do you Know the Difference?

Your security team allows you to perform your functions in the normal course of business, including serving your customers, letting your employees do their work, and selling your products. For the average layperson, everything that is related to technology, networks, data, and computers is just called IT. But there are different functions such as cyber security and network security that you should know.

What are the differences between cyber security and network security? Cyber security focuses on protecting information such as data from unauthorized access from malicious threats like hackers. Meanwhile, network security is a subset of cyber security that is focused on protecting the perimeter network and internal networks from attack, stopping unauthorized access into the networks.

These two areas can sometimes overlap, but the differences will help you appreciate the work that these professionals do.

7 Differences Between Cyber Security and Network Security

Security analysts and professionals working to secure your data, systems, and other resources have the full responsibility of protecting an organization from data breaches, hacking, virus, and malware infection, and data loss, among many others. They also protect your data, resources, systems, and investments.

Plus, they safeguard the technology that your company uses. And because your IT investments and resources are necessary for every part of your business, there are a lot of specializations under the infosec umbrella, two of which are cyber security and network security.

What are the differences between these two areas?

1. Definition

The easiest way to differentiate these two tasks would be to look at their working definitions.

But First, What Is Information Security?

The concept of cyber security is closely tied to information security, so it is instrumental to look at what infosec is to understand cyber security better. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology Interagency or Internal Report 7298 Revision 3[1], information security deals with information and the information systems.

An infosec professional[2] prevents the unauthorized use, access, disruption, revision, disclosure, and destruction of information.

You have three aims when it comes to information security: the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of data.

The CIA Triad

The CIA Triad serves as a guide to cyber security policies as it deals with data and information. Confidentiality, availability, and integrity are the most crucial elements of security.

Confidentiality is closely associated with privacy. Cyber security professionals limit access to information use policies and rules. The aim is to prevent the wrong people from accessing sensitive information.

Once the data is categorized, a stringent set of rules will apply and will govern who gets to see the data.

Integrity means protecting the data’s trustworthiness, accuracy, and consistency. Cyber security professionals ensure that the data stays unchanged even while it is transmitted. This means that unauthorized people should not be able to change the data in any way.

Cyber security professionals employ various technologies such as file permissions, checksums, cryptography, backups, or version control to maintain the integrity of data.

Availability involves making sure that authorized users are able to access the data when they need to. Cyber security experts should maintain all hardware to do this. They will need to repair hardware as well as software to make sure that it doesn’t break down.

Backup and redundancy are also helpful, as well as failover, RAID, and high-availability clusters. What’s more, your IT should provide enough bandwidth to ensure that data is transmitted promptly and without bottlenecks.

In short, availability is the guarantee that authorized people are able to access the data they need, while integrity holds that they can trust that the data they have is accurate and trustworthy. Confidentiality assures that nobody will be able to see the information unless they are allowed to do so.

What Is Cyber Security?

On the other hand, the NIST[3] defines cyber security as the protection and restoration of electronic communications systems and services, computers, and other forms of communications, as well as all the information that is stored on these devices. It also includes the steps you take in preventing damage to these devices.

On top of the focus on maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and availability that is espoused with information security, cyber security is also bent on ensuring authentication and non-repudiation.

What is Non-Repudiation?

Non-repudiation is when you guarantee that someone will not be able to deny something. Because cyber security deals with communication, it is important that a party won’t be able to deny their digital signature.

You can look at non-repudiation the same way as registered mail. The recipient will not be able to falsely claim later on that they did not receive your mail. In cyber security, a digital signature will ensure that the message or document was signed by the sender. Other systems require biometric information, or just about anything that will be difficult to deny later on.

What Is Authentication?

Authentication is when the system identifies a user based on a variety of techniques. One of the most prevalent is confirming your identity by using a set of user name and password. Keying in your username and password will tell the system that you have the right to access the account.

If infosec is concerned with protecting your data, cyber security is concerned with the resources you need to protect your data, including networks, systems, and software.

According to this Digital Guardian article ‘What is Cyber Security? Definition, Best Practices & More[4], the many areas included under the cyber security umbrella are:

  • Perimeter Security (Networks, Public endpoints, Exposed services)
  • Information Protection (Data Security, Database Security)
  • Infrastructure Security (Cloud, Mobile, EndPoint)
  • Identity and Access Management
  • Training and Education
  • Application Security (Secure Coding, Security Testing)
  • Business Protection (Disaster Recover, Business Continuity Planning)

What Is Perimiter Security?

As you can see, perimeter security is a subset of cyber security. Perimeter security refers to the protection of your network’s and data’s integrity and usability. It includes hardening your hardware and software, and it can target a wide variety of threats, including trojans, malware, viruses, spyware, and spamware, among others.

Network security is a part of information security. It stops hacking attempts and prevents unauthorized access to your network.

2. Physical versus Cyber

A distinction between network security and cyber security is the inclusion of physical things that you protect. As the name connotes, cyber security protects the data that resides online or may be accessed via cyber space. This means that you are largely protecting the data that you store online and have very little focus on physical security.

On the other hand, network security also uses physical measures to protect your network. According to the tech target definition ‘physical security’[5], there are three types of physical security that you should implement.

Access Control

You should be strict as to who can enter the systems room. This may mean having a lock on the door or using access cards or biometrics. Access control will reduce the risk of somebody stealing your server and network appliances, or damaging them.

Access control also includes fire control systems. Those are needed to prevent your network from being gutted by fire.


Physical security also includes surveillance. You can use surveillance cameras and sensors that can detect movement and send you alerts if there is somebody moving about in your server room.

Disaster Recovery and Testing

Further, you should have disaster recovery plans in place, and these policies should be put to the test every so often. This will help you know that your systems, files, and data are safe even if something happens to your network.

This is not to say that cyber security, in general, doesn’t employ physical security. Cyber security professionals sometimes use physical security to protect their data, but it is not something that they focus on too much.

3. Ways of Protecting Information: How Do Network Security and Cyber Security Experts Do Their Jobs?

The NISTIR definition of infosec makes it clear what an information security professional needs to do. For the most part, these are also the processes that a cyber security expert will find listed down on his or her job description, with a few exceptions.

Unauthorized Access and Use, Revision, Disclosure, or Destruction of Information

There are many ways to protect your information from unauthorized access and use. For one, your company should have a strong password policy. Encourage the use of long passwords that contain numbers, symbols, and both upper and lower case letters. You should also require users to change their passwords periodically, such as every 60 or 90 days.

To make it less confusing, you can use a single sign-on service that allows your users to access different accounts using only one set of credentials. Single sign-on services allow your users to access their e-mails, the company’s intranet, Salesforce, knowledge bases, and other company online resources using just one username and password.

You can also use two-factor authentication technologies that will make use of the user’s mobile phone or another device that he or she has close by. They will need to enter their username and password, and the system will send a code to their smartphone.

They will need to enter this code before they can gain access. This ensures that even if hackers have your log-in credentials, they will still be locked out if they do not have your phone.

Furthermore, you can use IP whitelisting, where the system would have a list of IP addresses that are allowed to access services and sites.

Minimizing Disruption

Cyber security professionals and infosec experts also need to ensure high availability and minimize the effects and duration of downtime. According to this Oracle article ‘High Availability Concepts and Best Practices’[6], high availability involves several processes, including planning for the right capacity, load balancing, redundancy, failure protection, failover, and recovery. Each one of these tasks has its own sets of best practices to ensure that your data and information are not disrupted and lost.

Network Security

On the other hand, there are three types of work that a network security professional does.

  • Physical network security uses controls that can prevent unauthorized people from having physical access to the network and its components, such as cables, cupboards, routers, and others
  • Technical work involves the protection of data that is on the network, whether at rest or while in transmission to and from the network. The security controls protect the data and the network from both unauthorized access and malicious activities of insiders.
  • Administrative network security seeks to control user behavior, implement authentication, access levels, and identity management.

Network security professionals have a wide variety of tools to do their jobs. Some of the more commonly used include:

  • Network access control that is used to protect your network from would-be attackers by limiting the type of access that every user has.
  • Anti-virus and anti-malware software that can detect ransomware, viruses, trojans, worms, and other malicious software. This software will scan the files that come into your network and will continue to monitor and track these files.
  • Firewalls help protect your network by separating it from untrusted networks. Network administrators will have a set of rules that will govern what kinds of traffic are allowed into the network and which ones are going to be filtered out.

4. What Types of Attack Are Prevented?

Hacking attacks, distributed denial of service, malware, viruses, and other similar attacks are prevented by the best practices of both information security and cyber security.

However, because the tools and strategies that are used for cyber security are geared towards online communication systems and data protection protocols, it doesn’t really address any attacks that are carried out offline.

If cyber security professionals are concerned with penetration testing, advanced persistent threats, anti-virus software, passwords, and other similar technologies and best practices, network administrators are focused on keeping the network safe and running smoothly.

5. What Is Being Protected?

In cyber security, much of the effort is designed to protect the systems, data, and information that is connected to the Internet. Cyber security seeks to prevent and mitigate digital attacks.

Network security, on the other hand, protects the directories and files within your network. It prevents unauthorized people from accessing, using, and hacking these files.

6. Jobs and Pay: Cyber Security vs. Network Security Professionals

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics[7], information security analysts get an average salary of $98,350 as of May 2018. This is much higher than all computer-related occupations, which average around $86,000.

The job market for cyber security experts will also be growing faster than the rest of the industry, with a 10-year growth pattern of up to 32 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Network Security: Job Prospects and Pay

Network security professionals such as a network and system administrator can look forward to a median salary of more than $82,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics[8]. What’s more, they have a lot of jobs waiting for them as well, as job growth in this area is seen to rise by five percent in the ten years from 2018 to 2028.

7. Skills Needed from a Cyber Security Expert and a Network Security Professional

Cyber security professionals should learn to think like a hacker and equip themselves with the knowledge to prevent and stop online threats to data. They often develop a deeper understanding of how malware works or how an exploit is carried out. Cyber security teams are often your company’s first line of defense.

So how do you become a cyber security professional? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics[9], you should have sharp analytical skills to study computer networks and systems while also assessing risks. Being detail-oriented, creative, and having strong problem-solving skills will help as well.

You should also have relevant working experience and a degree in programming, information assurance, or computer science. Certifications such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional[10] are helpful.

Skills Needed for Those Who Are Looking to Get Into Network Security

Meanwhile, network security experts infosec teams have a bird’s eye view on your data and information, where it is stored, and how to protect it. Often, infosec is responsible for making sure data and devices are kept safe, whether these have anything to do with cyber space.

Network security professionals need to be a cyber security expert, and then be able to provide insights and actions that ensure that your network’s risks are kept to a minimum. They are the ones who would be able to provide you with a roadmap to avoid a breach, guidelines on how to detect and stop a breach, while also putting plans in place to recover from a cyber security attack on your network.

They also need to be physical security experts, which requires them to protect your workplace’s networks. This means on top of having the skills required of a cyber security professional, network security employees should also be able to formulate, implement, and maintain a physical security plan.

Physical security will include measures that will minimize the risk of fire, electrical issues, physical access to certain areas such as the servers, humidity controls, wireless media, and others.

How do you become one? Your chances are better if you have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or network and systems administration. You should also keep up with the latest trends in computing and have certifications, like the ones offered by Cisco and Microsoft. Skills should include:

  • Analytical: You will be evaluating networks and systems to ensure smooth and reliable performance.
  • Communication: You will need to relay problems and solutions to the business side.
  • Multitasking: You will be working on different problems simultaneously.
  • Problem-solving: You will encounter a lot of problems and issues with the network, and you should be able to address or resolve these as soon as they arise.

The Differences Between Cyber Security and Network Security: A Recap

As you can see, cyber security is an umbrella term for activities, strategies, tools, and actions that keep your data and devices secure. Network security is a subset of cyber security. It’s understandable why most people have used these terms interchangeably, but it’s time they learn to differentiate one from the other.

In sum, cyber security is a part of information security that seeks to secure data and information, whether it is at rest or being transmitted. On the other hand, network security is a subset of cyber security that is focused on protecting your IT infrastructure and network by restricting access to it.


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