Information Security (InfoSec): Definition, Types, and Policy

InfoSec, the shortened term for Information Security, refers to all the methodologies and processes used to keep data/information protected from issues such as modification, disruption, unauthorized access, unavailability, and destruction. Generally, information security works by offering solutions and ensuring proper protocol implementation so that networks (corporate, private and financial) can leverage social media, mobile computing and cryptography (and other infrastructure) conducively.

There are many types of information security including cryptography, cloud security, incident response, vulnerability management, application security, and infrastructure security. Infosec policies can contain a wealth of information including the purpose of the policy, and the problems the policy is supposed to tackle. coverage area, the targeted audience, descriptive content, introduction to technical terms and, ideally, a version number to keep track of updates. Infosec controls refer to all the protocols and measures that an organization or administration of a network takes to decrease risks such as unauthorized modification to either network systems or information, data theft and/or system breaches. Infosec controls are designed to protect networks and data in terms of preserving confidentiality, integrity and availability.

Information security

What is Information Security?

Information security can be defined as the set of protocols and practices that are put in place to secure data from threats such as unauthorized modifications and access. Information security deals with data security while data is stored and transported between two destinations. Most of the time, the data information security deals with is sensitive, confidential and private.

How does Information Security work?

An image featuring information security on laptop and mobile phone devices

The main way information security works is by protecting important data from all types of unauthorized modification, inspection, disruption, and/or recording. More specifically, information security keeps intellectual property, financial records, and user account details away from various kinds of cyber threats and otherwise. Unlike cybersecurity, information security deals with both logical and physical issues that can arise when dealing with data and takes steps to protect against both types of problems.

Information security protects not only non-physical unauthorized access but also the physical devices that can be mishandled and misappropriated. This is why information security, at the very basic level, employs multiple layers of protection covering devices and networks. Taking advantage of strong policies and the latest methods, information security layers are able to ensure that only users with proper authorization are able to access important resources either physically or via the internet. Any user that does not have the proper authorization is usually blocked from accessing resources/assets and in this way potential malicious activities and exploits are also thwarted.

An image featuring information security on laptop device concept

Each organization has a different set of principles and requirements with regards to information security. But generally speaking, information security employs a network security model with three primary controls. These controls cover administrative, technical and physical aspects of the overall information security strategy. As far as physical network security is concerned, infosec tools are implemented to first define users who do not have proper authorization and then block such users from accessing physical network devices. Next comes the technical network security layer which deals with information moving to and from the organization’s network. Infosec tools are required to protect data as well as devices from any unofficial actors trying to gain access without proper permission. Finally, the administrative network security layer manages user behavior. User behavior includes the level of access, authentication status, any changes made to the IT infrastructure, policies, functions and processes.

In essence, infosec works as a holistic solution which includes physical measures (such as installing controls on offices and data centers to only allow authorized personnel), human resource measures (training employees and individuals for best security practices), organization-level measures (such as forming teams to manage information security and assigning tasks), and technical measures (which includes both software and hardware solutions, such as encryption keys, firewalls, locks and fingerprints).

What are the types of Information Security?

The types of information security are given below:

1. Cryptography

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Cryptography refers to many things, the most important among which is the study of techniques used to secure communications while in a stored state or in a transit state. In the modern online world, cryptography refers to the processes of encryption and decryption of all types of data in transit and at rest.

One of the aims of information security is to keep data secure and safe from cyberthreats and encryption helps in ensuring data confidentiality. Since encryption makes interacting with the data impossible without the decryption key, cryptography also ensures data integrity.

Cryptography makes use of digital signatures which represent an important tool to authenticate and validate data. The most advanced and widely used cryptography scheme is AES (a type of symmetric key algorithm) which forms the cornerstone of online data security.

2. Cloud security

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In the general sense, cloud security is defined as the study and implementation of concepts and techniques used to secure cloud computer systems against cyberthreats. A large number of organizations make use of online infrastructure and cloud security is all about keeping data safe and private.

As indicated earlier, infosec is all about data security and cloud security provides that additional layer of protection that can be used to protect online shared environments and services from various vulnerabilities. Cloud security generally concentrates on keeping security management and the related tools centralized. This helps the infosec team to keep an eye on who gets to see important information and the threats to that information from different resources.

Cloud security also provides options to collaborate with third-party services and the cloud service provider. To keep data safe from all corners, cloud security also has to account for putting restrictions on data access on the part of third-party vendors and contractors.

3. Incident response

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Incidence response refers to the processes and protocols that must jump into action once a cyberattack or data breach has been detected and needs to be handled. Additionally, incident response also monitors potentially dangerous behavior while accessing data.

Infosec is not all about keeping data safe. A good portion of infosec is also about what to do once a threat has been detected. And a proper incident response policy and preparation can ensure the least amount of damage in the case of a cyberattack. Incident response preparedness allows organizations with good infosec teams to manage the consequences of a data breach better than others. Incident response also minimizes the recovery cost, time and resources used to get the organization back on track.

4. Vulnerability management

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Vulnerability management is the type of information security where processes are put into motion which scan a given organization’s environment (shared or otherwise) for vulnerabilities and potential weak areas. Most weak points come down to outdated software, incompatibilities and malicious applications. Vulnerability management also makes sure the organization prioritizes the risks present and any restoration steps.

In a real world setting, the network infrastructure of a given organization is always changing. Any good infosec policy needs to take into consideration new users, new applications, and new network connections along with many other factors. Vulnerability management ensures that all present and newly introduced potential vulnerable points are scanned and in view. With data breaches becoming more common by the year, vulnerability management can save a lot of money for businesses.

5. Application security

As the name suggests, application security is a type of infosec where strategies are put in place to safeguard not just APIs but applications themselves. Application security is important to detect bugs, fix vulnerabilities and prevent new ones from rising up for a given application. Without proper protocols for application security, unauthorized users may get access to sensitive data. That in turn can compromise the integrity of app configurations and source codes. Application security forms the largest part of infosec since IT teams have to deploy application security measures during not just the design and development phase but also during and after deployment.

6. Infrastructure security

In the context of information security, infrastructure security refers to procedures to protect a given organization’s technology assets, real estate assets, data centers, cloud resources, network systems, and actual computers. Infrastructure security deals with both software and hardware security and includes protection not just from cyberattacks but also natural calamities and disasters that may affect the physical assets of a given organization. Infrastructure security sometimes also covers topics such as enterprise resilience.

What is an information security policy?

An image featuring information security privacy policy concept

The term information security policy (sometimes shortened to ISP) refers to the complete set of procedures, regulations and rules designed to meet the minimum security requirements of an organization. Any organization that comprises any number of networks and end users needs to form an information security policy and then implement the policy. The main purpose of an information security policy is to first get an organization to develop an approach to good information security, limit access to sensitive information, provide avenues to address cyber security risks, protect user data, comply with rules and regulations such as HIPAA and GDPR, build credibility and detect data breaches.

So what is an information security policy? And more specifically, why is a good information security policy important? A comprehensive information security policy is critical for any organization with networks having access to the internet. Protecting against data breaches and other cyberattacks that lead to data integrity being compromised must start with compliance to a given information security policy.

Another reason why information security policies have become important is the rapid advancement toward digitalization. As organizations move more tasks in the cloud and to computer-based platforms, there is bound to be more data requiring validation and authorization policies. In fact, in specific industries, organizations have no choice but to form information security policies to conform to state laws.

What is information security control?

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Information security controls are usually defined as all the protocols, measures, mechanisms and safeguards an organization should have in place to protect information systems and the availability, integrity and confidentiality of data. Information security controls should ideally cover everything including devices, networks, other computer equipment and mechanisms for minimizing damage in case of a cyberattack and/or data breach.

Depending on how information security controls are defined, there are different categories of controls. There can be legal or compliance information security controls which deal with how organizations should comply with legally binding information, security frameworks, and other privacy legislation. Technical information security controls are tools such as firewalls, antiviruses, VPNs, and user and data authentication methods. Then there are administrative controls which include employee training, general Infosec awareness, and incident response mechanisms. Finally, physical controls include door locks, protection for network devices (meaning physical safety)and general access to all computing equipment.

This is important:

Information security can also be defined according to the objective to be achieved. Here information security control can be broken down into corrective controls (which activate when there is a need to limit after a cyberattack), detective controls (tools for responding to a breach) and preventive controls (preparing an organization to prevent cyberattacks from being effective).

As to the level of information security controls an organization needs, this completely depends on the sensitivity of the data that is at risk. IT teams can work with infosec professionals to ascertain the areas that are most sensitive and important and then decide on the tools and mechanisms which will minimize the risk the most.

What is the difference between Information Security and Cyber Security?

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Cybersecurity refers to all the processes, mechanisms, best practices and technology solutions that organizations and individuals use to safeguard programs, networks, devices and data from cyberattacks, including unauthorized access. Cybersecurity focuses not just on data but also on the devices, resources and tools that have any type of relationship with stored data.

On the other hand, information security is exactly that. The term refers to all the techniques and processes used to protect information. Information can be interchangeably used with data but the more correct representation is to think of information as processed data that helps individuals and organizations make decisions. Information security is about keeping information available, safe from modification and integrity-compromising activities and confidential.

Note:

If the main focus of cyber security is to protect data from cyberthreats then the main focus of information security is to protect information (processed data) from unauthorized access.

Another difference between cybersecurity and information security is the domain. Information security, as indicated earlier, focuses on maintaining data integrity, confidentiality and protecting information assets. Cybersecurity’s domain includes not just data (and thus information) but also technologies and devices that may be involved in storing and moving data.

In a way, information security has a bigger area of focus since cybersecurity only deals with cyberattacks (and how to stop cyberattacks) while infosec tries to cover all forms of threats to information (physical and digital).

Cybersecurity is less concerned with protecting data than information security (the entire purpose of which is to secure information) as many cyberattacks (against which cybersecurity works) don’t try to damage data present on the target device.

An image featuring a person holding out his hand with locked information representing cybersecurity concept

With that said, there is no doubt that cybersecurity and information security do overlap in some key areas. Information security works by protecting information from any malicious activities that may destroy, disrupt, record, modify, inspect or access without proper authorization. Cybersecurity works, in one case, by controlling all outgoing and incoming connections (through a firewall) to a device in order to stop cyberattacks from causing damage to the device or to the network the device is connected to.

In the category of application security, information security mostly focuses on making sure all applications are updated to fix bugs and other vulnerabilities along with strategies to prevent and detect weak points that hackers can exploit to steal information. Cybersecurity (when talking about application security) is more about configuring the firewall properly, using antivirus programs, forcing users to generate strong passwords and enforcing encryption wherever possible before engineers deploy a given application.

What is the difference between Information Security and Network Security?

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The main difference between information security and network security is that of scope. Information security primarily deals with data confidentiality, availability, integrity and information assets (of a given organization). On the other hand, network security deals with data that travels from one place to another via a network.

Information security puts in place mechanisms to protect information both in storage and while in transition. Network security almost exclusively deals with data that is in the transit state.

Network security and information security also differ in terms of usage. Information security is needed when data integrity, availability and privacy are required. Network security comes into play when only security over a given network is required. The main targets of network security are trojans that try to disrupt communication and damage devices connected to the network. Information security generally targets unauthorized access that may modify, disrupt, compromise or remove information.

Any threat that can compromise the three principles of information security is within the scope of infosec. However, network security primarily deals with threats such as DDoS attacks. While network security is purely digital in the sense that anything that goes through a network comes within the realm of network security, information security also deals with real-world offline issues (such as the security of physical equipment and data center facilities).

Note:

Network security is generally considered a subset of cybersecurity while both network security and cybersecurity are considered a subset of information security.

To sum up, information security’s main purpose is to ensure data confidentiality, especially from unauthorized users, data accuracy, data trustworthiness, blockage of unauthorized modifications and ensuring authorized users have access to data when there is a relevant task that needs completion. Network security’s main purpose is to maintain software and hardware to ensure protection against network-based attacks and includes IT teams using antivirus applications, firewalls, IDS, and IPS tools along with VPNs to stop hackers from lurking on WiFi connections and other networks to disrupt communications and cause damage.

Damien Mather Damien is a cybersecurity professional and online privacy advocate with a bachelor of Computer Science. He has been in the industry for 20+ years and has seen the space evolve far bigger than he ever thought. When he is not buried in his research or going through code, he is probably out Surfing or Camping and enjoying the great outdoors. 
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