Information Assurance vs Cybersecurity

Are there key differences between information assurance and cybersecurity?

Most references to information assurance and cybersecurity get the two terms mixed up. It is now to the point where people believe they mean the same thing. Many people may consider the two concepts interchangeable.

However, there are fundamental similarities and differences between information assurance and cybersecurity, as described in this article.

What is Information Assurance?

Information assurance is the practice of ensuring that information systems perform as needed and prevent unauthorized access. In addition, the system remains accessible to legal users. The term refers to the technical and managerial measures designed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, control, availability, and utility of information and computer systems.

Techopedia highlights the five pillars that encompass information assurance: integrity of information, availability, authentication, confidentiality, and nonrepudiation. Information assurance processes protect computer systems by maintaining these five system qualities.

Information assurance has been around a lot longer than cybersecurity, effectively giving the field a broader scope of focus. A post published on Lewis University state that information assurance is closely linked with risk management. A business identifies its information assets and the systems and applications that store, process, and communicate them.

Subsequently, information assurance professionals estimate the susceptibility of the information assets to cyber threats and attacks. These attacks include disclosure, modification, or disruption that result in loss of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The information assurance process then quantifies the effect of unwanted occurrences on the assets. It guides an organization on devoting resources, personnel, and best practices to protect information assets.

Putting data protection controls in place is just for starters in information assurance. The practice calls for adopting various assessment frameworks and security audits. This helps a business to understand how well the controls can mitigate risks. Robust information assurance involves planning, assessment, information risk management, governance, and the use of cybersecurity measures to protect information assets.

What is Cybersecurity?

United States FEMA’s Ready.gov defines cybersecurity as a process involving preventing, detecting, and responding to security breaches and cyber attacks. Such attacks can result in wide-ranging effects on individuals, organizations, the community, and the national level.

Cybersecurity encompasses various technologies, processes, and practices that individuals and organizations design and develop to protect information assets. Such assets include networks, devices, programs, services, and data from attacks, damage, or unauthorized access.

In cybersecurity, enterprises analyze and determine the risk levels of potential threats to computer networks. A cybersecurity expert’s important work involves preventing information assets from cyber attacks.

Digital Guardian further states that an effective cybersecurity strategy incorporates elements like network security to protect the network from intrusions, data security to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access. Other cybersecurity components include application security to constantly update and test applications for safety and endpoint security for protecting system and data access using devices.

Identity management is also essential for understanding the access that users and entities have in an organization. Cybersecurity also features database and infrastructure security, cloud security, mobile security, restoration of information systems, business continuity planning, and physical security.

That is to say, cybersecurity professionals focus primarily on defending the infrastructure of computer systems from cyber attacks, including computers, networks, and communications, and secondarily on protecting information and data within the cyber domain. If so, cybersecurity does not include protecting information assets outside the cyber domain, which information assurance covers.

How Cybersecurity Relates to Information Assurance

An article published by the University of San Diego asserts that information assurance and cybersecurity involve risk management, maintaining, and safeguarding the high-tech information systems used across different industries to store, process, and distribute crucial data.

Chiefly, information assurance and cybersecurity consider the value of information. In this case, the two fields prioritize different forms of information, including physical and digital data, based on its criticality. The more crucial information gets more security and assurance layers than the less critical data. 

Besides, from the above descriptions of the two terms, cybersecurity can be considered a subset of information assurance that encompasses higher-level concepts like strategy, law, policy, risk management, and training. Information assurance is a broader strategic initiative with a range of processes, including cybersecurity activities.

An organization achieves information assurance objectives partly by implementing cybersecurity measures that protect all information and functional computer systems, including networks, online services, critical infrastructure, and IoT devices.

Information assurance and cybersecurity employ tools, practices, and strategies, including firewalls, user education, penetration testing, endpoint protection tools, and other high-tech systems to eliminate threats and maintain desired service levels.

There is also an overlap between the two fields in terms of work qualifications. Both information assurance and cybersecurity require a downright understanding of security issues and technologies that go into information asset protection. Information assurance managers also include cybersecurity controls in their roles.   

Information Assurance vs Cybersecurity

Every so often, people use the term information assurance that has spread from government use into common parlance synonymous with cybersecurity. However, the two terms have distinguishing differences.

How does information assurance differ from cybersecurity?

  1. Information assurance is an old field that existed before the digital age. Conversely, cybersecurity is an innovative field that keeps pace with the dynamic technology field and the ever-changing threat landscape.
  2. Information assurance processes focus on protecting physical (data in a hard drive and personal computers) and digital information assets. On the other hand, cybersecurity concentrates on safeguarding and managing risks targeting digital information assets.
  3. Information assurance is more strategic in nature, dealing with policy development and implementation to keep information assets secure. On the other hand, cybersecurity deals with the practical reality of setting up security controls and tools to keep information safe.
  4. A cybersecurity career requires strong technical skills and a cybersecurity degree course. Other courses for information security professionals and chief security officers include a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree in information technology, computer science, or computer engineering. A computer network architect also makes a potential cybersecurity specialist. Information assurance ordinarily includes many of the same academic programs as cybersecurity. It may also consist of an information assurance degree with additional courses for data analysis, cryptography, and data protection.
  5. An information assurance professional protects physical data, digital information, and electronic hardware by instituting, updating, and maintaining policies and controls that protect valuable assets. On the other hand, cybersecurity experts, managers, and an information security analyst emphasize defeating cyber adversaries targeting digital information and information systems.

It is essential that the terminologies used in the IT world clearly reflect what we do. Comparing and differentiating the terms information assurance and cybersecurity helps avoid conflict, inefficiencies, violated expectations, and gaps in the measures, processes, and technologies that we implement and maintain to ensure government agencies and organizations meet the two fields’ expectations and goals.

By understanding the similarities and differences between the two fields, individuals can better select the educational and career paths that best match their passion, skills, interests, and goals.

Finally, information assurance versus cybersecurity is not an either/or option for protecting an organization and its customers. Businesses deal with sensitive and confidential information like credit card transactions, confidential data, and communications via email, phone, and mail. So, information assurance is a necessity, and cybersecurity falls underneath the umbrella of this practice.

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