information security (infosec)

Contributor(s): Taina Teravainen

Information security (infosec) is a set of strategies for managing the processes, tools and policies necessary to prevent, detect, document and counter threats to digital and non-digital information. Infosec responsibilities include establishing a set of business processes that will protect information assets regardless of how the information is formatted or whether it is in transit, is being processed or is at rest in storage.

Many large enterprises employ a dedicated security group to implement and maintain the organization's infosec program. Typically, this group is led by a chief information security officer. The security group is generally responsible for conducting risk management, a process through which vulnerabilities and threats to information assets are continuously assessed, and the appropriate protective controls are decided on and applied. The value of an organization lies within its information -- its security is critical for business operations, as well as retaining credibility and earning the trust of clients.

Principles of information security

Infosec programs are built around the core objectives of the CIA triad: maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability of IT systems and business data. These objectives ensure that sensitive information is only disclosed to authorized parties (confidentiality), prevent unauthorized modification of data (integrity) and guarantee the data can be accessed by authorized parties when requested (availability).

The first security consideration, confidentiality, usually requires the use of encryption and encryption keys. The second consideration, integrity, implies that when data is read back, it will be exactly the same as when it was written. (In some cases, it may be necessary to send the same data to two different locations in order to protect against data corruption at one place.) The third part of the CIA is availability. This part of the triad seeks to ensure that new data can be used in a timely manner and backup data can be restored in an acceptable recovery time. 

Threats and threat responses

Threats to sensitive and private information come in many different forms, such as malware and phishing attacks, identity theft and ransomware. To deter attackers and mitigate vulnerabilities at various points, multiple security controls are implemented and coordinated as part of a layered defense in depth strategy. This should minimize the impact of an attack. To be prepared for a security breach, security groups should have an incident response plan (IRP) in place. This should allow them to contain and limit the damage, remove the cause and apply updated defense controls.

Information security processes and policies typically involve physical and digital security measures to protect data from unauthorized access, use, replication or destruction. These measures can include mantraps, encryption key management, network intrusion detection systems, password policies and regulatory compliance. A security audit may be conducted to evaluate the organization's ability to maintain secure systems against a set of established criteria.

Information security vs. network security

In modern enterprise computing infrastructure, data is as likely to be in motion as it is to be at rest. This is where network security comes in. While technically a subset of cybersecurity, network security is primarily concerned with the networking infrastructure of the enterprise. It deals with issues such as securing the edge of the network; the data transport mechanisms, such as switches and routers; and those pieces of technology that provide protection for data as it moves between computing nodes. Where cybersecurity and network security differ is mostly in the application of security planning. A cybersecurity plan without a plan for network security is incomplete; however, a network security plan can typically stand alone.

Jobs in InfoSec

Jobs within the information security field vary in their titles, but some common designations include IT chief security officer (CSO), chief information security officer (CISO), security engineer, information security analyst, security systems administrator and IT security consultant.

InfoSec certifications

Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): This is a vendor-neutral certification from the EC-Council, one of the leading certification bodies. This security certification, which validates how much an individual knows about network security, is best suited for a penetration tester role. This certification covers more than 270 attacks technologies. Prerequisites for this certification include attending official training offered by the EC-Council or its affiliates and having at least two years of information security-related experience.

Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA): This certification is offered by ISACA, a nonprofit, independent association that advocates for professionals involved in information security, assurance, risk management and governance. The exam certifies the knowledge and skills of security professionals. To qualify for this certification, candidates must have five years of professional work experience related to information systems auditing, control or security.

Certified information security manager (CISM): CISM is an advanced certification offered by ISACA that provides validation for individuals who have demonstrated the in-depth knowledge and experience required to develop and manage an enterprise information security program. The certification is aimed at information security managers, aspiring managers or IT consultants who support information security program management.

GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC): This certification created and administered by the Global Information Assurance Certification organization is geared toward security professionals who want to demonstrate they are qualified for IT systems hands-on roles with respect to security tasks. Candidates are required to demonstrate they understand information security beyond simple terminology and concepts.


This was last updated in April 2019

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