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Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: Understand the Differences

Revised: February 26, 2024

If you've always considered information security and cybersecurity synonymous, you're not alone. The terms are often used interchangeably, but it's worth noting that the two are separate and distinct fields. Despite areas of overlap between cybersecurity and information security, it's important to understand what makes each career unique. This way, you can more confidently decide which path may be right for you.

What Is Information Security?

Information security refers to guarding and protecting information (and larger information systems) against unauthorized use. The purpose of information security practices is to safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized access and use, including destruction and modification. This, in turn, preserves the privacy of critical data that can range from financial information to account credentials.

Governance Framework of Information Security

This field also has what's known as the Information Security and Governance Framework (ISGF), which is a set of specific guidelines that outlines best practices for managing and protecting information within an organization. This framework is based on international standards, though it is meant to be versatile and adaptable to a company's changing needs. Information security specialists are expected to understand the ISGF and follow its best practices.

Maintaining Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability

Confidentiality, integrity, and availability are all key pillars of the information security field. These must be maintained at all times. Information must remain confidential, ensuring that it's not shared with anybody who should not have access to it.

Integrity in information security means that data is accurate and complete, ensuring that decisions can be made based on up-to-date information.

Finally, availability refers to how accessible an information system is. Ideally, organizations should have a plan in place to ensure that systems are accessible to the people who should have access and not accessible to those who shouldn't. Focusing on availability also means that organizations should have plans for responding to data breaches and having data backups in place.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is generally seen as a subset of information security, meaning it is a smaller part of a larger field. More specifically, cybersecurity refers to the procedures and processes designed to secure computer networks, systems, applications, devices, and software from various types of attacks. Examples of these include:

  • Ransomware
  • Malware
  • Phishing
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks

Social Engineering in Cybersecurity

These days, social engineering is used more often to carry out cyber attacks. This type of attack occurs when human interaction is used to essentially trick a person into providing sensitive information (such as login or payment information) using human vulnerabilities or emotions.

With these types of attacks on the rise, cybersecurity professionals across the globe are tasked with finding ways to counter these attacks and reduce their success.

Common Cybersecurity Threats: Phishing/Vishing/Smishing

In addition to social engineering attacks being on the rise, cybersecurity IT professionals are also seeing an increase in common cybersecurity threats like phishing, vishing, and smishing.

A phishing attack is usually carried out through email to get a person to click on a malicious link. A vishing attack is similar, though this type of scam is executed using a phone call instead of email. In a smashing attack, on the other hand, the scam is performed through SMS or text messages.

Distinguishing Between Information Security and Cybersecurity

As you can see, information security and cybersecurity seem somewhat similar. Because these are two distinct career paths, however, it's crucial to understand the key differences between these fields in terms of overall focus.

The Focus of Each Discipline

Ultimately, cybersecurity can be viewed as a subset of information security. However, the focus of these two disciplines is quite different. In cybersecurity, the focus is protecting data throughout cyberspace. Conversely, information security focuses on protecting not just information and information systems in cyberspace but also beyond that.

Comparative Analysis of the Two Fields

Aside from differences in large-scale focus, there are some other notable differences between information security and cybersecurity to be aware of.

In general, for instance, cybersecurity practices tend to include risk mitigation against common types of web attacks (such as malware and network attacks). Because information security goes beyond online threats, precautions need to be taken to secure access to data both online as well as at physical locations.

Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: Is There Overlap?

Although they are distinct fields, there is certainly some overlap between information security and cybersecurity, too.

Shared Security Practices

It's worth noting, for example, that both information security and cybersecurity rely on the model of confidentiality, integrity, and availability to create best practices and security policies.

Interdependent Roles of Both Fields

Additionally, professionals working in both fields must carry out many of the same roles in their everyday work. These experts need to be familiar with database interfaces, network monitoring software, IT security, and other security controls to keep data safe. It's also not uncommon for professionals in both fields to have degrees in computer science or information technology.

Career Paths in Information Security and Cybersecurity

So, what can you do in information technology, cybersecurity, and information security? There are plenty of potential career paths to explore in both realms, all of which can be both challenging and rewarding.

Information Security Roles

Several common information security jobs come with critical responsibilities, including:

  • Information security specialist
  • Security analyst
  • Risk management
  • Security engineer

Cybersecurity Roles

In the cybersecurity field, roles tend to be more focused on protecting organizations against web attacks. Some common career paths in this area include:

  • Cybersecurity specialist
  • Cybersecurity engineer
  • Incident response
  • Network security

Education and Skills Required for Both Fields

Regardless of whether you're interested in a career in information security or cybersecurity, you'll need some formal education and training to begin working in these fields.

Formal Education and Certifications

It's common for employers hiring cybersecurity and information security professionals to look for candidates with degrees in information security (IS), computer science, cybersecurity, or a related field. For more advanced and senior-level roles, an advanced degree (such as a master's degree) may be preferred.

If you already have a bachelor's degree and want to differentiate yourself with an advanced degree, Champlain College Online's master's degree in information security is a great way to take your expertise to the next level.

Necessary Competencies for Success

In addition to having a formal degree in a related field, information security and cybersecurity professionals must also have some basic competencies that they can apply on the job. For instance, both fields require:

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Collaboration and teamwork

Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: Debunking Myths

Even with all the information about these fields available, there are unfortunately still myths and misunderstandings floating around about information security and cybersecurity. By understanding the truth behind some common myths, you can make better-informed decisions regarding your future career path.

Myth: Information Security and Cybersecurity Are the Same Thing

While many people confuse information security and cybersecurity as similar fields, they are distinct industries. While there is some overlap between the two, cybersecurity mostly focuses on protecting against web-based threats.

Information security, on the other hand, is a broader field (and one that can include cybersecurity). Its focus is on keeping information and data safe not only online but also in other contexts.

Myth: Cybersecurity Is Only Relevant for IT Professionals

Another common myth is that cybersecurity only matters to IT professionals. In actuality, cybersecurity should be a part of everybody's lives. Anybody who uses the Internet has a vested interest in cybersecurity because, without some basic practices in place, your sensitive data (including financial information and passwords) could be compromised.

Cybersecurity is a crucial concern for everyone who wants to keep their online information secure. It is not just the responsibility of IT professionals to have a plan for protecting their data, creating backups, and dealing with any potential attacks. Everyone needs to take measures to ensure their information is safe.

Myth: Implementing Cybersecurity Measures Guarantees Complete Protection Against Cyber Threats

Although the field of cybersecurity has come a long way in protecting against cyber threats and attacks, the reality is that there is no way to 100 percent guarantee that you won't fall victim to an attack. This is why it's so important to have contingency plans in the event of an attack or breach. In doing so, you could recover your information as swiftly as possible and mitigate damages.

Myth: Small Businesses Are Not Targeted by Cyber Threats

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. While you may tend to hear more about larger businesses and corporations being targeted by cyber attackers, in reality, small- and medium-sized businesses are hit by attacks daily. With that said, every business should have a cybersecurity plan regardless of size.

Myth: Cybersecurity Breaches Only Result From External Threats

External threats are certainly a major source of breaches, but attacks and breaches can occur from inside an organization as well. Employees may intentionally act maliciously or even unknowingly compromise data. Either way, organizations need to have cybersecurity plans in place to safeguard data not just from external threats but also internal ones. This is where working with a cybersecurity or information security professional can make all the difference and provide some added peace of mind.

Advance Your Information Security Skills

While information security and cybersecurity may be inextricably linked, it's essential to understand the notable differences between these career paths. Though cybersecurity is typically considered a subset of information security, there's a high demand for knowledgeable professionals in both fields—especially as the amount of data and information that needs to be protected continues to grow.

Interested in advancing your career in information security, cybersecurity, or a related specialty? Champlain College Online is proud to offer a master's degree in information security that helps students gain a strategic and integrated view of IS to think critically, solve problems, and serve as a leader in their fields. Plus, this program can be completed 100 percent online, so you can work at your own pace and enjoy more flexibility. Request more information about our master's degree in IS, or start your online application today!

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