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Cybersecurity vs Information Security: What’s the Difference?

October 15, 2021

The field of data security, cyber security, and digital networks is a complex one, especially for those who don’t have a background specializing in technology. But technology (and the potential risks that it carries) has become so pervasive in our world that everyone needs to have some familiarity with the basics, especially anyone in a leadership role for a business or organization.

For non-tech professionals who must address technological issues, the best way to start is to get an understanding of basic terminology so you can better educate yourself about more specific details. Let’s start with two terms that are commonly confused: cybersecurity and information security.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is security that guards against any type of digital threat. This includes viruses, attacks on your network through online channels, hacks into your system, and so on.

Cybersecurity is aimed at protecting any device or program, especially those that have a connection to the internet, such as:

  • Networks
  • Servers
  • Digital data storage
  • Computers
  • Mobile devices
  • Any other device or program linked to the internet

The field of cybersecurity covers every aspect of security from digital threats, including setting up security measures to prevent attacks and breaches, establishing monitoring to detect when an attack or breach has occurred, and having tools and protocols for addressing and fixing breaches or attacks quickly.

What is information security?

Information security, sometimes called infosec, is a broad term that refers to the protection of any and all data. That includes your internal company data, customer behavior data, payment data, and any other type of information.

It’s important to note that information security doesn’t just apply to digital data. It applies to information in any form, including physical papers and files. Most of the time you hear the term, the discussion will be about digital information security simply because nearly all important data is stored digitally instead of in other forms, but technically, information security applies to all types of data.

Information security generally deals with preserving data’s intended purpose and controlling factors like:

  • Who can access the data
  • Who can use the data and how they can use it
  • Who can modify, remove, or add data
  • How data can and cannot be distributed
  • How data is stored
  • How and where data is recorded

Another pattern you may notice is most discussions about information security involve securing data against external threats like hackers, competitors, and identity thieves. But information security also involves securing data internally so that it’s only accessible to those who absolutely need access.

What’s the difference between infosec vs cybersecurity?

When it comes down to it, what’s the difference between information security and cybersecurity? These two fields actually overlap frequently, simply because most data is collected and stored on internet-accessible devices, but the defining factors of these fields are different. The defining factor of information security is data protection; the defining factor of cybersecurity is digital devices.

For example, installing a firewall to protect your customers’ payment data stored in the cloud is both cybersecurity and information security because it’s safeguarding information and that information is digital. But if you set up an access control for your file room that only lets select employees access the room, it’s information security but not cybersecurity.

A common question is, “Is information security a subset of cybersecurity?” No, it is not. In fact, many people consider it to be the opposite: cybersecurity as a subset of information security. In truth, there are few examples of cybersecurity that wouldn’t be considered to be information security too because “information” is such a broad term, but there’s always a possibility that someone can use a digital attack for purposes other than accessing information.

What regulations do I need to follow for my organization’s information security and cybersecurity?

As we compare information security systems vs cybersecurity, remember that both of these fields are highly important for your business or organization. If you don’t make them priorities, you could find yourself with limited options for partners and vendors, serious fines, and legal liabilities.

One way to make sure your infosec and cybersecurity are up to snuff is to find out if there are any specific regulations or standards you need to be adhering to. There are plenty of regulations relating to cybersecurity and information security, but the ones that apply to you may depend on your organization.

For example, PCI compliance is important for payment data security, and it’s necessary for any organization that processes payments or comes into contact with payment data. GDPR is a regulation from the European Union that requires data transparency and protection for anyone in EU, so it should be on your to-do list if you serve (or may serve) EU residents. HIPAA specifically relates to information security of medical data, so if you deal with private medical information, you need to comply with HIPAA too.

Getting help with your information security and cybersecurity

In the case of the security standards or regulations above, you don’t have to go in blind. An automated compliance platform like Vanta will scan your system PCI, GDPR, HIPAA, or select other standards and give you clear guidance on which requirements you meet and which requirements you still need to cover.

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