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What is Information Security?

Last Updated : 07 Apr, 2023
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Introduction :

Information security is the practice of protecting information by mitigating information risks. It involves the protection of information systems and the information processed, stored and transmitted by these systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification or destruction. This includes the protection of personal information, financial information, and sensitive or confidential information stored in both digital and physical forms. Effective information security requires a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach, involving people, processes, and technology.

Information Security is not only about securing information from unauthorized access. Information Security is basically the practice of preventing unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, inspection, recording or destruction of information. Information can be a physical or electronic one. Information can be anything like Your details or we can say your profile on social media, your data on mobile phone, your biometrics etc. Thus Information Security spans so many research areas like Cryptography, Mobile Computing, Cyber Forensics, Online Social Media, etc. 

During First World War, Multi-tier Classification System was developed keeping in mind the sensitivity of the information. With the beginning of Second World War, formal alignment of the Classification System was done. Alan Turing was the one who successfully decrypted Enigma Machine which was used by Germans to encrypt warfare data. 

Effective information security requires a comprehensive approach that considers all aspects of the information environment, including technology, policies and procedures, and people. It also requires ongoing monitoring, assessment, and adaptation to address emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

Why we use Information Security?

We use information security to protect valuable information assets from a wide range of threats, including theft, espionage, and cybercrime. Information security is necessary to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information, whether it is stored digitally or in other forms such as paper documents. Here are some key reasons why information security is important:

  1. Protecting sensitive information: Information security helps protect sensitive information from being accessed, disclosed, or modified by unauthorized individuals. This includes personal information, financial data, and trade secrets, as well as confidential government and military information.
  2. Mitigating risk: By implementing information security measures, organizations can mitigate the risks associated with cyber threats and other security incidents. This includes minimizing the risk of data breaches, denial-of-service attacks, and other malicious activities.
  3. Compliance with regulations: Many industries and jurisdictions have specific regulations governing the protection of sensitive information. Information security measures help ensure compliance with these regulations, reducing the risk of fines and legal liability.
  4. Protecting reputation: Security breaches can damage an organization’s reputation and lead to lost business. Effective information security can help protect an organization’s reputation by minimizing the risk of security incidents.
  5. Ensuring business continuity: Information security helps ensure that critical business functions can continue even in the event of a security incident. This includes maintaining access to key systems and data, and minimizing the impact of any disruptions.

Information Security programs are build around 3 objectives, commonly known as CIA – Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability. 

  1. Confidentiality – means information is not disclosed to unauthorized individuals, entities and process. For example if we say I have a password for my Gmail account but someone saw while I was doing a login into Gmail account. In that case my password has been compromised and Confidentiality has been breached.
  2. Integrity – means maintaining accuracy and completeness of data. This means data cannot be edited in an unauthorized way. For example if an employee leaves an organisation then in that case data for that employee in all departments like accounts, should be updated to reflect status to JOB LEFT so that data is complete and accurate and in addition to this only authorized person should be allowed to edit employee data.
  3. Availability – means information must be available when needed. For example if one needs to access information of a particular employee to check whether employee has outstanded the number of leaves, in that case it requires collaboration from different organizational teams like network operations, development operations, incident response and policy/change management. 
    Denial of service attack is one of the factor that can hamper the availability of information.

Apart from this there is one more principle that governs information security programs. This is Non repudiation. 

  • Non repudiation – means one party cannot deny receiving a message or a transaction nor can the other party deny sending a message or a transaction. For example in cryptography it is sufficient to show that message matches the digital signature signed with sender’s private key and that sender could have a sent a message and nobody else could have altered it in transit. Data Integrity and Authenticity are pre-requisites for Non repudiation. 
  • Authenticity – means verifying that users are who they say they are and that each input arriving at destination is from a trusted source.This principle if followed guarantees the valid and genuine message received from a trusted source through a valid transmission. For example if take above example sender sends the message along with digital signature which was generated using the hash value of message and private key. Now at the receiver side this digital signature is decrypted using the public key generating a hash value and message is again hashed to generate the hash value. If the 2 value matches then it is known as valid transmission with the authentic or we say genuine message received at the recipient side
  • Accountability – means that it should be possible to trace actions of an entity uniquely to that entity. For example as we discussed in Integrity section Not every employee should be allowed to do changes in other employees data. For this there is a separate department in an organization that is responsible for making such changes and when they receive request for a change then that letter must be signed by higher authority for example Director of college and person that is allotted that change will be able to do change after verifying his bio metrics, thus timestamp with the user(doing changes) details get recorded. Thus we can say if a change goes like this then it will be possible to trace the actions uniquely to an entity.

advantages to implementing an information classification system in an organization’s information security program:

  1. Improved security: By identifying and classifying sensitive information, organizations can better protect their most critical assets from unauthorized access or disclosure.
  2. Compliance: Many regulatory and industry standards, such as HIPAA and PCI-DSS, require organizations to implement information classification and data protection measures.
  3. Improved efficiency: By clearly identifying and labeling information, employees can quickly and easily determine the appropriate handling and access requirements for different types of data.
  4. Better risk management: By understanding the potential impact of a data breach or unauthorized disclosure, organizations can prioritize resources and develop more effective incident response plans.
  5. Cost savings: By implementing appropriate security controls for different types of information, organizations can avoid unnecessary spending on security measures that may not be needed for less sensitive data.
  6. Improved incident response: By having a clear understanding of the criticality of specific data, organizations can respond to security incidents in a more effective and efficient manner.

There are some potential disadvantages to implementing an information classification system in an organization’s information security program:

  1. Complexity: Developing and maintaining an information classification system can be complex and time-consuming, especially for large organizations with a diverse range of data types.
  2. Cost: Implementing and maintaining an information classification system can be costly, especially if it requires new hardware or software.
  3. Resistance to change: Some employees may resist the implementation of an information classification system, especially if it requires them to change their usual work habits.
  4. Inaccurate classification: Information classification is often done by human, so it is possible that some information may be misclassified, which can lead to inadequate protection or unnecessary restrictions on access.
  5. Lack of flexibility: Information classification systems can be rigid and inflexible, making it difficult to adapt to changing business needs or new types of data.
  6. False sense of security: Implementing an information classification system may give organizations a false sense of security, leading them to overlook other important security controls and best practices.
  7. Maintenance: Information classification should be reviewed and updated frequently, if not it can become outdated and ineffective.

Uses of Information Security :
 Information security has many uses, including:

  1. Confidentiality: Keeping sensitive information confidential and protected from unauthorized access.
  2. Integrity: Maintaining the accuracy and consistency of data, even in the presence of malicious attacks.
  3. Availability: Ensuring that authorized users have access to the information they need, when they need it.
  4. Compliance: Meeting regulatory and legal requirements, such as those related to data privacy and protection.
  5. Risk management: Identifying and mitigating potential security threats to prevent harm to the organization.
  6. Disaster recovery: Developing and implementing a plan to quickly recover from data loss or system failures.
  7. Authentication: Verifying the identity of users accessing information systems.
  8. Encryption: Protecting sensitive information from unauthorized access by encoding it into a secure format.
  9. Network security: Protecting computer networks from unauthorized access, theft, and other types of attacks.
  10. Physical security: Protecting information systems and the information they store from theft, damage, or destruction by securing the physical facilities that house these systems.

Issues of Information Security :

Information security faces many challenges and issues, including:

  1. Cyber threats: The increasing sophistication of cyber attacks, including malware, phishing, and ransomware, makes it difficult to protect information systems and the information they store.
  2. Human error: People can inadvertently put information at risk through actions such as losing laptops or smartphones, clicking on malicious links, or using weak passwords.
  3. Insider threats: Employees with access to sensitive information can pose a risk if they intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to the organization.
  4. Legacy systems: Older information systems may not have the security features of newer systems, making them more vulnerable to attack.
  5. Complexity: The increasing complexity of information systems and the information they store makes it difficult to secure them effectively.
  6. Mobile and IoT devices: The growing number of mobile devices and internet of things (IoT) devices creates new security challenges as they can be easily lost or stolen, and may have weak security controls.
  7. Integration with third-party systems: Integrating information systems with third-party systems can introduce new security risks, as the third-party systems may have security vulnerabilities.
  8. Data  privacy: Protecting personal and sensitive information from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure is becoming increasingly important as data privacy regulations become more strict.
  9. Globalization: The increasing globalization of business makes it more difficult to secure information, as data may be stored, processed, and transmitted across multiple countries with different security requirements.

Reference :

Here are some recommended reference materials for information security:

  1. “Handbook of Information Security, Volume 1” edited by Hossein Bidgoli
  2. “Information Security Principles and Practice” by Mark Stanislav and Mark Merkow.
  3. “Computer Security Fundamentals” by Chuck Easttom.
  4. “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know” by P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman.
  5. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework.
  6. ISO/IEC 27001 Information Security Management Systems Standard.
  7. SANS Institute, which offers a variety of information security resources and training programs.
  8. OWASP Foundation, which provides information and tools to help organizations improve their application security.

These are just a few examples of the many resources available for learning more about information security.

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