Cybersecurity vs. Information Assurance: What’s the Difference?


Over 4.1 billion records were breached in just the first six months of 2019. Considering there are only 7.5 billion people on planet earth, it’s safe to say that cybersecurity is a top concern as we evolve into an increasingly digital world.

So, what’s the best way to protect sensitive data?

There are dozens of security measures and methodologies to help safeguard confidential information. Among the most popular are Information Assurance and cybersecurity. But what’s the difference between the two – and which one is best for your organization?

The Short Version

In short, Information Assurance (IA) is an umbrella term for the set of measures intended to protect information systems, both digital and physical. It focuses on the business and includes not only the protection of computer networks and files, but also the transportation of physical information, the creation of information security rules, risk management, governance, training, and other information security-related practices both online and off.

Cybersecurity falls underneath the umbrella of Information Assurance in that it protects sensitive digital information with specific measures such as point-to-point encryption (P2PE), tokenization and other network security measures.

The Long Version

Believe it or not, both Information Assurance and cybersecurity were in the making long before the internet, connected networks and personal computers existed. Information safeguarding goes all the way back to WWII, when Nazi Germany used the world’s first encryption device: a machine known as the Enigma. However, the Enigma had built-in weaknesses, and thankfully the Allied forces were able to decrypt the code. Their cryptographers played a major part in the victory of the war.

The need for secure communications necessitated that government entities such as the Department of Defense develop a strategy and structure for information security. Thus the Information Assurance Branch of the DoD was born.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense defined Information Assurance as a set of measures designed to protect and defend information systems, ensuring their availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality and non-repudiation.

But we’ve come a long way since ’96. In today’s digital world, cybersecurity is a vital component of Information Assurance and the Department of Homeland Security now has its own branch dedicated solely to cybersecurity: The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA.

Cybersecurity and IA for Organizations

Times may have changed since WWII, but the historical anecdote above isn’t so different from the way that data is breached today. There’s one key difference: in WWII, the “hackers” were the good guys. Today, they’re the bad guys, and their victims are the everyday customers of small businesses, Fortune 500s, retailers, restaurants, universities and government bodies alike.

For organizations that deal daily with sensitive information like credit card numbers, Social Security information, medical histories and more, strong Information Assurance planning, assessment, risk management, governance and the use of encryption, tokenization and other cybersecurity measures are vital. Like the Enigma, when information isn’t encrypted properly or security best practices aren’t followed, this leaves information vulnerable to hackers smart enough to crack codes and sell compromised information to fraudsters on the dark web.

Which Is Better: Cybersecurity or Information Assurance?

When it comes to protecting an organization and its customers, cybersecurity versus Information Assurance isn’t an either/or question. The answer is both.

For organizations that deal with credit card transactions, digital and physical files containing sensitive data, and communications made via confidential phone, mail and email, Information Assurance is crucial, and cybersecurity is a necessary measure of IA.

The National Security Agency defines this combined approach of IA and cybersecurity as Defense-In-Depth. In short, Defense-In-Depth ensures that no matter where a malicious party tries to enter an information system — online or off — there’s a security measure in place.

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