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What is the difference between information security and cybersecurity?

January 04, 2022
Person inserts key into digital file representing information security vs. cybersecurity

Throughout the 21st century, information has become digitized to the point that now, the vast majority of it is stored as digital data. In the early days of computers, it still seemed pertinent to keep hard copies of all documents, as had been done to store information since paper was invented around the first century AD. To give you a sense of how much data exists, the amount of data created and stored around the globe in 2018 was 33 zettabytes, or 33 trillion gigabytes, and it is predicted that we will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025.1

From the numbers alone, we can see that the case for safe storage and secure access to sensitive information should be of paramount concern. Beyond asking the question—what is the difference between information security and cybersecurity?—we need to look at how these two types of security overlap. Let’s start with differences between the two areas before we get into the specifics of how the two work together toward the ultimate aim of creating a secure digital experience.

Information security vs. cybersecurity: The differences

While the differentiation between information security vs. cybersecurity may seem negligible, it’s important when it comes to legal and regulatory concerns in certain regions.2

Information security

Information Security, or infosec, entails keeping information secure in any format: from books, documents and tape recordings to electronic data and online files.3 Between cybersecurity and information security, InfoSec is the older of the two, pertaining to the security of information in all forms prior to the existence of digital data. These days, infosec is almost entirely concerned with the protection of digital information, but extends to several additional fields.

Information, in regards to infosec, covers all forms of data and can consist of physical objects like documents or intangible elements such as knowledge itself. A key element of information security is what is often known as the C.I.A. triad, which are principles that are an important part of infosec3:

  • Confidentiality—preserving authorized restrictions on access and disclosure, including means for protecting personal privacy and proprietary information
  • Integrity—guarding against improper information modification or destruction, including ensuring information non-repudiation and authenticity
  • Availability—ensuring timely and reliable access to and use of information


Cybersecurity relates to the safe storage of only digital data while also securing all the electronic devices of an organization.3 Cybersecurity specifically involves the protection of information that exists in a digital format along with the IT systems that manage that protection. Typically, this involves securing the privacy of an organization’s data while it is both in storage or being transmitted.

Digital data can be stored in a myriad of different ways, on computer hard drives, tape drives, CDs, backup drives, USB sticks or within large data centers. Cybersecurity specialists are tasked with controlling access to the information, ensuring it is stored safely and only made available to the correct people at the right time.4

Information security vs. cybersecurity: The overlap

Infosec and cybersecurity are both key elements of information risk management, defined as the safeguarding of information against theft, misuse or destruction. Although cybersecurity is focused purely on electronic data, it still involves a number of physical security methods similar to infosec. These include firewalls, intrusion prevention/detection systems (IPS/IDS) and identity and access management (IAM) devices.4

Similarly, infosec teams use a range of hardware to safeguard the information that they are tasked with protecting, including surge protectors, UPS modules, regulators and environmental controls. Some organizations have defined the overlap between infosec and cybersecurity as Information and Communications Technology (ICT) security.5 ICT security involves the electronic elements of infosec combined with the digital data of cybersecurity, but nothing outside of these areas.

Large organizations may have teams covering all three of these security aspects, ensuring protection against every possible threat, while smaller businesses may have just a single IT security team responsible for safeguarding all forms of data while also securing the network.

How to better secure data with information security and cybersecurity

These days, keeping data secure can get tricky. The frequency at which new cyber threats appear is a constant challenge to IT experts, who must stay one step ahead of the hackers.

What follows are several ways individuals and IT experts can better secure their data.

Strict organization

One of the most important initial steps in safeguarding data is maintaining a well-organized storage structure. This is relevant in both infosec and cybersecurity as it applies to all forms of analog and digital data, from filing cabinets to databases.

Without a clear and concise map of exactly where all your information is stored, it's impossible to effectively safeguard it. Microsoft Active Directory is an example of a digital organizational system used by IT teams to monitor, manage and secure business data.6

Employee training

Employees can be the biggest threat to an organization's security and are commonly targeted by hackers trying to break into a system. Training employees to recognize threats like phishing emails is critical to any company that hopes to safeguard its data.

All employees, irrelevant to their position, must understand the importance of keeping login credentials secret, using complex passwords and spotting suspicious emails.6

Strong encryption

Encryption is one of the oldest and most powerful methods of information security, used since ancient times to share secrets between individuals. Encryption scrambles data into an illegible mess that can only be decoded by someone with the right key, ensuring that even if it is stolen, it’s of no use to anybody.

Most messaging applications have built-in encryption systems that make it easy to share data securely without worrying about the details. However, businesses and organizations can add an extra layer of security by applying proprietary encryption to all information stored on file or in transit.7

Disaster recovery measures

Even the strongest security systems are not perfect so you need to prepare for the worst in the event that your organization suffers a data breach. With a well-designed disaster recovery plan in place, you can mitigate the worst of the damage and bounce back faster, with minimal downtime.8

Similar to a fire drill, the most vigilant of businesses regularly practice their disaster recovery strategy with their employees, ensuring that everyone is ready to act when the time comes. This can save the company not only time and money but also reputation, as being caught off guard is never a good look for a business.

Boost your security credentials

If you already work in cybersecurity or want to get involved in this exciting industry, a master’s degree in computer and information science is a great way to advance your career. Marquette University’s Online Master of Science in Computer and Information Science is a comprehensive degree program that covers all the various security methods that experts use to better protect an organization against cyber threats.

With face-to-face virtual classrooms, accessible instructors and strong academic support, the program is ranked 2nd best for student engagement and the 6th best online information technology master’s degree. Speak to a Marquette University admissions advisor today and take the first step towards a highly rewarding and successful career.