Cyber Security vs. Information Security: Exploring the Differences

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IT security professional working on a laptop with code superimposed in space around him.

Cyber security is a persistent issue for organizations of all kinds all over the world. IBM has found that the average cost of a data breach has continued to rise, reaching $4.35 million in 2022. This underlines the need for strong cyber security and information security practices so that companies can prevent these disruptions and protect their private data.

The difference between cyber security and information security is subtle but important. While both contribute to protecting the information technology (IT) systems of organizations, cyber security traditionally is defined as protecting a system from threats emanating from cyber space — the global network of computers. Information security, on the other hand, is protecting information within a system from unauthorized access when it’s being stored or transferred.

Together, cyber security and information security form a cohesive wall of integrity so authorized users can conduct business without improper access to private information. To maintain this protection, organizations need to have dedicated teams of educated professionals who understand nuances of each of these disciplines.

What Is Cyber Security?

Cyber security boils down to a threat management system that is able to keep connected devices on a network safe from malicious digital attacks. Cyber security threats can take various forms, including phishing, ransomware, malware and social engineering tactics that are used to fool users into revealing sensitive information. Cyber security helps organizations defend against these threats from the moment they begin until any actual attack is resolved.

Initially, a threat management system will identify that an intruder is attacking a network; then, it will seek to protect the network to avoid data loss. The threat then requires a response, and cyber security professionals will make an effort to remediate any damage the attack caused, with the system returning to normal. A myriad of people, tools and processes help to facilitate all of this.

What Is Information Security?

When looking at cyber security vs. information security, they may seem very similar, but the latter is more focused on protecting access to existing data as opposed to general system defense. Information security is often referred to as “data security.” It seeks to achieve a tenuous balance, where the right people can have access to the right information in the right way whenever they need it — while the information is also protected against inappropriate access. Ideally, maintaining this balance results in an efficient yet secure, confidential system.

Information security professionals control user access to different databases in their organizations. This can involve performing tests with users to see if they fall victim to threats that mimic what bad actors might do to breach a system’s defenses. They may also conduct IT security training to ensure users do their part to protect sensitive data.

Differences Between Cyber Security and Information Security

Delving deeper into cyber security vs. information security shows that the two concepts overlap, particularly because an organization with sensitive data wouldn’t ever really do one but not the other. However, they are also unique in their disciplines, with information security tactics being broader and more proactive.

Information security is also concerned with internal access and processes, along with printed and other analog data in addition to digital. For example, information security includes the deployment of passwords and authentication procedures to limit access to data, as well as storage, backup and disaster recovery systems. An information security professional may even be concerned with the security of the room or building where computers or servers are located.

In addition to focusing on digital and external threats, cyber security is more defensive and reactive. Its purpose is to understand and anticipate threats, identify cyber attacks as they are taking place or after they have taken place, and work to repel and recover from such attacks. The cyber security professional puts in place digital systems and procedures to counter web and email threats such as ransomware and other types of malware, phishing, botnets, fake websites, and password attacks.

Cyber Security and Information Security Careers

With the many dimensions of data storage, transmission and protection, the field offers aspiring professionals a variety of roles to pursue.

Digital Forensics Analyst

Digital forensics analysts serve an important role when a breach has occurred. These professionals collect digital evidence from devices, networks and anything else involved in the incident. Digital forensic analysts work with criminal investigators to determine exactly what happened during a security breach or cyber attack.

Application Penetration Tester

Professionals in this role stress test the defenses of a system to find out where vulnerabilities exist. They then report these issues so that they can be addressed before actual threats occur. Application penetration testers provide organizations with valuable information that services to improve their cyber security strategies.

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts serve a comprehensive role within an organization. Their duties can include auditing current IT security systems, vetting new tools and training colleagues on procedures and best practices. Information security analysts can also specialize in a specific area of the field and work on teams with other analysts and cyber security professionals.

Develop the Skills for Cyber Security and Information Security Careers

A strong, cohesive system of cyber security and information security practices serves as a sort of insurance policy that enables teams to do their best work without having to constantly worry about the integrity and confidentiality of their data. Given the integral importance of these skills in organizations all over the world, the demand for trained professionals who have them is on the rise.

The University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Cyber Security program, which offers four certificate tracks — Cyber Security Analyst, Ethical Hacking, Computer Forensics and Secure Networks — can provide the preparation students need to succeed in this field. Learn more about how UND can help you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Reading:

Cyber Security and the Internet of Things: Examples and Trends

Work-From-Home Cyber Security Jobs

Is a Master’s Degree in Cyber Security Worth It?


Analytics Insight, “10 Types of Cyberattacks That Will Take New Shape in 2023”

Cisco, What Is Cybersecurity?

CSO, “What Is Information Security? Definition, Principles, and Jobs”

IBM, “How Much Does a Data Breach Cost?”

Identity Theft Resource Center, “Q1 2022 Data Breach Analysis”

SANS Institute, “20 Coolest Careers in Cybersecurity”