As hackers, security breaches and malware attacks continue to dominate headlines, cyber crime has emerged as a global “pandemic” that last year cost people and organizations an estimated $600 billion, according to CNBC. So it’s not surprising that combating such activities has become a lucrative and rewarding career. 

So, if you’re considering launching a career or advancing into a leadership role in this booming field, you may be wondering which path is right for you. For instance, what is the difference between cybersecurity, information security, information assurance and network security? In this post, we will take a closer look at each of these related but separate disciplines.


Information Security

“Information security refers to the processes and methodologies that are designed and implemented to protect print, electronic, or any other form of confidential, private and sensitive information or data from unauthorized access, use, misuse, disclosure, destruction, modification or disruption,” according to the SANS Institute.

An “information system” can be any point of data storage, including points outside of cyberspace, which explains the difference between information security and cybersecurity: Information security aims to protect all data while cybersecurity aims to protect only digital data.



Cybersecurity is a subset of information security. According to Cisco, “Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting systems, networks and programs from digital attacks. These attacks are usually aimed at accessing, changing, or destroying sensitive information; extorting money from users; or interrupting normal business processes.”

A successful cybersecurity practitioner must have experience within the environments that they will defend and must understand both theory and application. These skills are most often gained through hands-on experience, education and lifelong learning.


Network Security

“Network security is the process of taking physical and software preventative measures to protect the underlying networking infrastructure from unauthorized access, misuse, malfunction, modification, destruction, or improper disclosure, thereby creating a secure platform for computers, users and programs to perform their permitted critical functions within a secure environment,” according to the SANS Institute.

Network security experts focus on internal protection by keeping close surveillance on passwords, firewalls, internet access, encryption, backups and more. Their main focus is to protect internal information by monitoring employee behavior and network access. In contrast, cybersecurity experts would likely focus on external threats by looking for hackers trying to infiltrate the network and by gaining intelligence on potential future attacks. If you work in network security, you will likely be implementing and monitoring software used to detect threats and protect a company’s network.


Information Assurance

Information assurance encompasses a broader scope than information security, network security and cybersecurity. Whereas the aforementioned security functions are generally focused on preventing access by hackers or unauthorized users, information assurance is also concerned with ensuring that key data and information is always available to users who are authorized to access it.

According to Techopedia, the five key terms that help define information assurance are:

  • Integrity (ensuring that information and systems can only be accessed by authorized users)
  • Availability (ensuring that information is reliably accessible and available to authorized users as needed)
  • Authentication (ensuring that users are who they say they are, through usernames, passwords, biometrics, tokens and other methods)
  • Confidentiality (restricting access through the use of classification or clearance levels, such as in the military)
  • Nonrepudiation (ensuring that someone cannot deny an action taken within an information system because the system provides proof of the action)

Information assurance professionals are often “former hackers and security experts who understand both white hat and black hat hacking,” according to the InfoSec Institute. “They keep up to date with the latest security alerts. They update and patch current systems, and they work with developers to review software for future deployments. During cyber threats, the information assurance analyst is able to triage issues and find the best resolution to mitigate any damages.”


Working in Information/Cyber/Network Security or Information Assurance  

While these four disciplines are distinct, they all share common goals and typically require similar skill sets that involve a range of diverse, multidisciplinary capabilities. For example, practitioners must understand overall theory as well as advanced technology, and then apply specific knowledge and skills in the areas of technology, law, policy, compliance, governance, intelligence, threat assessment, incident response and management.

Of course, it is also critical to remain current on the latest trends, hacking techniques and advances in cybercrime in order to stay ahead of the perpetrators and safeguard an organization’s vital assets and information. So a fascination with the underlying technology is essential.

To help tie it all together, many people staking out a career in the fields of information assurance, information security, network security and cybersecurity find it extremely helpful to earn an advanced degree to burnish their knowledge as well as their educational credentials.

And since these fields are experiencing a well-documented talent shortage, demand is high (and so is the pay) for qualified professionals who possess the right combination of skills, experience and education. Today, there are many options when it comes to advancing your education – from individual classes and professional certifications to specialized master’s degree programs that are designed to help open the door to the widest range of opportunities.  


This article originally ran in Today’s Cybersecurity Leader, a monthly cybersecurity-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security magazine. Subscribe here.