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Information Assurance Does Not Equal Information Security

The cooperative efforts of your entire security organization will prove the most effective against sophisticated cyber threats

When I was working on a network assessment team for one of my customers, I would routinely hear upset voices when we would present our findings. The most common thing that the executives would say was, “Wait a minute, aren’t we current on our updates? I saw the compliance report, and we were all green right?”

“All green right?”

What that Information Security Officer was referring to was a slide that was presented to him showing the level of compliance that the hosts on his network were currently reporting. To him, this meant secure.  It meant that all of his systems were patched to the current patch levels, all anti-virus was up to date, and all 3rd party systems were also updated.  Being “green” was interpreted as “secure” – not only by this executive, but to those reporting to him.

Little did he know that while he was having his weekly meeting with his IA staff, the network assessors where discussing the number of hosts compromised over the course of the previous week, determining potential future targets, and identifying critical systems at risk.  Thankfully our behind-the-scenes-work kept the network and host systems very secure – “all green”.

So what exactly is Information Assurance, and what does it provide?

In general, Information Assurance is the management of risk when referring to the processing, storage and transmission of information or data. It is also includes the systems and devices that process that data, and includes governance, privacy, regulatory compliance, disaster recovery and business continuity when discussing information systems. Information Assurance provides the risk management framework that defines how risks and threats should be accepted, mitigated, or transferred.

Another role Information Assurance plays is analysis and management of all software that lives on systems within its organization. IA will provide a risk assessment of the software, and based on the level of need or benefit that the software provides to the organization, they will approve or deny it for use within the network. By assessing all software prior to it being installed on an IT system, the IA group has a complete understanding and knowledge of its organization risk when confronted with potential threats, e.g. a new virus affecting a particular browser version.

Why then, would Information Assurance not equal Information Security?

Think of Information Security as an umbrella of components, and Information Assurance is only one of those components. You cannot simply assume that if your IA group is showing a slide where the risk is “all green” that you are fully protected from threats. It simply means that within the confines of IA compliance, they have fully mitigated the risks according to their framework of operations.

Other important components of Information Security are Security Operations (SO) and Security Intelligence (SI). If the IA department is not working cooperatively with the SO or SI groups, then risk mitigation is not as strong as it could be and leaves potential areas of vulnerabilities.

When all Information Security components work together with each role understood against the next, then risk to the organization is significantly reduced.  When Security Operations see alerts, indicating unapproved software on their network, they have a clear and understood reporting channel and a well-established plan for handling that type of incident.  When the Information Assurance group works with the Security Intelligence group, threats can be accurately assessed and risk mitigated.  For example, the feedback provided from the SI group could prompt IA to force an early update to a vulnerable version of software on their network.

Cooperative effort within Information Security combined with Security Intelligence acts as a force multiplier against even sophisticated threats targeting your network and the hosts within. All components must work together to be truly effective against a sophisticated threat, Information Assurance compliance alone does not equal security.

If you would like to learn more about how a the cooperative efforts of your Information Security group can effectively help to identify and mitigate against targeted and sophisticated threats click here and find out more.

More Stories By Cory Marchand

Cory Marchand is a trusted subject matter expert on topics of Cyber Security Threats, Network and Host based Assessment and Computer Forensics. Mr. Marchand has supported several customers over his 10+ years within the field of Computer Security including State, Federal and Military Government as well as the Private sector. Mr. Marchand holds several industry related certificates including CISSP, EnCE, GSEC, GCIA, GCIH, GREM, GSNA and CEH.

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