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Information Protection vs. Information Assurance: Differentiating Between Two Critical IT Functions

Differentiating between information protection and information assurance can be tricky for some, as the terms are inherently linked and share an ultimate goal of preserving the integrity of information. However, by looking at the scope for each term, there are some important characteristics that should help clarify what IT professionals are commonly referring to when discussing information protection or information assurance.

The NIST provides definitions for both information assurance and information protection in their Glossary of Key Information Security Terms:

  • Information Assurance (AI): Measures that protect and defend information and information systems by ensuring their availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and non-repudiation. These measures include providing for restoration of information systems by incorporating protection, detection, and reaction capabilities.
  • Information protection (or information security as defined by the NIST): The protection of information and information systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction in order to provide:
    1. integrity, which means guarding against improper information modification or destruction, and includes ensuring information nonrepudiation and authenticity;
    2. confidentiality, which means preserving authorized restrictions on access and disclosure, including means for protecting personal privacy and proprietary information; and
    3. availability, which means ensuring timely and reliable access to and use of information

Information protection employs security solutions, encryption, and other technologies, as well as policies and processes, to secure information. Information protection can be thought of as a sub-discipline or component of information assurance. While both share a goal of maintaining the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of information, information protection is specifically focused on achieving this through information security, whereas information assurance focuses on ensuring the quality, reliability, and retrievability of information in addition to keeping it protected.

Benefits of Information Protection and Information Assurance

There are many benefits of information protection including maintaining compliance with regulatory standards, preventing costly security incidents, upholding the business’ reputation, and preserving the confidence of customers, suppliers, partners, and shareholders. Failure to protect sensitive information can result in fines issued by regulatory agencies or lawsuits from other companies or individuals should they suffer consequences as a result of their personal data being breached.

Information assurance also offers many benefits in addition to those provided by information protection. In addition to security, information assurance ensures data integrity, usability, non-repudiation, and authenticity. Confidentiality is achieved as well as availability and reliable and timely access to information.

How Information Protection and Information Assurance Work

Information protection relates to mitigating risks through secure systems and architecture that eliminate or reduce vulnerabilities. IP deals with both operations and technology to try and create a successful method for eliminating vulnerabilities in the system that can be used to gain unauthorized access or compromise or steal data. It may include facets such as vulnerability management, penetration testing, and technological solutions such as firewalls, antivirus, data loss prevention, and encryption.

Information assurance identifies ways to control and safeguard critical information in a more effective manner, stressing organizational risk management and overall information quality. Information assurance is typically a broader strategic initiative comprised of a wide range of information protection and management processes. Examples can include security audits, network architecture, compliance audits, database management, and development, implementation, and enforcement of organizational information management policies.

Best Practices for Information Protection and Information Assurance

Step one to implementing a successful information protection and information assurance program is getting buy-in across the organization. Company leadership must acknowledge that both are vital to an organization’s overall business health and profitability.

When designing and implementing your information protection or information assurance programs, there are some valuable best practices and methodologies published from various organizations to look to for guidance. The National Security Agency (NSA) Information Security (INFOSEC) Assessment Methodology (IAM) includes 18 baseline categories that should be present in information assurance posture, including elements such as identification and authentication, session controls, auditing, configuration management, labeling, backing up data, defined roles and responsibilities, virus protection, contingency planning, and more – including training and awareness programs for personnel; a commonly overlooked yet critical component of information protection and information assurance.

The ultimate goal of both information protection and information assurance is to maintain data integrity, reliability, and accessibility. This includes taking precautions against unauthorized destruction or alteration of information and ensuring non-repudiation and the authenticity of data. These undertakings will assure reliable and timely access to the data while maintaining confidentiality and security and should be priorities for organizations today.