Information Security, sometimes shortened to InfoSec, is the practice of protecting information by mitigating information risks. It is part of information risk management. It typically involves preventing or reducing the probability of unauthorized/inappropriate access to data, or the unlawful use, disclosure, disruption, deletion, corruption, modification, inspection, recording, or devaluation of information. It also involves actions intended to reduce the adverse impacts of such incidents. Protected information may take any form, e.g. electronic or physical, tangible (e.g. paperwork) or intangible (e.g. knowledge). Information security’s primary focus is the balanced protection of the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data (also known as the CIA triad) while maintaining a focus on efficient policy implementation, all without hampering organization productivity. This is largely achieved through a structured risk management process that involves:
- identifying information and related assets, plus potential threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts;
- evaluating the risks;
- deciding how to address or treat the risks i.e. to avoid, mitigate, share or accept them;
- where risk mitigation is required, selecting or designing appropriate security controls and implementing them;
- monitoring the activities, making adjustments as necessary to address any issues, changes and improvement opportunities.
To standardize this discipline, academics and professionals collaborate to offer guidance, policies, and industry standards on password, antivirus software, firewall, encryption software, legal liability, security awareness and training, and so forth. This standardization may be further driven by a wide variety of laws and regulations that affect how data is accessed, processed, stored, transferred and destroyed. However, the implementation of any standards and guidance within an entity may have limited effect if a culture of continual improvement isn’t adopted.
Since the early days of communication, diplomats and military commanders understood that it was necessary to provide some mechanism to protect the confidentiality of correspondence and to have some means of detecting tampering. Julius Caesar is credited with the invention of the Caesar cipher c. 50 B.C., which was created in order to prevent his secret messages from being read should a message fall into the wrong hands. However, for the most part protection was achieved through the application of procedural handling controls. Sensitive information was marked up to indicate that it should be protected and transported by trusted persons, guarded and stored in a secure environment or strong box. As postal services expanded, governments created official organizations to intercept, decipher, read, and reseal letters (e.g., the U.K.’s Secret Office, founded in 1653).
In the mid-nineteenth century more complex classification systems were developed to allow governments to manage their information according to the degree of sensitivity. For example, the British Government codified this, to some extent, with the publication of the Official Secrets Act in 1889. Section 1 of the law concerned espionage and unlawful disclosures of information, while Section 2 dealt with breaches of official trust. A public interest defense was soon added to defend disclosures in the interest of the state. A similar law was passed in India in 1889, The Indian Official Secrets Act, which was associated with the British colonial era and used to crack down on newspapers that opposed the Raj’s policies. A newer version was passed in 1923 that extended to all matters of confidential or secret information for governance. By the time of the First World War, multi-tier classification systems were used to communicate information to and from various fronts, which encouraged greater use of code making and breaking sections in diplomatic and military headquarters. Encoding became more sophisticated between the wars as machines were employed to scramble and unscramble information.
The establishment of computer security inaugurated the history of information security. The need for such appeared during World War II. The volume of information shared by the Allied countries during the Second World War necessitated formal alignment of classification systems and procedural controls. An arcane range of markings evolved to indicate who could handle documents (usually officers rather than enlisted troops) and where they should be stored as increasingly complex safes and storage facilities were developed. The Enigma Machine, which was employed by the Germans to encrypt the data of warfare and was successfully decrypted by Alan Turing, can be regarded as a striking example of creating and using secured information. Procedures evolved to ensure documents were destroyed properly, and it was the failure to follow these procedures which led to some of the greatest intelligence coups of the war (e.g., the capture of U-570).
Various Mainframe computers were connected online during the Cold War to complete more sophisticated tasks, in a communication process easier than mailing magnetic tapes back and forth by computer centers. As such, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), of the United States Department of Defense, started researching the feasibility of a networked system of communication to trade information within the United States Armed Forces. In 1968, the ARPANET project was formulated by Dr. Larry Roberts, which would later evolve into what is known as the internet.
In 1973, important elements of ARPANET security were found by internet pioneer Robert Metcalfe to have many flaws such as the: “vulnerability of password structure and formats; lack of safety procedures for dial-up connections; and nonexistent user identification and authorizations”, aside from the lack of controls and safeguards to keep data safe from unauthorized access. Hackers had effortless access to ARPANET, as phone numbers were known by the public. Due to these problems, coupled with the constant violation of computer security, as well as the exponential increase in the number of hosts and users of the system, “network security” was often alluded to as “network insecurity”.
The end of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century saw rapid advancements in telecommunications, computing hardware and software, and data encryption. The availability of smaller, more powerful, and less expensive computing equipment made electronic data processing within the reach of small business and home users. The establishment of Transfer Control Protocol/Internetwork Protocol (TCP/IP) in the early 1980s enabled different types of computers to communicate. These computers quickly became interconnected through the internet.
The rapid growth and widespread use of electronic data processing and electronic business conducted through the internet, along with numerous occurrences of international terrorism, fueled the need for better methods of protecting the computers and the information they store, process, and transmit. The academic disciplines of computer security and information assurance emerged along with numerous professional organizations, all sharing the common goals of ensuring the security and reliability of information systems.