What Does Information Security Mean and Why Does it Matter?
The Importance of Information Security
Of all the pressing challenges facing leaders in business and government today, one stands above the rest: keeping their information secure. With computerized technology integrated into nearly every facet of our lives, this concern is well founded. Securing information is urgent for intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and private security firms, just as it is for medical facilities, banks, and every other business that stores sensitive information about its customers.
From high profile breaches of customer information databases, to compromised government servers, 2016 offered numerous reminders of just how critical information security is. Attacks on private information have increased as technology has advanced, until they are now common. Today, hackers pose a threat, not just to corporations and governments, but also to the general public.
In response to this new reality, public and private institutions are rallying to make information security their priority. You might have heard the field referred to as InfoSec, an abbreviation of information security. But what does InfoSec mean?
InfoSec encompasses both digital and physical information—and with confidential data now primarily stored digitally, to secure information often means to protect cyberspace itself.
The History of Information Security
The first damaging hacks emerged in the 1970s, perpetrated mostly by people interrupting phone lines to make free phone calls. In the 1980s and 1990s, as personal computers and digital databases became the norm, individuals who could breach networks and steal information grew more dangerous. In this millennium, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, hacks on content-driven websites, and major breaches of corporate databases define the battle for secure digital networks. Mobile devices and smartphones provide yet another hackable point, one that’s particularly dangerous because of the near universal use of these technologies.
Credit card number theft and computer fraud have increased. Worms, viruses, malware, and phishing software have sprung to life. An entire new sector of crime has been born in cyberspace. In this environment, InfoSec has evolved rapidly.
Threats in Cyberspace Today
New channels of data transfer and storage continuously come to market. Every bit of data that interacts with these new tools needs to be properly secured without damaging or diminishing the functions of the network. InfoSec professionals must perpetually stay ahead of the hackers.
Hackers can discover and exploit weaknesses so quickly that an entire system can be compromised before information security analysts even know there is a problem. Because these attacks are usually made through holes in software—called “zero-day vulnerabilities”–that are unknown to vendors, they pose one of the most significant tests of InfoSec. In its 2016 Cybercrime Report, digital security firm Symantec states that the known number of zero-day vulnerabilities in major, open-source Internet plug-ins doubled in 2015 and included the breach of the ubiquitous Adobe Flash Player.
New jobs are created in InfoSec every day as a result of these growing threats and the increased security awareness of them. The profession is expected to grow by 18% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the growth rate for other occupations. Given that the median income for InfoSec analysts in the U.S. is $90,120 per year, it’s easy to understand why so many are starting to consider transitioning to information security.
University InfoSec Training
You may be wondering what’s needed to enter the field. For anyone with an IT or computer science background, InfoSec graduate degree programs are a great place to start. A good graduate program in InfoSec can teach you the specialized skill set needed to prevent cyberattacks, making you an invaluable asset to employers. Earning a master’s degree can also set the stage for greater earnings, provide occasions to form industry connections, and lead to leadership and management opportunities.
Other InfoSec Training
Professional certifications can further establish your place in the profession. You can train to become a Certified Information Systems Security Professional, or get Global Information Assurance Certification. Other training and industry resources in InfoSec require a less substantial commitment. The right path for you depends on your career goals. University InfoSec training often proves to be the most direct way to both certification and professional advancement.
Everywhere, hackers present a clear and present danger. Private security firms and government agencies–including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the CIA–are all recruiting qualified InfoSec professionals as they confront one of the world’s greatest threats. InfoSec is the first line of defense against this criminal activity that can cause irreparable damage.
If you’re interested in exploring opportunities in this rapidly growing field, explore the Online Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Policy & Compliance offered by George Washington University.
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