Public Key Infrastructure

What Is Information Assurance And How Does It Relate To Information Security?

We live and conduct business in an active asymmetric threat environment. An individual, business or organization must adapt and protect its vital information assets and critical digital infrastructure. Failure to do so is reckless and may be considered as an obvious lack of due diligence for people who have fiduciary and custodial responsibilities.

Any event that causes damage to information resources, whether it is a computer virus, natural disaster or system failure could be devastating to an individual (i.e. identity theft), company, its customers, suppliers and shareholders. Failing to do so may threaten the survival of the company itself.

An information system security breach could result in serious financial losses, the disclosure of protected private information, loss of research and development data or fines by regulatory agencies. Losses due to intrusions into an information system could negatively affect the general public (i.e. power failures). This might result in costly class action lawsuits that could exceed an organization's ability to pay and result in its dissolution. Even an individual might be sued for negligence and be financially ruined.

So how should an organization or person protect its valuable digital processing infrastructure? A business should establish and implement a comprehensive information assurance plan. Individuals should at least address the components of a professional information assurance plan. Doing so is evidence that the infrastructure owners are attempting to practice due diligence.

An information assurance plan for an organization should be formalized and approved in the organization's policies and have the following components: Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability, Accountability and Non-Repudiation.

Let's briefly examine each:

A. Confidentiality refers to restricting access to data, information or to any component of the digital processing infrastructure unless there is a “Need” for an individual to be able to access it. The “need” must be aligned with an employee's job requirements and the mission of the organization. Strong confidentiality prevents the disclosure of sensitive records, research and development information.

B. Integrity refers to maintaining the validity and reliability of information that is to be used for decision-making. An information infrastructure that has integrity can be depended upon when making decisions. The information is otherwise useless. Integrity must be aggressively assured.

C. Availability is that characteristic of information, which assures that critical information is ready for access precisely when, and where it is needed and to whom it is needed so that decisions can be made. Computers and networks must be protected to assure that mission critical data is on hand when needed.

D. Accountability refers to the idea of assigning responsibility to an individual or group of individuals for each part of the digital processing infrastructure. Each time the information infrastructure is accessed someone needs to be responsible for its safe and legitimate use. Otherwise the system is open to serious security breaches.

E. Non-Repudiation is that component of information assurance that guarantees each party to a transaction is bound to its results. E-commerce, for example, would be impossible without provisions for assuring that a customer actually made a purchase.

Maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, availability and non-repudiation of the information processing infrastructure is vital to the survival of an organization.

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