Information Assurance (IA): A Detailed Guide
Every business today stores, manages and exchanges sensitive information that must be protected from cybercriminals lurking in the digital landscape. That makes it imperative for them to implement an information assurance (IA) strategy to reduce sensitive information’s exposure to risks and the impact of a given risk in accordance with internal security policies and any industry regulations they must comply with.
Let’s look at information assurance in detail to understand how a managed service provider (MSP) helps organizations overcome the challenge of putting an IA framework in place.
What is information assurance?
In simple terms, information assurance refers to the measures taken by an organization to bring its security to a satisfactory level.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines information assurance as “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.”
Is information assurance the same as cybersecurity?
Even though cybersecurity falls under the purview of information assurance, it differs in three major aspects:
- While IA focuses on risk management and implementing guidelines to secure information on both physical and digital systems, cybersecurity focuses on setting up a plan to protect information on digital assets.
- IA’s scope is broader than cybersecurity since it deals with the business aspect of information. Cybersecurity’s scope is more detailed since it deals with protecting everything.
- IA is aimed at policy creation and deployment to keep information assets secure after understanding how an organization engages with information, its value and how exposed it is. In comparison, cybersecurity emphasizes on the controls and tools needed to defend against cyberattacks.
Information assurance vs. information security
The differences between information assurance and information security are as follows:
- IA focuses on quality, reliability and restoration of information while information security aims at protecting information by deploying solutions, encryption, policies and procedures.
- While information assurance isn’t concerned with specific technology or tools used to protect information, information security directly deals with them.
- In terms of scope, IA emphasizes organizational risk management and overall information quality. Information security, on the other hand, has a detailed scope since it prioritizes risk control and agreement.
What is the role of information assurance?
The primary objective of information assurance is to focus on finding effective ways to safeguard important information and maintain control over it. This is achieved by focusing on three major aspects:
- Risk management: Information assurance efforts include conducting regular risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and assess their potential impact on an organization in terms of compliance, cost and business continuity.
- Security measures: An IA strategy is used to implement security measures — in terms of technology, policy, practice and people — to save information from vulnerabilities. For example, an organization’s information assurance strategy could mandate end-to-end encryption for all forms of data.
- Data integrity: Information assurance focuses on auditing and monitoring how the organization stores, processes and transmits information.
Information assurance is a must-have for all organizations today. The lack of a robust information assurance strategy can make it extremely difficult to be confident about the integrity of information. IA efforts ensure upper management receives authentic and accurate information when making key decisions.
What are the benefits of information assurance?
Information assurance benefits can be classified into operational, tactical, strategic and organizational benefits. Let’s take a look at some of the more important ones:
- Operational benefits
- Resilient business processes: Timely and accurate information ready for operational controls and procedures such as supply chain management.
- Improved customer service: Secure and easy access to reliable information to customers.
- Better usage of information: Readily available reliable information for business decisions and innovation.
- Improved responsiveness: Effective information assurance framework is key to responsiveness after the occurrence of a breach.
- Tactical benefits
- Easier compliance: IA allows organizations to create more efficient internal control systems that meet regulatory and legal requirements. This translates into less expenditure on monitoring and maintaining compliance.
- Better control: An information assurance policy increases the rigor for better information and security controls. Additionally, other business controls can be improved using reliable information generated from IA efforts.
- Better understanding of business opportunities: By ensuring the availability of accurate and reliable information, IA gives organizations a clear picture of potential business opportunities.
- More commitment from business partners and customers: Information assurance helps an organization demonstrate its capability to secure the sensitive information it collects and manages, which encourages more commitment from partners and customers alike.
- Strategic benefits
- Better governance: An information assurance framework generates the right insights that an organization’s leadership needs to improve IA investment, assure stakeholders of the organization’s security and facilitate compliance with regulations.
- Cheaper equity: IA can help an organization gain a positive perception from its investors.
- More sales: An organization’s willingness to undertake IA measures provides reassurance to customers, leading to additional sales.
- Lower costs: IA can reduce costs and decrease disruption and downtime caused by security incidents.
- Organizational benefits
- Improved shareholder value: IA can assure shareholders of the security of the organization. This leads to an increase in shareholder value.
- Gain a competitive advantage: Any organization focused on upholding security and compliance with regulations is perceived to be more reliable than competitors.
- No fines and penalties for non-compliance: Emphasizing information assurance proves an organization’s commitment to comply with legislative and regulatory mandates. This helps an organization avoid fines or penalties over non-compliance.
What are the 5 areas of information assurance?
The pillars of information assurance draw inspiration from the CIA triad — the first model of information assurance introduced for upholding information security and integrity. The CIA triad consists of three vital security principles — confidentiality, integrity and availability — which are among the five pillars of information assurance:
- Integrity: Securing information systems and assets
- Availability: Ensuring authorized users have dependable access to information assets
- Authentication: Confirming the identity of users
- Confidentiality: Restricting access to only authorized users
- Non-repudiation: Creating and maintaining documented evidence of all actions
This ensures information remains in its original state without tampering or modification. This involves keeping an organization’s network uncompromised by setting up safeguards that mitigate threats. For example, an organization can use antivirus software and other tools to prevent viruses from damaging the information. Similarly, it can implement policies to prevent users from mishandling information.
Availability deals with mitigating any threats that could block access to data. For example, an organization could use a set of security measures to guarantee its leadership access to important data during the decision-making process.
This pertains to verifying the identity and authorization rights of a user or a device before allowing them to access a set of information. Common authentication methods used by organizations are two-factor or multifactor authentication and biometrics. Authentication holds great significance in information assurance because if it’s compromised, it’s only a matter of time before a security breach takes place.
The aim is to protect sensitive information — such as personal identifiable information (PII) — from being exposed to unauthorized users, systems or networks. As a result, organizations deploy safeguards like data encryption to ensure only authorized users can access data. Implementing and upholding information confidentiality helps organizations prevent IP theft and the exploitation of customers’ personal information.
Non-repudiation focuses on having documented evidence of the proper transmission of information. Any user in an organization who performs an action on an information system cannot deny having done it. This makes sure there are methods in place to prove their action. The goal is to guarantee the digital signature of the action belongs to the intended party.
How does information assurance work?
A proper information assurance framework goes beyond IT measures. If an organization’s information is compromised, the entire organization faces legal and reputational ramifications. An information assurance strategy is built to protect the entire organization and all of its customers.
Your organization can follow this process for building an IA framework:
- Evaluate your organization’s governance, risk and compliance (GRC) readiness position.
- Identify gaps and build roadmaps by using key use cases.
- Rationalize and prioritize GRC initiatives to make sure the needs of your organization’s information and infrastructure align with the organization’s objectives.
- Build GRC programs and models that mirror your organization’s policies.
- Quantify exposure and risk before classifying them to evaluate defined metrics.
- Leverage findings on exposure and risk to plan accurate and effective steps that could be undertaken to abate them.
- Deploy processes, policies, controls and technology that monitor your organization’s information infrastructure for key metrics.
- Evaluate potential exposure in personnel, processes and technology controls with respect to IT infrastructure interdependencies.
- Manage and eliminate exposure by continuously enforcing policies.
- Identify violations and measure outcomes.
- Regularly improve processes based on learnings to maximize synergies and enhance outcomes.
What are examples of information assurance?
There are two widely accepted standards for determining the components of an information assurance program — the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) InfoSec Assessment Methodology (IAM) and the British Standards Institute Code of Practice for Information Security Management (BS7799). Let’s look at the components each standard suggests.
The NSA IAM contains 18 “baseline categories” that should constitute the components of an organization’s information assurance posture:
- IA documentation
- IA roles and responsibilities
- Identification and authentication
- Account management
- Session controls
- External connectivity
- Virus protection
- Contingency planning
- Configuration management
- Media sanitization/disposal
- Physical environment
- Personnel security
- Training and awareness
The BS7799 identifies ten fundamental building blocks of an effective IA program:
- Security policy
- Security organization
- Assets classification and control
- Personnel security
- Physical and environmental security
- Computer and network management
- System access control
- Systems development and maintenance
- Business continuity planning
When an organization properly deploys these elements, it can reap benefits that include improved process efficiency, reduced losses, improved customer confidence and stronger employee participation.
Who is responsible for information assurance?
IA has been seen as an incoherent function exclusive to an organization’s IT department. However, an organization must build a security-centric culture from top to bottom, with a focus to comply with all the necessary regulations. Job titles focused primarily on information assurance, led by the chief information security officer (CISO) and/or IT director can include:
- Information assurance analyst
- Information assurance engineer
- Information assurance specialist
- Information assurance manager
- Information security analyst
- Information assurance technical support
- Information assurance/security engineer
Information assurance with Compliance Manager GRC
Implementing a governance, risk and compliance (GRC) framework or strengthening an existing one can help organizations protect sensitive information from risk while complying with government or industry regulations.
Compliance Manager GRC — a purpose-built and role-based compliance management platform — empowers you to help clients mitigate risks to their information. They will also be able to comply with government or industry standards and custom IT requirements included in any business contract, insurance policy, or their own IT security policies and procedures.
Compliance Manager GRC automates data gathering, issue management and all the documentation required to prove “due care” to any internal or external auditor. The simplified and streamlined workflow makes it easy for IT professionals to manage compliance with all their IT requirements at the same time — regardless of source or type — through a web-based portal that’s accessible from anywhere at any time from any computer.
Schedule a personalized demo of Compliance Manager GRC to see how it can give you the power to implement a robust and effective information assurance posture.