Companies know how much your data is worth – and so do threat actors. Governments know so as well: that’s why they have so many compliance rules in place. There are certain measures, like the CIA triad, that can keep your data safe. So, what’s the CIA triad of information security?
The CIA Triad in cybersecurity stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability of data. It has nothing to do with the Central Intelligence Agency, though most people confuse both terms because of their initials. Some prefer to call it the AIC triad because of that.
Can you ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and availability? One mistake in any of these areas could land you a lawsuit and massive customer loss, so it’s nothing to scoff at. Understanding this simple term could make you improve your cybersecurity by leaps and bounds.
- What Is the CIA Triad in Cybersecurity?
- Three Parts of the CIA Triad
- What Does the CIA Have To Do With the CIA Triad?
- What Is Availability in the CIA Triad?
- What Is Integrity in the CIA Triad?
- What Is Confidentiality in the CIA Triad?
What Is the CIA Triad in Cybersecurity?
The CIA triad stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. These three things are related to data security. In other words, this triad stands for ensuring data confidentiality, data integrity, and data availability.
No part of this triad is more important than the other one. All three complement each other:
- Ensuring data integrity and availability but not confidentiality means you have a data breach.
- Having availability and confidentiality but no integrity means you have a threat actor messing with your data.
- Integrity and confidentiality but no availability means you’re locked out of your system.
As you can see, failure to meet the standards for any of these three parts means you have a huge problem on your hands. We’ll dive a little deeper into each one below.
Three Parts of the CIA Triad
- Confidentiality. Data confidentiality means information flows on a need-to-know basis. A bank, for example, won’t share the information of a customer with every single employee. They have different authorization levels to deal with that matter. Ensuring confidentiality also means you have measures to prevent threat actors from causing a data breach as well.
- Integrity. Data integrity means information won’t be edited or deleted without the right people knowing it. In other words, the integrity of data means no threat actor, insider threat, or negligent employee will tamper with information. It’s easy to detect when there’s a breach of confidentiality or availability, though foul play on integrity may take longer to realize, especially if we’re talking about veteran cybercriminals.
- Availability. Data availability means authorized users have access to data as soon as they want it. Doing so requires running good hardware and even better defenses against cyberattacks. DDoS attacks tend to be the weapon of choice of many threat actors – something that can shut down your servers in seconds, meaning you could easily lose availability if you don’t have protective measures in place.
What Does the CIA Have To Do With the CIA Triad?
The CIA triad (as in ensuring data Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability) has nothing to do with the CIA (as in the Central Intelligence Agency).
Some people confuse these two terms or believe they’re linked together, so experts prefer to use the term AIC triad instead.
So, if you spot the term AIC triad, you should know it means the same as the CIA triad – only under a different order. AIC stands for data availability, integrity, and confidentiality.
The way you found this term doesn’t matter as long as you ensure all three things are guaranteed when it comes to handling data.
What Is Availability in the CIA Triad?
Data availability means having the ability to access information with no delays or other issues. Customers, employees, and even yourself should access data as soon as they request it. You could consider availability to be compromised otherwise.
There are many ways to compromise availability. A ransomware attack is one of the many cyberattacks a threat actor can send your way to make that happen. A DDoS attack is another way hackers have to mess with availability.
Certain circumstances can affect your availability as well, like power outages and natural disasters. Running a redundant system (i.e., having multiple servers ready in case one fails) and having multiple backups is a must to ensure availability.
An Example To Understand Availability
Every company needs quick access to its information. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be using cloud storage or computers in the first place. That much-needed speed is often lost due to negligence or cyberattacks.
A single DDoS attack can bring down websites in seconds. An insider threat can pull the plug from inside the company, shutting down online operations. At the same time, an employee can mistakenly cause a misconfiguration issue, putting every server on hold until the problem is solved.
The other two elements in the CIA triad (confidentiality and integrity) are of no use if availability hasn’t been taken care of. What use do you have for data that’s properly stored if you can’t access it?
How To Ensure Availability in Cybersecurity
Availability has many enemies, though a DDoS attack is always at the top of that list. Threat actors rely on using botnets to hit your servers with more traffic than they can handle, so they can freeze your operations in a matter of seconds. That attack can last for hours or days if left unchecked.
That’s far from the only troubling aspect of a DDoS attack: studies show the number of attacks increases by more than 100% every quarter. That number can only get worse as more household appliances get internet connections (e.g., smart coffee pots, smart bathtubs, and more) – and are incredibly vulnerable to becoming part of a botnet.
DDoS protection and other server-side measures ensure availability.
What Is Integrity in the CIA Triad?
In the CIA triad, integrity means ensuring that data is not tampered with or messed with by unauthorized third parties. Threat actors can infiltrate your system and mess with your files, thus causing a breach in integrity (that could cost you millions of dollars).
You can suffer a loss of integrity in the way of a ransomware attack. That scenario will kill any chances you have at integrity as well as availability in one swift blow. Having backups ready to go could save you from a crisis when that happens.
Integrity is a simple concept: it means making sure data stays the way it should. Although compromising integrity is often an intentional act, companies can suffer the same thing due to negligence.
An Example To Understand Integrity
A healthcare provider deals with very sensitive data that could be a matter of life and death in certain scenarios. You can understand why integrity is such an important concept when you have that in mind.
Maintaining integrity has a lot to do with putting preventive measures and monitoring in place. A threat actor may bypass detection, but they will leave a trace that software or humans can detect in due time.
Employing certain measures, such as encryption and digital signatures, is a must to prevent data tampering, thus ensuring its integrity: a threat actor can’t change something if the data is properly encrypted.
How To Ensure Integrity in Cybersecurity
The first thing you must do is ensure you’re running trustworthy hardware. 1-year-old servers have a 5% failure rate, while 7-year-old servers are close to having a 20% failure rate. The number continues to increase as time goes by.
Integrity isn’t an internal problem alone. Threat actors can (and will) attack your servers from the outside. Cybercriminals can infiltrate your company by stealing credentials or performing man-in-the-middle attacks. It’s only a matter of time before they start altering your files from within if they succeed.
Servers are also at the mercy of your employees, and one small mistake could cause big trouble. We always recommend training your employees for that reason.
What Is Confidentiality in the CIA Triad?
Data confidentiality ensures no unauthorized third parties have access to sensitive data or any other type of information that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. Failure to do so means falling victim to a data breach, which is a catastrophic cybersecurity scenario.
It’s important to note confidentiality is a two-way street: both users and companies can cause a breach. Following that same metaphor, companies have to watch out for external and insider threats from causing a breach as well.
Most people think about confidentiality when they think about cybersecurity – because it’s a huge part of this sector. Breaking confidentiality often results in million-dollar fines, no matter your area of business.
An Example To Understand Confidentiality
Let’s take a financial institution, something like a bank, as an example. These companies handle a lot of sensitive information: anything from personal data (e.g., full name, social security number, address, and more) to financial data (e.g., credit card numbers, routing numbers, and more).
A bank has many files for each customer. These files could cause plenty of trouble if they fall into the wrong hands. A threat actor could cause a devastating blow to a person if they manage to get their hands on such a thing. Negligence on the workers’ behalf could also cause trouble.
Confidentiality ensures no threat actor, insider threat, or negligent employee gets in the way of safeguarding that information.
How To Ensure Confidentiality in Cybersecurity
Confidentiality is a big part of cybersecurity, and most security efforts reflect that reality: updating software, choosing the right hardware, and following cybersecurity best practices often guarantee data confidentiality.
Privileged users should know how to create strong passwords as well as enable secondary measures to prevent unauthorized access if a threat actor steals their credentials. Doing so requires using multi-factor authentication.
Good malware detection software can help with that effort. Training is also necessary to detect phishing scams – and know how to move forward after a successful one. Companies should encourage zero-trust adoption to prevent common network attacks.
The CIA triad in cybersecurity stands for confidentiality, integrity, and availability. It has nothing to do with the Central Intelligence Agency. Many experts recommend referring to this triad as the AIC triad to avoid confusion. Paying attention to the CIA/AIC triad ensures a high degree of data security and privacy.