A Look Inside a Benchmark Model In InfoSec: CIA Triad

Marisa DiMuro
March 31, 2022
A triangular structure with purple lighting representing the CIA Triad - SafeBase

In today's digital age, data protection has become a critical concern for individuals and organizations alike. We often come across various tips and tricks on how to protect our data, such as using a VPN, backing up data on the cloud, and regularly changing passwords. Similarly, in the business world, there are numerous policies and certifications in place to ensure organizations comply with the handling of sensitive data. But what exactly are we protecting when it comes to data? This is where the "CIA Triad" comes into play, providing a framework to describe the key components of the data we safeguard. The CIA Triad, a widely used model, breaks down data security into three fundamental elements: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability.

Confidentiality: Keeping Data Private

Confidentiality is the ability to keep data private and secure from unauthorized access. It encompasses safeguarding an organization's trade secrets, as well as protecting customer's personally identifiable information (PII).

To maintain confidentiality, there are two popular security controls that can be implemented: Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP). RBAC restricts access to users based on their roles within the organization, ensuring that individuals only have access to the data they require to perform their duties. POLP, on the other hand, limits access to only the resources necessary to complete a specific task, minimizing the risk of data exposure.

Another method to protect data confidentiality is the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional credentials, such as a one-time PIN sent to their mobile device, to access their accounts.

Integrity: Ensuring Data Quality

Integrity refers to the quality and trustworthiness of data. It focuses on the accuracy, authenticity, and reliability of information.

Data integrity is crucial because compromised data can lead to severe consequences. Imagine a scenario where an attacker compromises a system and modifies employee pay rates, resulting in financial loss and employee dissatisfaction. Alternatively, consider the implications of logging into your banking app only to find that your account balance is drastically incorrect due to data tampering. Data integrity can be compromised not only through malicious actions but also during data transfers or updates.

To maintain data integrity, organizations must include backup and recovery testing as part of their disaster recovery plan. This testing verifies that restored data remains unaltered, ensuring its integrity and reliability.

Availability: Ensuring Data Access

Availability ensures that data is accessible to applications and end-users, including customers. It is critical for business operations and maintaining a positive reputation with customers. Data availability can be compromised by hardware or software failures, such as power outages or natural disasters. One common attack that affects availability is a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. In a DoS attack, threat actors overload a network server with traffic, rendering a website or service unavailable to its intended users. Organizations must implement measures to ensure data availability, such as redundant systems, disaster recovery plans, and network monitoring.

The Importance of the CIA Triad: Contextual Considerations

At one point or another, as a Cybersecurity professional, you’ll be asked in an interview, which of the three do you think is the most important? Don’t get stumped, it’s a trick question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which element is the most critical. Different industries prioritize different elements based on their specific needs and regulatory requirements. For instance, the healthcare and eCommerce industries often prioritize confidentiality to protect sensitive patient information and customer data. In contrast, the finance industry places a higher regard on integrity to ensure the accuracy and reliability of financial transactions. Similarly, the internet marketplace focuses on availability to guarantee uninterrupted access to services for their customers. Understanding the contextual importance of each element allows organizations to align their security efforts accordingly.

Conclusion: Striving for Absolute Security

While achieving absolute security may be challenging, it remains the shared goal for all cybersecurity professionals and organizations. The CIA Triad, with its focus on Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability, has proven to be a tried-and-true framework for safeguarding data and protecting organizations. By understanding and implementing appropriate security controls and measures for each element, organizations can enhance their overall security posture.

SafeBase helps trust-minded organizations showcase their security posture, securely share sensitive documents, and streamline security workflows. Learn more about our Trust Communication platform here and see why over 400 leading companies choose SafeBase as the centerpiece of their Trust Communication strategy.

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