What is Cybersecurity?

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Cybersecurity- Prevention of damage to, protection of, and restoration of computers, electronic communications systems, electronic communications services, wire communication, and electronic communication, including information contained therein, to ensure its availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and nonrepudiation.

– National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The above definition is provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Usually called NIST, the Institute is a government agency created by the United States government’s Department of Commerce to set standards for devices we use. NIST has a long history, which can be studied further here

For those of us not deep in the weeds of all things Cybersecurity, NIST’s definition means that cybersecurity is the field of making sure people with bad intentions cannot break into, destroy, or manipulate, the electronic devices that people use every day. This can mean anything from putting a sticky note to cover your laptop’s camera when it is not on to making and using a password to access your phone or computer.

The goals of cybersecurity are broad, but they mainly fall into three categories, known to many in the field of Cybersecurity as the CIA triad.

The CIA Triad

The CIA Triad is made up of:

  • Confidentiality
  • Integrity
  • Availability

The first is Confidentiality: to keep people from accessing devices that are not theirs to use; that is, making sure that only the people who should be using a device have access to it. For example, your friend might have the password to your phone because you know all they want to do is keep it on to play a game. Your co-worker or a stranger who has found your phone at a restaurant should not have that same access.

The second is Integrity: making sure that the information on the systems we use is not able to be manipulated by outside parties. That is, to make sure that no one can use personal information contained in a device against other people. One example of this, which overlaps with Confidentiality, would be a banking website. A bank’s website contains sensitive information that only certain people should have access to: The user of a bank should only have access to their own account, no one else’s. The bank having the right amount in the account is up to the account owner and the bank. An outsider accessing the account and changing the number on the computer display without affecting the cash in the bank is a cybersecurity problem, specifically an Integrity problem.

Availability: means making the right devices and information available to the right people, and only those people. For example, you should be able to trust that your bank’s website will have the correct information and that the information can always be accessed as long as the person has the credentials (username and password.) A user’s bank information should not be available to anyone but the user. Banks and their employees have their own systems and ways to access those systems that also follow the CIA Triad. 

Something or someone becomes a threat when they take action to hinder one of those three categories. There are plenty of news stories about a large company or piece of infrastructure coming under attack because someone with knowledge of a machine’s weakness was able to accurately target it. The worst thing about all this: they evolve. Technology moves fast. With each new iteration of software (for example Windows 11 Operating System) there is a way to attack and manipulate it, sometimes without even gaining access to credentials. People in the field of Cybersecurity have to make that as hard as possible and discourage people from trying to access machines and/or information they should not have.

Common threats facing individuals and organizations

Some of the most common ways people try to access machines are by using various types of malware. Malware, short for malicious software, is an overall category of programs unknowingly installed to a computer that messes with their everyday functions. Most subcategories of Malware end with the suffix -ware. Among these are Ransomware, Spyware, Adware or Bloatware, and Spyware. One common example of malware is a virus, which is a program that can reproduce itself. Viruses usually attach themselves to something coming to, going from, or already running in the computer. 

Let’s take a close look at these key terms which are common terms you might hear when cybersecurity is mentioned. 

Malware – Combination of Malicious Software. Overall category of programs unknowingly installed to a computer that messes with their everyday functions. 

Bot – Program that allows a malicious user to take over a computer. Often uses a computer for resources. 

Worm – Malware that can reproduce itself without need for another program or human interaction. 

Virus – Similar to worms, a virus can reproduce itself but requires a host program to do so.

Trojan Horse – A type of virus. A program that hides in a seemingly benign program, like an email file, and harms a computer once clicked.

Spyware – A program that may use the computer’s own functions against it, like a camera being turned on when it shouldn’t be or taking a picture of a screen without a user’s knowledge.

Keylogger – A type of spyware. A program that, once installed, can monitor and report every time a user has touched their keyboard as well as what was typed.

Ransomware – A program that blocks access to the victim’s data until a ransom is delivered. This is typically done by encrypting the contents of files, though not always. A ransom is usually money in the form of cash, credit, or a cryptocurrency like bitcoin.

Adware – Malware that displays ads.

Continue learning about cybersecurity

To continue your learning, here are important cybersecurity concepts that every beginner should know.

In upcoming articles, we’ll explore additional threats that you will encounter as you continue to learn about the field of cybersecurity, so be sure to subscribe for updates!

Article edited by: Sorrel
Originally published on TheCyberCops

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