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Information assurance (IA) is the practice of assuring information and managing risks related to the use, processing, storage, and transmission of information or data and the systems and processes used for those purposes. Information assurance includes protection of the integrity, availability, authenticity, non-repudiation and confidentiality of user data. It uses physical, technical and administrative controls to accomplish these tasks. While focused predominantly on information in digital form, the full range of IA encompasses not only digital but also analog or physical form. These protections apply to data in transit, both physical and electronic forms as well as data at rest in various types of physical and electronic storage facilities. Information assurance as a field has grown from the practice of information security.
Information assurance is related to the field of information security, in that it is primarily concerned with the protection of information systems and their contents. Generally considered the more broadly-focused of these two fields, IA consists more of the strategic risk management of information systems rather than the creation and application of security controls. In addition to defending against malicious hackers and code (e.g., viruses), IA practitioners consider corporate governance issues such as privacy, regulatory and standards compliance, auditing, business continuity, and disaster recovery as they relate to information systems. Further, while information security draws primarily from computer science, IA is an interdisciplinary field requiring expertise in accounting, fraud examination, forensic science, management science, systems engineering, security engineering, and criminology, in addition to computer science. Therefore, IA is best thought of as a superset of information security (i.e. umbrella term).
Information Assurance is also the term used by governments, including the government of the United Kingdom, for the provision of holistic security to information systems. In this use of the term, the interdisciplinary approach set out above is somewhat lessened in that, while security/ systems engineering, business continuity/ enterprise resilience, forensic investigation and threat analysis is considered, management science, accounting and criminology is not considered in developing mitigations to the risks developed in the risk assessments conducted. HMG Information Assurance Standard 1&2, which has replaced HMG Information Security Standard 2, sets out the principles and requirements of risk management in accordance with the above principles and is one of the Information Assurance Standards currently used within the UK public sector.
The information assurance process typically begins with the enumeration and classification of the information assets to be protected. Next, the IA practitioner will perform a risk assessment for those assets. Vulnerabilities in the information assets are determined in order to enumerate the threats capable of exploiting the assets. The assessment then considers both the probability and impact of a threat exploiting a vulnerability in an asset, with impact usually measured in terms of cost to the asset's stakeholders. The sum of the products of the threats' impact and the probability of their occurring is the total risk to the information asset.
With the risk assessment complete, the IA practitioner then develops a risk management plan. This plan proposes countermeasures that involve mitigating, eliminating, accepting, or transferring the risks, and considers prevention, detection, and response to threats. A framework published by a standards organization, such as Risk IT, CobiT, PCI DSS, ISO 17799 or ISO/IEC 27002, may guide development. Countermeasures may include technical tools such as firewalls and anti-virus software, policies and procedures requiring such controls as regular backups and configuration hardening, employee training in security awareness, or organizing personnel into dedicated computer emergency response team (CERT) or computer security incident response team (CSIRT). The cost and benefit of each countermeasure is carefully considered. Thus, the IA practitioner does not seek to eliminate all risks, were that possible, but to manage them in the most cost-effective way.
After the risk management plan is implemented, it is tested and evaluated, often by means of formal audits. The IA process is an iterative one, in that the risk assessment and risk management plan are meant to be periodically revised and improved based on data gathered about their completeness and effectiveness.
There are a number of international and national bodies that issue standards on information assurance practices, policies, and procedures.
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