Information Systems Security


As computers and other digital devices have become essential to business

and commerce, they have also increasingly become a target for attacks. In

order for a company or an individual to use a computing device with

confidence, they must first be assured that the device is not compromised

in any way and that all communications will be secure. In this reading, we

will review the fundamental concepts of information systems security and

discuss some of the measures that can be taken to mitigate security

threats. We will begin with an overview focusing on how organizations

can stay secure. Several different measures that a company can take to

improve security will be discussed. We will then follow up by reviewing

security precautions that individuals can take in order to secure their

personal computing environment.

The Information Security Triad: Confidentiality,Integrity, Availability (CIA)


When protecting information, we want to be able to restrict access to

those who are allowed to see it; everyone else should be disallowed from

learning anything about its contents. This is the essence of

Learning Resource

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confidentiality. For example, federal law requires that universities restrict

access to private student information. The university must be sure that

only those who are authorized have access to view the grade records.

The Information Security Triad


Integrity is the assurance that the information being accessed has not

been altered and truly represents what is intended. Just as a person with

integrity means what he or she says and can be trusted to consistently

represent the truth, information integrity means information truly

represents its intended meaning. Information can lose its integrity

through malicious intent, such as when someone who is not authorized

makes a change to intentionally misrepresent something. An example of

this would be when a hacker is hired to go into the university’s system

and change a grade.

Integrity can also be lost unintentionally, such as when a computer power

surge corrupts a file or someone authorized to make a change

accidentally deletes a file or enters incorrect information.

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Information availability is the third part of the CIA triad. Availability

means that information can be accessed and modified by anyone

authorized to do so in an appropriate time frame. Depending on the type

of information, appropriate time frame can mean different things. For

example, a stock trader needs information to be available immediately,

while a salesperson may be happy to get sales numbers for the day in a

report the next morning. Companies such as will require

their servers to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Other

companies may not suffer if their web servers are down for a few minutes

once in a while.

Tools for Information Security

In order to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of

information, organizations can choose from a variety of tools. Each of

these tools can be utilized as part of an overall information‐security

policy, which will be discussed in “Security Policies.”


The most common way to identify someone is through their physical

appearance, but how do we identify someone sitting behind a computer

screen or at the ATM? Tools for authentication are used to ensure that

the person accessing the information is, indeed, who they present

themselves to be.

Authentication can be accomplished by identifying someone through one

or more of three factors: something they know, something they have, or

something they are. For example, the most common form of

authentication today is the user ID and password. In this case, the

authentication is done by confirming something that the user knows

(their ID and password). But this form of authentication is easy to

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compromise (see “Password Security” below) and stronger forms of

authentication are sometimes needed. Identifying someone only by

something they have, such as a key or a card, can also be problematic.

When that identifying token is lost or stolen, the identity can be easily

stolen. The final factor, something you are, is much harder to

compromise. This factor identifies a user through the use of a physical

characteristic, such as an eye‐scan or fingerprint. Identifying someone

through their physical characteristics is called biometrics.

A more secure way to authenticate a user is to do multi‐factor

authentication. By combining two or more of the factors listed above, it

becomes much more difficult for someone to misrepresent themselves.

An example of this would be the use of an RSA SecurID token. The RSA

device is something you have and will generate a new access code every

60 seconds. To log in to an information resource using the RSA device,

you combine something you know, a four‐digit PIN, with the code

generated by the device. The only way to properly authenticate is by both

knowing the code and having the RSA device.

Access Control

Once a user has been authenticated, the next step is to ensure that they

can only access the information resources that are appropriate. This is

done through the use of access control. Access control determines which

users are authorized to read, modify, add, and/or delete information.

Several different access control models exist. Here we will discuss two:

the access control list (ACL) and role‐based access control (RBAC).

For each information resource that an organization wishes to manage, a

list of users who have the ability to take specific actions can be created.

This is an access control list, or ACL. For each user, specific capabilities

are assigned, such as read, write, delete, or add. Only users with those

capabilities are allowed to perform those functions. If a user is not on the

list, they have no ability to even know that the information resource


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ACLs are simple to understand and maintain. However, they have several

drawbacks. The primary drawback is that each information resource is

managed separately, so if a security administrator wanted to add or

remove a user to a large set of information resources, it would be quite

difficult. And as the number of users and resources increase, ACLs

become harder to maintain. This has led to an improved method of access

control, called role‐based access control, or RBAC. With RBAC, instead of

giving specific users access rights to an information resource, users are

assigned to roles and then those roles are assigned the access. This allows

the administrators to manage users and roles separately, simplifying

administration and, by extension, improving security.

Comparison of ACL and RBAC

Access control list (ACL) and role‐based access control (RBAC)


Many times, an organization needs to transmit information over the

Internet or transfer it on external media such as a CD or flash drive. In

these cases, even with proper authentication and access control, it is

possible for an unauthorized person to get access to the data. Encryption

is a process of encoding data upon its transmission or storage so that only

authorized individuals can read it. This encoding is accomplished by a

computer program, which encodes the plain text that needs to be

transmitted; then the recipient receives the cipher text and decodes it

(decryption). In order for this to work, the sender and receiver need to

agree on the method of encoding so that both parties can communicate

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properly. Both parties share the encryption key, enabling them to encode

and decode each other’s messages. This is called symmetric key

encryption. This type of encryption is problematic because the key is

available in two different places.

An alternative to symmetric key encryption is public key encryption. In

public key encryption, two keys are used: a public key and a private key.

To send an encrypted message, you obtain the public key, encode the

message, and send it. The recipient then uses the private key to decode it.

The public key can be given to anyone who wishes to send the recipient a

message. Each user simply needs one private key and one public key in

order to secure messages. The private key is necessary in order to decrypt

something sent with the public key.

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Public Key Encryption

Sender uses public key to encode, and reader uses private key to decode

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Password Security

So why is using just a simple user ID/password not considered a

secure method of authentication? It turns out that this single‐factor

authentication is extremely easy to compromise. Good password

policies must be put in place in order to ensure that passwords

cannot be compromised. Below are some of the more common

policies that organizations should put in place.

• Require complex passwords. One reason passwords are

compromised is that they can be easily guessed. A study found

that the top three passwords people used in 2012 were

“password,” 123456 and 12345678 (Gallagher, 2012). A

password should not be simple, or a word that can be found in a

dictionary. One of the first things a hacker will do is try to crack

a password by testing every term in the dictionary. Instead, a

good password policy is one that requires the use of a minimum

of eight characters, and at least one uppercase letter, one

special character, and one number.

• Change passwords regularly. It is essential that users change

their passwords on a regular basis. Users should change their

passwords every 60 to 90 days, ensuring that any passwords

that might have been stolen or guessed will not be able to be

used against the company.

• Train employees not to give away passwords. One of the

primary methods that is used to steal passwords is to simply

figure them out by asking the users or administrators.

Pretexting occurs when an attacker calls a helpdesk or security

administrator and pretends to be a particular authorized user

having trouble logging in. Then, by providing some personal

information about the authorized user, the attacker convinces

the security person to reset the password and tell him what it is.

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Another way that employees may be tricked into giving away

passwords is through email phishing. Phishing occurs when a

user receives an email that looks as if it is from a trusted source,

such as their bank, or their employer. In the email, the user is

asked to click a link and log in to a website that mimics the

genuine website and enter their ID and password, which are

then captured by the attacker.


Another essential tool for information security is a comprehensive backup

plan for the entire organization. Not only should the data on the

corporate servers be backed up, but individual computers used

throughout the organization should also be backed up. A good backup

plan should consist of several components.

• A full understanding of the organizational information resources.

What information does the organization actually have? Where is it

stored? Some data may be stored on the organization’s servers, other

data on users’ hard drives, some in the cloud, and some on third‐

party sites. An organization should make a full inventory of all of the

information that needs to be backed up and determine the best way

to back it up.

• Regular backups of all data. The frequency of backups should be

based on how important the data is to the company, combined with

the ability of the company to replace any data that is lost. Critical

data should be backed up daily, while less critical data could be

backed up weekly.

• Off‐site storage of backup data sets. If all of the backup data is being

stored in the same facility as the original copies of the data, then a

single event, such as an earthquake, fire, or tornado, would take out

both the original data and the backup! It is essential that part of the

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backup plan is to store the data in an off‐site location.

• Test of data restoration. On a regular basis, the backups should be

put to the test by having some of the data restored. This will ensure

that the process is working and will give the organization confidence

in the backup plan.

Besides these considerations, organizations should also examine their

operations to determine what effect downtime would have on their

business. If their information technology were to be unavailable for any

sustained period of time, how would it impact the business?

Additional concepts related to backup include the following:

• Universal Power Supply (UPS). A UPS is a device that provides

battery backup to critical components of the system, allowing them

to stay online longer and/or allowing the IT staff to shut them down

using proper procedures in order to prevent the data loss that might

occur from a power failure.

• Alternate, or “hot” sites. Some organizations choose to have an

alternate site where an exact replica of their critical data is always

kept up to date. When the primary site goes down, the alternate site

is immediately brought online so that there is little or no downtime.

As information has become a strategic asset, a whole industry has sprung

up around the technologies necessary for implementing a proper backup

strategy. A company can contract with a service provider to back up all of

their data or they can purchase large amounts of online storage space and

do it themselves. Technologies such as storage area networks and archival

systems are now used by most large businesses.


Another method that an organization should use to increase security on

its network is a firewall. A firewall can exist as hardware or software (or

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both). A hardware firewall is a device that is connected to the network

and filters the packets based on a set of rules. A software firewall runs on

the operating system and intercepts packets as they arrive to a computer.

A firewall protects all company servers and computers by stopping

packets from outside the organization’s network that do not meet a strict

set of criteria. A firewall may also be configured to restrict the flow of

packets leaving the organization. This may be done to eliminate the

possibility of employees watching YouTube videos or using Facebook from

a company computer.

Network Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Partially secured section of a network

Some organizations may choose to implement multiple firewalls as part of

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their network security configuration, creating one or more sections of

their network that are partially secured. This segment of the network is

referred to as a DMZ, borrowing the term demilitarized zone from the

military, and it is where an organization may place resources that need

broader access, but still need to be secured.

Intrusion Detection Systems

Another device that can be placed on the network for security purposes

is an intrusion detection system, or IDS. An IDS does not add any

additional security; instead, it provides the functionality to identify if the

network is being attacked. An IDS can be configured to watch for specific

types of activities and then alert security personnel if that activity occurs.

An IDS also can log various types of traffic on the network for analysis

later. An IDS is an essential part of any good security setup.

Virtual Private Networks

Using firewalls and other security technologies, organizations can

effectively protect many of their information resources by making

them invisible to the outside world. But what if an employee working

from home requires access to some of these resources? What if a

consultant is hired who needs to do work on the internal corporate

network from a remote location? In these cases, a virtual private

network (VPN) is called for.

A VPN allows a user who is outside of a corporate network to take a

detour around the firewall and access the internal network from the

outside. Through a combination of software and security measures,

this lets an organization allow limited access to its networks while at

the same time ensuring overall security.

Physical Security

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An organization can implement the best authentication scheme in the

world, develop the best access control, and install firewalls and intrusion

prevention, but its security cannot be complete without implementation

of physical security. Physical security is the protection of the actual

hardware and networking components that store and transmit

information resources. To implement physical security, an organization

must identify all of the vulnerable resources and take measures to ensure

that these resources cannot be physically tampered with or stolen. These

measures include the following.

• Locked doors. It may seem obvious, but all the security in the world

is useless if an intruder can simply walk in and physically remove a

computing device. High‐value information assets should be secured

in a location with limited access.

• Physical intrusion detection. High‐value information assets should be

monitored through the use of security cameras and other means to

detect unauthorized access to the physical locations where they


• Secured equipment. Devices should be locked down to prevent them

from being stolen. One employee’s hard drive could contain all of

your customer information, so it is essential that it be secured.

• Environmental monitoring. An organization’s servers and other high‐

value equipment should always be kept in a room that is monitored

for temperature, humidity, and airflow. The risk of a server failure

rises when these factors go out of a specified range.

• Employee training. One of the most common ways thieves steal

corporate information is to steal employee laptops while employees

are traveling. Employees should be trained to secure their equipment

whenever they are away from the office.

Security Policies

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Besides the technical controls listed above, organizations also need to

implement security policies as a form of administrative control. In fact,

these policies should really be a starting point in developing an overall

security plan. A good information‐security policy lays out the guidelines

for employee use of the information resources of the company and

provides the company recourse in case an employee violates a policy.

According to the SANS Institute, a good policy is “a formal, brief, and

high‐level statement or plan that embraces an organization’s general

beliefs, goals, objectives, and acceptable procedures for a specified

subject area.” Policies require compliance; failure to comply with a policy

will result in disciplinary action. A policy does not lay out the specific

technical details, instead it focuses on the desired results. A security

policy should be based on the guiding principles of confidentiality,

integrity, and availability (SANS Institute, n.d.).

A good example of a security policy that many will be familiar with is a

web use policy. A web use policy lays out the responsibilities of company

employees as they use company resources to access the Internet.

A security policy should also address any governmental or industry

regulations that apply to the organization. For example, if the

organization is a university, it must be aware of the Family Educational

Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which restricts who has access to student

information. Health care organizations are obligated to follow several

regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability

Act (HIPAA).

A good resource for learning more about security policies is the SANS

Institute’s Information Security Policy Page.

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Mobile Security

As the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets

proliferates, organizations must be ready to address the unique

security concerns that the use of these devices bring. One of the

first questions an organization must consider is whether to allow

mobile devices in the workplace at all. Many employees already have

these devices, so the question becomes: Should we allow employees

to bring their own devices and use them as part of their employment

activities? Or should we provide the devices to our employees?

Creating a BYOD (“Bring Your Own Device”) policy allows employees

to integrate themselves more fully into their job and can bring higher

employee satisfaction and productivity. In many cases, it may be

virtually impossible to prevent employees from having their own

smartphones or iPads in the workplace. If the organization provides

the devices to its employees, it gains more control over use of the

devices, but it also exposes itself to the possibility of an

administrative (and costly) mess.

Mobile devices can pose many unique security challenges to an

organization. Probably one of the biggest concerns is theft of

intellectual property. For an employee with malicious intent, it would

be a very simple process to connect a mobile device either to a

computer via the USB port, or wirelessly to the corporate network,

and download confidential data. It would also be easy to secretly

take a high‐quality picture using a built‐in camera.

When an employee does have permission to access and save

company data on his or her device, a different security threat

emerges: that device now becomes a target for thieves. Theft of

mobile devices (in this case, including laptops) is one of the primary

methods that data thieves use.

So what can be done to secure mobile devices? It will start with a

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good policy regarding their use. According to a 2013 SANS study,

organizations should consider developing a mobile device policy that

addresses the following issues: use of the camera, use of voice

recording, application purchases, encryption at rest, Wi‐Fi

autoconnect settings, bluetooth settings, VPN use, password

settings, lost or stolen device reporting, and backup (SANS Institute,


Besides policies, there are several different tools that an organization

can use to mitigate some of these risks. For example, if a device is

stolen or lost, geolocation software can help the organization find it.

In some cases, it may even make sense to install remote data‐

removal software, which will remove data from a device if it becomes

a security risk.


When looking to secure information resources, organizations must

balance the need for security with users’ need to effectively access and

use these resources. If a system’s security measures make it difficult to

use, then users will find ways around the security, which may make the

system more vulnerable than it would have been without the security

measures! Take, for example, password policies. If the organization

requires an extremely long password with several special characters, an

employee may resort to writing it down and putting it in a drawer since it

will be impossible to memorize.

Personal Information Security

There is no way to have 100% security, but there are several simple steps

we, as individuals, can take to make ourselves more secure.

• Keep your software up to date. Whenever a software vendor

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determines that a security flaw has been found in their software,

they will release an update to the software that you can download to

fix the problem. Turn on automatic updating on your computer to

automate this process.

• Install antivirus software and keep it up to date. There are many

good antivirus software packages on the market today, including free


• Be smart about your connections. You should be aware of your

surroundings. When connecting to a Wi‐Fi network in a public place,

be aware that you could be at risk of being spied on by others

sharing that network. It is advisable not to access your financial or

personal data while attached to a Wi‐Fi hotspot. You should also be

aware that connecting USB flash drives to your device could also put

you at risk. Do not attach an unfamiliar flash drive to your device

unless you can scan it first with your security software.

• Back up your data. Just as organizations need to back up their data,

individuals need to as well. And the same rules apply: do it regularly

and keep a copy of it in another location. One simple solution for this

is to set up an account with an online backup service, such as Mozy

or Carbonite, to automate your backups.

• Secure your accounts with two‐factor authentication. Most email

and social media providers now have a two‐factor authentication

option. The way this works is simple: When you log in to your

account from an unfamiliar computer for the first time, it sends you a

text message with a code that you must enter to confirm that you

are really you. This means that no one else can log in to your

accounts without knowing your password and having your mobile

phone with them.

• Make your passwords long, strong, and unique. For your personal

passwords, you should follow the same rules that are recommended

for organizations. Your passwords should be long (eight or more

characters) and contain at least two of the following: uppercase

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letters, numbers, and special characters. You also should use

different passwords for different accounts, so that if someone steals

your password for one account, they still are locked out of your

other accounts.

• Be suspicious of strange links and attachments. When you receive an

email, tweet, or Facebook post, be suspicious of any links or

attachments included there. Do not click on the link directly if you

are at all suspicious. Instead, if you want to access the website, find

it yourself and navigate to it directly.

You can find more about these steps and many other ways to be secure

with your computing by going to Stop. Think. Connect. This website is

part of a campaign that was launched in October of 2010 by the STOP.

THINK. CONNECT. Messaging Convention in partnership with the US

government, including the White House.


As computing and networking resources have become more and more an

integral part of business, they have also become a target of criminals.

Organizations must be vigilant with the way they protect their resources.

The same holds true for us personally: as digital devices become more

and more intertwined with our lives, it becomes crucial for us to

understand how to protect ourselves.

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Study Questions

1. Briefly define each of the three members of the information

security triad.

2. What does the term authentication mean?

3. What is multi‐factor authentication?

4. What is role‐based access control?

5. What is the purpose of encryption?

6. What are two good examples of a complex password?

7. What is pretexting?

8. What are the components of a good backup plan?

9. What is a firewall?

10. What does the term physical security mean?


Gallagher, S. (2012, November 3) Born to be breached. Retrieved on May

15, 2013, from‐technology/2012/11


SANS Institute (n.d.). A short primer for developing security policies.

Retrieved from‐resources/policies/

SANS Institute (n.d.). SANS Institute's mobile device checklist. Retrieved


Licenses and Attributions

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Chapter 6: Information Systems Security (



from Information Systems for Business and Beyond by David T. Bourgeois

is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

( license. © 2014, David

T. Bourgeois. UMGC has modified this work and it is available under the

original license.

© 2023 University of Maryland Global Campus

All links to external sites were verified at the time of publication. UMGC is not responsible for the

validity or integrity of information located at external sites.

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