When most people hear the three letters CIA in succession, they think about the U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency. But the CIA Triad actually has nothing to do with the United States government. It does, however, have everything to do with security. 

What is the CIA Triad?

CIA is an acronym that stands for confidentiality, integrity and availability. And in the field of information security (InfoSec), the CIA Triad forms the foundational cornerstone of any organization’s security infrastructure. It’s the base upon which everything else rests. Without a strong CIA Triad in place, everything else will crumble. With organizations’ heavy dependence on third parties, you need to understand and verify your vendors’ approach to the CIA Triad as well. This enables you to properly and accurately assess their cybersecurity posture.

How important is the CIA Triad? Look back at any information security problem or breach you’ve had in the past (or take an example from another company in your industry) and you’ll find that one or more of these principles have been violated. It doesn’t matter if it’s data leakage, a phishing attack, a compromised account, or a hacker infiltrating your website—virtually every incident can be traced back to an issue with confidentiality, integrity and/or availability.

Speak with any InfoSec professional and they’ll tell you that all threats and vulnerabilities are evaluated (at a fundamental level) based on the potential impact they have on each element of the CIA Triad. Based on this evaluation, the security team is able to implement the proper controls to reduce risk, neutralize threats and increase the safety of the organization.

Understanding Confidentiality

Confidentiality is the first corner of the CIA Triad. It refers to the organization’s efforts to protect sensitive data and keep it away from individuals and entities that have no reason for accessing it. The goal of confidentiality is to control access to data so that there’s no unauthorized disclosure. 

As a baseline, confidentiality is rooted in the premise that only those who are authorized to have access to a specific asset should be able to access it. Everyone else should be prevented from obtaining access.

Practically speaking, the challenge is figuring out who to grant access to and how to ensure all non-authorized users are kept out. This has ramifications both internally and externally. 

Obviously anyone outside of the organization doesn’t need access to confidential information. This of course includes third parties. But the bigger challenge is figuring out how to limit internal access and implement proper controls so that data is accessed purely on an “as needed” basis.

Confidentiality can be violated in a variety of ways, including through direct attacks and human error. A direct attack is an intentional, malicious action by which someone attempts to gain unauthorized access to an application, system or database in order to steal or tamper with data. (Man-in-the-middle attacks are a common example of direct attacks.) 

Human error is unintentional and, in some ways, more difficult to plan for. Examples include weak passwords, sharing of user accounts, theft of physical equipment/devices and failure to encrypt data.

Confidentiality can be ensured using numerous strategies. Proper training will reduce most human error issues, while advanced systems, processes and tools can combat direct attacks.

Some ways to ensure confidentiality include user IDs and passwords, two-factor authentication, biometric verification and security tokens.

At the end of the day, strong access controls are usually enough to prevent issues in this area. 

Understanding Integrity

In the world of information security, integrity refers to the process of ensuring that data hasn’t been tampered with or compromised. It’s a way of judging the trustworthiness of a database, system or network. 

Integrity is especially important from a consumer-facing perspective. Customers and clients expect a high degree of integrity from the companies they do business with and will take their business elsewhere if they can’t trust you.

Take a banking client as an example. That client has an expectation that when she puts money into her account, the correct balance will be displayed in her online dashboard and that her private information will not be tampered with.

Integrity can be compromised in a number of ways. Much like confidentiality, it can be affected via a direct attack (tampering with detection systems or changing system logs to avoid being detected), or as a result of unintentional human error (weak passwords, coding errors or a simple lack of care).

One of the key principles in maintaining integrity is the concept of non-repudiation—also known as the inability to deny a material fact. So in addition to using encryption, digital certificates, auditing and other access control mechanisms, it’s wise to implement digital signatures and blockchain protocols. These prevent situations where one party tries to deny something. The result is greater integrity.  

Understanding Availability

Finally, we come to the third corner of the CIA Triad: availability. In the simplest terms, availability refers to the degree to which systems, networks, software and applications are available when and how people need them. It’s about ensuring uptime so that users have both timely and reliable access to the resources that they need. 

This might seem like more of a technological infrastructure issue (rather than an InfoSec one), but it extends in both directions. Yes, hardware or software failure can lead to downtime. But so can denial-of-service attacks, for example. 

The key to maintaining availability is to implement the proper countermeasures that include features like regular software patching and system upgrades, hardware fault tolerance, redundancy (in networks, applications, servers and servers), denial-of-service protection solutions, disaster recovery plans, etc.

Strengthen Your CIA Triad With Panorays

It could be argued that big data is the most significant threat to confidentiality, integrity and availability within your organization. Based on the massive amount of data and the multiplicity of sources, it’s hard to account for every possible scenario. And the only way to come close is by aligning your organization with the appropriate solutions and partners.

At Panorays, our objective is to simplify and streamline third-party security risk management by making it easier for you to evaluate vendors and proactively avoid issues and threats before they compromise your organization.

For more information or to see how our solution works, please request a demo today!