The Difference Between Cyber Security and IT Security

Edited by Owen Dubiel


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It’s fairly commonplace for people to use the terms cybersecurity and information technology (IT) security interchangeably. In most cases, this isn’t an egregious mix-up, but these two terms describe different scopes of responsibility when it comes to security. While this kind of confusion is harmless in most cases, the growing list of attacks in the past few years demands some clarity in this industry, even when only describing these two forms of digital security.

IT security covers a broader area, including both digital and analog information, and deals with all kinds of threats, internal and external. IT security also involves physical access control and data management policies. Cybersecurity focuses more narrowly on threats from the internet that could compromise the system. Cybersecurity also deals with cyber crimes, attacks, frauds, and law enforcement. Cyber security is more focused on preventative and risk management measures.

Key takeaways:

  • IT security is an umbrella term that encompasses the whole field of data security, both physical and digital.
  • Cyber security is a subset of IT security that specializes in online spaces and data safety.
  • Both fields are necessary for the majority of businesses, though cyber security is becoming the more dominant field as cloud-based infrastructure becomes more and more common.

What Is IT Security?

The technical definition of IT security refers to all practices and applications of data security, both physical and digital. IT security is an umbrella term that encompasses cybersecurity, which is a more specific type of security. More on that later.

IT security responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical security: Physical security controls are designed to prevent unauthorized personnel from gaining physical access to sensitive components
  • Technical security: Technical security controls protect data that is stored on the network or which is in transit access, into or out of the network
  • Administrative security: Administrative security controls consist of security policies and processes that control user behavior on the network

Additionally, IT security is governed by three foundational principles known as the “CIA triad.”

CIA triad principles image.

No, I’m not talking about the Central Intelligence Agency. In this instance, “CIA” stands for:

  • Confidentiality: Ensure that private or confidential information isn’t made available or disclosed to unauthorized individuals
  • Integrity: Ensure that information is changed only in a specified and authorized manner
  • Availability: Ensure that systems work promptly, and service is not denied to authorized users

All of this means that if you’re an IT security professional, you can have a working knowledge of cybersecurity without actually specializing or working in it at all. IT security professionals can deal with everything from ensuring physical security to company devices to ensuring consistent, secure connections to a network. The range is quite expansive.

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a subcategory of IT security that deals exclusively in the digital sphere. Cybersecurity doesn’t deal with physical security of devices and locations. Instead, the main focuses of cybersecurity involve data, including where it is, where it is going, where it is coming from, and how secure that data is.

While cybersecurity professionals don’t deal with the physical security of devices, they focus on the data on all of those devices, including servers, computers, routers, switches, modems, tablets, smartphones, and such.

What Are the Important Differences Between Cybersecurity and IT Security?

Since one is an umbrella topic, the biggest difference between IT security and cybersecurity is the scope of the work. This can be summed up as “not all IT security deals in cybersecurity, but all cybersecurity is IT security.” This means that there is a significant overlap between the two, and explains why the terms are consistently used interchangeably.

Do You Need Both IT Security and Cybersecurity?

In 99.99% of cases, you’ll need to have both cybersecurity and IT security in place as you cannot have one without the other. If you already have a cybersecurity team, you’re already dealing with some aspects of IT security. However, not all aspects of IT security are necessary in today’s cloud-driven world.

Companies no longer need to maintain their own servers on-site and instead can opt for cloud servers to handle their networking and data storage needs. Those responsibilities are shifted to the cloud by implementing cybersecurity systems which can handle them.

When it comes to the digital space, it is necessary to maintain a cybersecurity infrastructure in place to guard your data on your end, which includes watching over traffic accessing and leaving your environment, setting up and maintaining data protection policies, protecting devices on your network from malware and other forms of attack, installing computer security software, and many other responsibilities.

What Are the Different Roles in IT Security and Cybersecurity?

To handle the countless security demands in today’s digital world, there are an entire host of IT/cybersecurity roles out there that carry out the day-to-day and on-demand needs. These roles go by different names on occasion, but I’ve put together a list of these roles by their most commonly referred to titles. Here is the general list of roles in order of lowest ranking to the highest:

Information Security Analyst (ISA)/Cybersecurity Analyst

  • This is generally the entry-level role in IT/cybersecurity
  • ISAs create, test, and implement network disaster recovery plans
  • They also evaluate security tools and measures for effectiveness and gaps
  • Senior ISAs typically train staff on network and information security procedures in conjunction with systems administrators

Systems Administrator

  • Systems admins supervise networks and computers in the organization they work to ensure correct functioning
  • Establish network and data handling rules to ensure compliance standards are upheld by users
  • They arrange or repair hardware in the event of failures

Penetration Tester

  • Penetration testers are also known as “ethical hackers”
  • Penetration testers attempt to breach computers and network security systems to identify potential vulnerabilities
  • Hired to conduct security audits
  • Report out problems and mitigations needed
  • Typically a contracted hire rather than a staff position

Forensic Computer Analyst

  • Recover information from computers and storage devices
  • Brought on to assist law enforcement with forensic skills to retrieve evidence
  • Analyze attacks and work with security teams to secure weaknesses
  • Also a contracted position, similar to penetration testers

Reverse Engineer

  • The reverse engineer breaks down malware code to understand the potential vulnerability of a software
  • Tests out malware to observe its effects on existing security in a sandboxed environment
  • Tests out software and documents their findings
  • Has a solid understanding of code and systems engineering

Red/Blue Teams

  • Red teams act as offensive hackers, trying to attack your systems and simulate malicious hackers
  • Blue teams act as the defense, their main goal is to prevent attacks and harden security measures

Security Architect

  • Secure architects are responsible for designing, building, testing, and implementing cybersecurity systems
  • Understands systems and stays up-to-date with security standards, protocols, and solutions
  • Anticipates security threats and build project pipeline to address those needs

Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)

  • C-suite-level executive who manages security strategy, operations, policy, and budget
  • Responsible for the security of communications, applications, and infrastructure
  • Translates technical requirements into business use cases and reports these findings to other c-level executives like CEO and chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Essentially, the security buck stops here

Each role requires different levels of experience, specializations, and credentials to work in. Some of these roles can be combined to create hybrid roles that deal with networking and data or compliance. It all depends on the needs of your organization and if the trends are any indicator, we all could use more support in the IT security and cybersecurity departments.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cyber and IT Security

Is IT security necessary?

Yes, IT security is necessary. IT security helps to ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. IT security also helps protect the nation against external threats such as terrorist attacks, invasions by other countries, etc. IT security also helps prevent data breaches, which can result in a loss of millions of dollars for organizations.

What are some common IT security threats?

There are many common IT security threats. Some of the most common cyberattacks are malware, spyware, ransomware, phishing, social engineering, software supply chain, and advanced persistent threats. Malware is the most common cyber security threat, and it can damage or encrypt files until a ransom is paid.

How many people should be on an IT security team?

The number of people on an IT security team depends on the size of the organization and the complexity of its IT infrastructure. For example, a small business may only need one or two people on its IT security team, while a large corporation may need dozens or even hundreds of people.

How much does IT security cost?

The cost of IT security depends on the organization’s size and its IT infrastructure’s complexity. For example, a small business may only need to spend a few thousand dollars on IT security, while a large corporation may need to spend millions.

What are some IT security solutions for small businesses?

There are many IT security solutions for small businesses. Some of the most common solutions include antivirus software, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and data backup and recovery systems.

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