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What are the differences between network security vs. cybersecurity?

IT groups need to consider varying layers of security. For instance, the similarities and differences between cybersecurity and network security are closely entwined.

Information security, network security, cybersecurity: The industry is flooded with terms to describe how enterprises secure their network data. While the experience of wading through a mishmash of terminology to describe a specific operation or function is not limited to the networking industry, the use of various terms complicates the process of developing an effective approach to securing data within the enterprise.

In particular, confusion reigns about the differences between network security vs. cybersecurity. How do they differ? How are they the same? Let's try to clear up some confusion.

What is cybersecurity?

Technically speaking, cybersecurity considers the security of the entire cybernetic continuum. In other words, it's concerned with securing data within the networked computing space of an enterprise. In practice, this includes securing where data is stored, where it is manipulated and where it is transported. In a nutshell, cybersecurity is concerned with the protection of data -- both at rest and in motion.

More prosaically, cybersecurity can be thought of as the security of the entire computing space -- from information asset to information user -- including all the components in between. The user does not need to be a human; as a result, cybersecurity also covers communications between data processing systems. That said, when IT professionals talk in terms of cybersecurity, they are typically more concerned with the security of data that is stored and not transmitted. 

What is network security?

In modern enterprise computing infrastructure, data is as likely to be in motion as it is to be at rest. This is where network security comes in. While technically a subset of cybersecurity, network security is primarily concerned with the networking infrastructure of the enterprise. It deals with issues such as securing the edge of the network; the data transport mechanisms, such as switches and routers; and those pieces of technology that provide protection for data as it moves between computing nodes.  

Of course, all of this begs the question: If network security is simply a subset of cybersecurity, why even subdivide the domain? One reason is because cybersecurity tends to take a broad look at security, including evaluating such technologies as encryption. Encryption is important, but it's not necessarily germane to the issues enterprises face when securing the network. 

Further, it's not always network security vs. cybersecurity, as the two actually complement each other in the data protection continuum. If one thinks in terms of protecting data both at rest and in motion, then network security covers data traveling across the network, while cybersecurity deals with protecting data at rest.

The critical network security vs. cybersecurity difference

Where cybersecurity and network security differ is mostly in the application of security planning. A cybersecurity plan without a plan for network security is incomplete; however, a network security plan can typically stand alone. 

Taking a look at this in another way, network security is a subset of cybersecurity, which, in turn, is a subset of information security -- another topic entirely. However you evaluate your security needs, planning needs to work down to the lowest level. At each level, procedures and tools should ensure access to sensitive information is controlled and measures are in place to detect and mitigate any breach that would lead to disclosure of that information. Ultimately, the survival of your firm could depend on how successful you are in setting up such a framework.

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