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 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.
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.
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 timeframe. Depending on the type of information, appropriate timeframe can mean different things. For example, a stock trader needs information to be available immediately, while a sales person may be happy to get sales numbers for the day in a report the next morning. Companies such as Amazon.com will require their servers to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Other companies may not suffer if their web servers are down for a few minutes once in a while.