If you’re interested in thwarting cyber threats, you are probably considering a college major that emphasizes computer technology. Two of the most relevant programs of study are cybersecurity and network security.
While these computer science-related fields overlap in some major ways – like their use of computer technology and their focus on securing computer systems, data and networks from threats – they are distinct areas of focus that differ in key ways. Either option may prepare you for a career combatting cyber threats and implementing security measures, but one option may be a better fit for you than the other.
What Are Cyber Threats?
Cyber threats encompass any type of risk of breach or attack that may occur in the cyber realm. Often, the goal of cyber crimes is to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, whether by hacking into a computer system or manipulating or tricking a user of the system or network into giving up that information.
Some examples of the many types of threats or cyber attacks that necessitate cybersecurity safeguards include:
- Data cyber security breaches in which an attacker gains unauthorized access to protected data
- Cyber frauds in which an attacker uses computer technology to commit fraud – by submitting fraudulent invoices to get ahold of the recipient’s financial information, for example
- Phishing, or attempting to get password information, personal data or financial information from a person by posing as a legitimate company or organization and sending an email requesting that data
- Malware attacks, or malicious attacks that use computer software deliberately designed to interrupt, interfere with or disrupt a computer’s functions or to breach protected network systems
- Social engineering, a type of cyber attack in which the attacker deceives someone in order to get them to reveal personal, confidential or sensitive data that the attacker can then use to commit fraud or other crimes
Cyber Security vs. Network Security
Both cybersecurity and network security are fields that focus on computer or information security – in other words, on protecting Internet-connected systems and other computer systems from threats. Studying either one of these majors may prepare students for careers developing, planning, installing, maintaining, repairing, upgrading and overseeing computer security infrastructure.
Differences of Scope Between Cyber Security and Network Security
Despite the overlap between the two fields, they are distinct areas of focus. The biggest difference between cyber security vs. network security is the scope of each security-focused field.
Network security generally emphasizes the protection of computer network systems from cyber threats that arise out of network vulnerabilities specifically. Cyber security refers to a broader field that encompasses information security pertaining to all types of digital attacks.
Working in either cyber security or network security involves taking steps to identify vulnerabilities, proactively implement cybersecurity measures and prepare disaster recovery policies and procedures in case of security issues like a cyber attack. In both fields, you would aim to protect computer systems from cyber security threats.
The distinction between cyber security vs. network security is whether the IT professional’s focus is on protecting the security, accessibility and confidentiality of an organization’s computer networks (as network security professionals do) or on safeguarding a broader array of systems, networks and devices from a wide-ranging assortment of security threats (as cybersecurity professionals d0).
Network security and cyber security both fit into the larger field of information security. You can think of cyber security as a subfield of information security and network security as an area of specialization within cyber security.
Network Security Vulnerabilities
What exactly counts as a network security vulnerability? These vulnerabilities may include flaws or weaknesses – physical or non-physical – in the hardware and software systems as well as the organizational processes used in the organization’s network.
Weak passwords, a failure to use multi-factor authentication to access sensitive data, unsecured email systems, firewalls that haven’t been configured properly and outdated software programs are all examples of network vulnerabilities that can leave a computer network susceptible to data breaches and other types of malicious attacks.
Network security procedures tend to focus primarily on protecting “transit data,” or data assets that are being sent or moved across platforms and virtual locations. When digital data is being sent through email, messaging apps or software or collaboration platforms, it tends to be less secure – and more vulnerable to network security strikes – than data that is inactive. As users, networks and platforms transmit data, this sensitive information is at a greater risk of unauthorized access in the event of data breaches or other digital attacks.
The Broader Challenges of Cyber Security Protection
The type of data the information security professional is charged with protecting is another distinction between work in cyber security vs. network security.
If network security focuses on the transit data contained within virtual private networks, cyber security is more concerned with protecting all the digital data streams and networks. The field of cyber security encompasses the protection of all kinds of systems and devices – computer hardware and software systems, electronic systems, servers, wireless and hardwired networks, mobile devices and the data stored on these networks, systems and devices – from all kinds of online threats.
While network security protects the transit data on an organization’s network, cyber security procedures address and aim to protect all systems, devices, networks and data involved in or connected to Internet access.
Working in Cyber Security
Not all cyber attacks result from vulnerabilities in organizations’ computer networks. If you want to develop the skills to protect against cyber attacks of all kinds, the distinction between cyber security and network security is an important one.
As a cyber security professional, you would spend your workdays putting in place cybersecurity measures that protect networks and entire systems, monitoring the system for indications of potential attacks and investigating any security breaches that may occur.
Because work in cybersecurity protects a broader range of subjects from a more diverse assortment of threats, you would not only establish and monitor network protection measures. You would also put in place a more comprehensive effective information security program and procedures for monitoring, maintaining and updating your security procedures.
Cyber Security Degree Curriculum
The biggest benefit of studying cyber security vs. network security is that you develop knowledge of a breadth of topics in computer security. Because cyber security encompasses a broader array of threats and attacks, cyber security degree programs tend to be more interdisciplinary than network security degree programs. For example, some of your coursework in a cyber security degree program may integrate concepts and methods in related areas such as criminal justice and forensics.
Naturally, students majoring in cyber security will take a lot of computer-related classes, including studies in the fundamentals of information technology (IT) and their applications, as well as courses in computer programming and web development. Cyber security majors should expect to take network security courses, including classes in the concepts and applications of networks and computer operating systems, the foundations of network security concepts and techniques and network security applications.
What else should prospective cybersecurity professionals study? You might take courses in the fundamentals of information security and information systems security, information security management and data management foundations and applications. More specialized topics of study may include cryptography and information assurance, penetration testing and vulnerability analysis, ethical hacking and hacking countermeasures, cloud security, risk management, digital forensics in cybersecurity, incident response procedures and cyber law and legal issues in information security.
Coursework pertaining to the business aspects of information technology, skills for technical writing and communication and emerging issues pertaining to topics like wireless technology and mobile devices may round out your curriculum. Gaining hands-on work experience in the field through an internship or some other type of fieldwork is often encouraged for cyber security students. Some aspiring – and even practicing – cyber security professionals now enroll in advanced degree programs to gain the more advanced level of skill needed to keep up with increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.
Working in Network Security
What can you expect from working in network security? Your job duties might encompass everything from network engineering – setting up the technical software, hardware and system infrastructure used to secure the network – to managing an organization’s rigorous password regulations and procedures. Your work will be more focused on monitoring the specific network or networks for which you are responsible and identifying and minimizing vulnerabilities.
Network Security Degree Curriculum
Students pursuing a network security major might start their studies by acquiring knowledge of networking foundations and fundamentals, including computer operating systems and the maintenance and management of computers. Coursework in network design, implementing network infrastructure, routing and switching, network programmability, enterprise networking, wireless networking and security, disaster recovery and implementing network security measures are common in the major.
A lot of courses in a computer networking major pertain to setting up and managing the network rather than to a specific network security aim. Students’ most specialized network security coursework may include classes in information security and assurance, network defense and countermeasures, vulnerability assessment and securing network infrastructure.
Job Roles in Cybersecurity and Network Security
Cyber security network security professionals may focus on different kinds of online threats or work to protect different systems, but their day-to-day work has a lot in common. Professionals in information security roles will implement software preventative measures and monitor the network or system for threats and vulnerabilities.
Technology is constantly changing – and that includes not only the measures and procedures used to protect networked systems but also the level of sophistication of digital threats. Having outdated software, hardware and systems can put a computer network or system at a greater risk of attack, so any information security professional will want to upgrade and update systems, applications and firewalls to ensure the most up-to-date information.
Architecture and Engineering Roles in Information Security
Both architects and engineers play an important role in developing computer systems and networks, as well as the preventive measures and security procedures used to protect them. Information security professionals work in both cyber security and network security engineer roles as well as cyber security and network security architect roles.
Network Security Architect
In information security, architects and engineers serve separate but related roles. Architects are generally more focused on the high-level planning and decisions pertaining to setting up networks or computer systems and the security frameworks and procedures an organization will use to protect them. A network security architect applies this function specifically to the safeguarding hardware, software, data and systems of an organization’s underlying networking infrastructure.
Cyber Security Architect
The difference between cyber security and network security that we have already established applies to roles in information security architecture, too. A cyber security architect emphasizes the planning and decision-making process, based on research and analysis of technical, legal and best practice guidelines, for developing a framework to protect networked systems from unauthorized access, digital threats and other cyber security strikes.
Network Security Engineer
Network security engineers differ from architects in that they perform more of the hands-on technical work according to the architect’s plans for cyber security and network security in the IT infrastructure. Network engineering focuses specifically on performing the technical work of installing, setting up and configuring the measures and tools used to protect the network.
Network engineers need more knowledge of the technical work of installing and implementing technology solutions than network security architects, who prepare the blueprints for an organization’s network security procedures and preventive measures.
Cyber Security Engineer
Like network engineers, a cybersecurity engineer is responsible for performing the hands-on technical work of protecting the IT infrastructure from cyberattacks. The difference between working as an engineer in cyber security vs. network security is that cyber security engineers don’t focus narrowly on the data in motion in a network but instead on systems, data and infrastructure on a larger scale.
Network Administrator Roles in Security
Network administrators aren’t security specialists. Instead, their primary focus is to set up and maintain their organization’s computer network. However, setting up and maintaining these networks with an eye toward information security and monitoring networks for unauthorized access and other threats may be part of a job in network administration, particularly in smaller companies.
Network Security Consultant
Network security consulting professionals aren’t in-house employees. Instead, these experts are brought in to advise companies on methods of improving the security of their networks.
Cyber Security Specialist
A cyber security specialist is an expert in cyber security procedures and tools. If you end up working in this Internet security position, you may be responsible for everything to do with preventive measures of cyber security, including monitoring security systems, analyzing data to detect potential threats to a company’s security system and investigating security incidents and potential data vulnerabilities.
Cyber Security Analyst
As the job title suggests, cyber security analysts focus primarily on analyzing data that pertains to digital attacks and other threats to computer security. The cyber security analyst job doesn’t revolve around the architecture job duty of planning the security framework or the network engineering work of carrying out the technical aspects of security plans. Rather, cyber security analysts focus mainly on monitoring system data to identify any threats.
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