The classic model for information security defines three objectives of security: maintaining confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Each objective addresses a different aspect of providing protection for information.
Confidentiality refers to protecting information from being accessed by unauthorized parties. In other words, only the people who are authorized to do so can gain access to sensitive data. Imagine your bank records. You should be able to access them, of course, and employees at the bank who are helping you with a transaction should be able to access them, but no one else should. A failure to maintain confidentiality means that someone who shouldn't have access has managed to get it, through intentional behavior or by accident. Such a failure of confidentiality, commonly known as a breach, typically cannot be remedied. Once the secret has been revealed, there's no way to un-reveal it. If your bank records are posted on a public website, everyone can know your bank account number, balance, etc., and that information can't be erased from their minds, papers, computers, and other places. Nearly all the major security incidents reported in the media today involve major losses of confidentiality.
So, in summary, a breach of confidentiality means that someone gains access to information who shouldn't have access to it.
Integrity refers to ensuring the authenticity of information—that information is not altered, and that the source of the information is genuine. Imagine that you have a website and you sell products on that site. Now imagine that an attacker can shop on your web site and maliciously alter the prices of your products, so that they can buy anything for whatever price they choose. That would be a failure of integrity, because your information—in this case, the price of a product—has been altered and you didn't authorize this alteration. Another example of a failure of integrity is when you try to connect to a website and a malicious attacker between you and the website redirects your traffic to a different website. In this case, the site you are directed to is not genuine.
Availability means that information is accessible by authorized users. If an attacker is not able to compromise the first two elements of information security (see above) they may try to execute attacks like denial of service that would bring down the server, making the website unavailable to legitimate users due to lack of availability.
Original Document Information
- Author(s): Karen Scarfone, Wayne Jansen, and Miles Tracy
- Title: NIST Special Publication 800-123, Guide to General Server Security
- Last Updated Date: July 2008
- Copyright Information: This document is not subject to copyright.