The CIA Triad in Cybersecurity: Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability

The digital economy is on rapid growth, and so are digital crime and cyber attack vectors. Projections show that damages from cyber attacks will reach $10.5 trillion by 2025. Compared to 2015, a stunning 300% increase.

What we see happening is that the cyber criminals are always quick to innovate and move on to new ways. This means organizations and cybersecurity providers in general must be continuously assessing their defenses and risk levels in order to put up strong protection against attacks.

A smart model that leading companies are using to do this right is known as the CIA triad or triangle if you like.

Let's explore what it entails.

What is CIA in Cybersecurity?

In the context of cybersecurity, «CIA» is an acronym that stands for Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. These three properties are important principles that guide the design and implementation of secure systems. It has been adopted by numerous organizations worldwide, including government agencies, military organizations, and corporations.

The model is widely recognized as a fundamental principle in information security and is mentioned in many standards and guidelines, such as ISO/IEC 27001 and NIST SP 800-53.

The concept was first formally defined and introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a way to assess and prioritize information security risks. Since then, it has become a widely accepted standard in the field of information security and is used as a cornerstone for many information security frameworks and best practices.

To avoid any confusion with the US' Central Intelligence Agency, this model is sometimes referred to as the AIC triad (Availability, Integrity and Confidentiality).

Let’s now look at each of the components of the model i.e Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability

Also Read: Cybersecurity Posture Assessment

Confidentiality in CIA triad

The confidentiality component is put in place to guide the measures that protect sensitive information i.e those measures that are aimed at keeping this information as private as it should be. 

Every business, no matter the size, collects some sensitive data that it has to protect and keep confidential. This includes information such as names, phone numbers, physical addresses, card details, and email addresses of customers, employees and their stakeholders. All this is highly sensitive data which any organization must keep confidential for legal and ethical reasons.

Here are some of the various ways to ensure that the confidentiality component is effective:

  • Access control: the restriction of access to sensitive information to authorized users only, using authentication and authorization methods such as passwords, smart cards, biometrics, etc.
  • Encryption: converting sensitive data into an unreadable format to prevent unauthorized access, such as symmetric-key encryption, asymmetric-key encryption, and hashing.
  • Data masking: obscuring sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Data classification: categorizing information based on its sensitivity and applying appropriate security controls based on the level of classification.
  • Least privilege: providing users with the minimum level of access required to perform their job duties. For example, IT teams may have no need that requires them to access personal customer details, such as passwords and financial data. So it might be necessary to restrict their access to this kind of information. 
  • Physical security: protecting equipment and data stored on it from theft, damage or unauthorized access, through measures like secure data centers, security cameras, and access control systems.

In addition to the technical measures, policies, procedures, and training are also essential components of confidentiality. Policies and procedures define the rules and guidelines for protecting sensitive information and provide a framework for ensuring that information is kept confidential. Training is also important because it helps ensure that employees understand the importance of confidentiality and the measures they must take to protect sensitive information.

Assessing confidentiality capabilities and risk levels in the CIA triad involves conducting a risk assessment to identify the potential threats to confidential information and evaluating the current security controls in place to mitigate those threats. This process typically involves the following steps:

  • Identify sensitive information: Determine what information needs to be protected, including personal information, trade secrets, financial data, etc.
  • Assess threats: Analyze the potential threats to the confidentiality of the information, including internal and external threats, such as theft, or human error.
  • Evaluate security controls: Evaluate the current security controls in place to determine their effectiveness in protecting the confidential information.
  • Determine risk level: Based on the results of the risk assessment, determine the risk level to the confidentiality of the information and prioritize the areas that need improvement.
  • Develop a plan: Develop a plan to mitigate the identified risks to confidentiality. This could include implementing new security controls, improving existing controls, or developing a risk management plan.
  • Monitor and review: Continuously monitor the security controls and risk levels and regularly review and update the risk assessment procedures: are they effective enough and do they reflect the most critical modern dynamics?

Integrity in CIA triad

Integrity in the context of the CIA triad refers to the security aspect that ensures that the data remains unaltered and trustworthy. The goal of integrity is to maintain the accuracy, consistency, and reliability of data over its entire lifecycle, from creation to disposal. Data should not be tampered with or corrupted in any way.

Example: Let's say a small retail company keeps track of its inventory in a custom system. One day, an employee accidentally changes the needed quantity of a popular product from 200 units to 500 units in the inventory database. This could result in the company overordering the product, leading to overspending and waste of resources. If the company relies on the accuracy of its inventory data to make business decisions, the incorrect information could lead to poor decision-making and harm to the business. In this scenario, the employee has compromised the integrity of the inventory data, leading to potential financial and operational consequences for the company. The importance of maintaining data integrity becomes clear in situations like these, where even a small mistake can bear significant consequences. 

Assessing the capabilities and risk levels of integrity in cybersecurity requires a comprehensive approach that considers both the technical and organizational aspects of information security. A successful assessment should begin with a technical assessment to identify potential weaknesses in the system architecture, data storage and transmission, and other technical components. This can be done through security audits, penetration testing, and threat modeling. The information gathered from this assessment can then be used to identify areas where data may be vulnerable to tampering, corruption, or unauthorized changes.

Organizational assessment should also be conducted to evaluate the policies, procedures, and practices related to data integrity. This includes assessing access control policies and practices, data backup and recovery procedures, incident response and reporting processes. This can help to identify areas where organizational policies and procedures can be strengthened to enhance overall data integrity.

With the information gathered from the technical and organizational assessments, a risk assessment should be performed to determine the overall risk levels associated with data integrity. This involves prioritizing the risks based on their likelihood and impact, and developing a risk mitigation strategy to address the highest-priority risks.

Finally, based on the results of the risk assessment, technical and organizational controls should be implemented to enhance the integrity of data and systems.

Also Read: Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Testing

Availability in CIA triad

The availability component of the CIA triad refers to the accessibility of information and systems, and the ability of authorized users to access the information and systems when needed. In other words, it ensures that information and systems are available and functioning when required for business operations.

Availability is important  as it ensures that critical information and systems are constantly  accessible and functioning, enabling the smooth and efficient functioning of business operations. Availability is threatened by factors such as hardware or software failures, network outages, and natural disasters, not forgetting cyber attacks.

A good example can be illustrated through a typical retail company. Let's say the retail company has a website and an online ordering system that customers use to purchase products. If the website and online ordering system are unavailable due to a technical issue, the company would be unable to process orders and generate revenue.

To maintain availability, the company could implement measures such as having redundant servers in place, regularly backing up its systems, and implementing a disaster recovery plan. The company could also have a team in place to constantly monitor the systems and quickly resolve any technical issues that arise.

CIA Best Practices in Cybersecurity

Apply these best practices for the best results when implementing the CIA model:

Threat modeling

Use threat modeling to identify potential risks and prioritize the implementation of countermeasures based on the likelihood and impact of each threat.

Threat modeling is a structured process of analyzing the potential security risks and vulnerabilities of a system, application, or network

This approach can be used to ensure that security is integrated into the design and development process of a system.

Supply chain security

Supply chain security refers to the measures taken to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the products, services, and information that are sourced from third-party vendors and suppliers. This is important because third-party vendors and suppliers may have access to sensitive information and a security breach along the chain can have a significant impact on the overall security posture for the company. 

For example, a manufacturer that produces computer hardware may have a number of suppliers that provide components such as memory chips, hard drives, and power supplies. If one of these suppliers is hacked, sensitive information, such as intellectual property, trade secrets, and customer data, could be exposed. To prevent such incidents, the manufacturer might conduct background checks on its suppliers and implement security controls, such as encryption and access control, to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of the information and products that are sourced from those suppliers. Additionally, the manufacturer might require its suppliers to sign agreements that outline their obligations with regards to security, such as regularly updating their security controls and reporting security incidents. 

In early 2022, identity authentication services provider Okta reported that the Lapsus$ extortion group had attempted to hack an account belonging to a support engineer for a third party provider who offers customer support services to Okta. The report revealed the third party provider to be Sykes, which by then had been acquired by Sitel. As a result of this, about 2.5% of Okta's corporate customers were affected.

This example highlights the importance of ensuring that the supply chain is effectively secured and monitored at all times. 

Zero trust architecture 

Zero trust architecture is a security concept that assumes that all users, devices, and systems are potentially untrusted. Based on this assumption, it then implements strict access controls and monitoring for all users. In a zero trust architecture, access to resources is granted only after successful authentication and authorization, regardless of how often the user accesses a resource.

This is in contrast to traditional security architectures, which assume that trusted internal networks and users are secure and that threats only come from external sources or strangers. Zero trust recognizes that internal networks can also be compromised and that all access whether internal or external should be subject to the same level of scrutiny and control.

The zero trust model is gathering momentum, and it's good to see that even government agencies acknowledge its importance. The US government, for example, is already starting to build momentum for the adoption of Zero Trust Architecture.

Also read: Understanding the Power of Zero-Knowledge Encryption


Use micro-segmentation techniques to logically divide the data center network into smaller, more secure segments to limit the scope and impact of potential security incidents.

For example, consider a large enterprise network with multiple departments and systems, such as finance, human resources, research and development. Without micro-segmentation, a security breach in one part of the network, such as the finance department, could potentially spread to other parts of the network, such as human resources or research and development. With micro-segmentation, the finance department's data center would be isolated in a separate micro-segment, reducing the risk of a security breach spreading to other parts of the network.

Artificial Intelligence

Leverage AI and ML technologies to automate the different aspects of CIA in cybersecurity, as well as to improve the accuracy and efficiency of security decision-making.

For example, AI can be leveraged in the Integrity component by using AI algorithms to validate data as it is entered into a system, and detect changes in data patterns or trends that may indicate tampering.

Also Read: What to Look Out for in the Fast Changing Cybersecurity Environment


So where should you start? The idea is to make the CIA triangle the foundation of your security infrastructure. In other words when you are thinking about implementing some security systems, use the three-pronged guiding principle of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability.

Look for example at how work is evolving and more companies increasingly gearing up for the remote work revolution. A company hiring remote employees will be asking the pertinent question: How do we share our data to our remote employees in a secure manner? In such a case, the CIA triad will will provide a simple yet effective guide to ensure the company shares certain data only with employees that need it (Confidentiality), ensure that employees' access privileges do not allow them to unnecessarily alter data (Integrity) and ensure that every employee is always able to access whatever data they need (Availability).

Of course there is a lot of work and details that go into all this. But if you keep it within the triangle, then your work becomes much easier.

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