What Is the CIA Triad?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

The CIA triad is a framework that combines three key information security principles to maintain confidentiality, integrity, and access to data. Learn more about the triad, its uses, and examples of each aspect.

[Featured image] A cybersecurity analyst enacts measures backed by the CIA triad framework. He's holding a laptop and standing in a dark server room.

Confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) make up a model for information security known as the CIA Triad. The CIA triad isn’t the only information security framework, but it’s a simple way to start thinking about how to secure data, whether digital or physical. 

The triad can help organizations upgrade and maintain optimal security while allowing you to perform necessary tasks, whether your job involves computer systems, customer service, or general management.

3 parts of the CIA triad explained

Using the CIA triad, you can analyze a security situation to determine possible improvements. It gives cybersecurity professionals three broad areas to consider: confidentiality, integrity, and access. Although it may sound simple, the framework is a powerful way to search for problems and identify solutions related to information security.

Let's take a closer look at the three elements of the triad:

1. Confidentiality

Confidentiality, the first part of the triad, deals with protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access. This includes protecting information from bad actors with malicious intent and limiting access to only authorized individuals within an organization. 

You could think of confidentiality as privacy. For example, when you send an email, you're directing the email’s contents to a specific person or group of people. The protections in place that keep your email private are measures related to confidentiality. Passwords, locks, and tokens are among these measures.

2. Integrity

It's often essential that data are accurate, consistent, and trustworthy. In other words, data integrity is essential. 

A system with integrity keeps data safe from inappropriate changes, whether malicious or accidental. Some ways to maintain integrity include implementing access levels, tracking changes to the data, and properly protecting information being transferred or stored. 

Returning to our email example, when you send an email, you assume the information you relay is the information the recipient receives. If that information were somehow altered along the way—say a third party intercepted the email and changed some key points—that information has lost integrity.

3. Availability

Availability refers to the idea that the people who need access to data can get it—without affecting confidentiality or integrity. 

You want the email recipients to be able to access it, display it, and possibly even save it for future use.

This can be tricky because availability may compete with the other factors in the triad. One of the best ways to protect data is to limit its accessibility. If you have an information security role, you may have experienced pushback from customers or coworkers about information availability.

Importance of CIA triad in data security

Because information security covers so many areas, it’s crucial to have a way to analyze situations, plan changes, and improve implementations. The CIA triad gives leaders a way to think about security challenges without being security experts. It helps them identify critical issues and different solutions in a user-friendly manner. 

CIA triad examples

Information security professionals must often consider confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility in their organizations. These examples help you think about the three aspects of the CIA triad to make the system more robust.

Examples of confidentiality

An organization’s data should only be available to those who need it. For example, limiting access to human resources files, medical records, and school transcripts is often essential. However, not all information is this sensitive. Good information security considers who has authorization with the appropriate level of confidentiality without making everything secret.

Some security measures include locked cabinets to help limit access to physical files and encrypted digital files and passwords to protect information from hackers.

Examples of integrity

Data can sometimes need to be changed, so organizations need to determine who can and how. For instance, schools typically protect grade databases, so students can’t change them, but teachers can. An information system with integrity tracks and limits who can make changes to minimize the possible damage hackers, malicious employees, or human errors can inflict. 

Another aspect of data integrity is having backups and secure storage so data is available even if a fire, flood, or power outage occurs. Some regulations require maintaining records for a set period.

Examples of accessibility

All organizations have designated employees with access to specific data and permission to make changes. Therefore, the security framework must include availability. 

For instance, while all employees might have access to the company email system, detailed financial records may only be available to top-level leadership.

Information security professionals must balance accessibility with confidentiality and integrity. Meeting this challenge keeps data working for everyone.

Learn more with Coursera.

The CIA triad is one of many core concepts in information and organizational security, but it’s not the only one. Learn more about the CIA triad and other information security concepts as you prepare for an entry-level role in cybersecurity with the IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate

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