What is Computer Security? - Definition & Basics

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  • 0:04 Defining Computer Security
  • 1:02 Computer System Components
  • 2:10 The CIA Triad
  • 2:48 Computer Security Controls
  • 3:45 Selecting Appropriate Controls
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alison Gunnels

Alison has a graduate degree in Criminal Justice.

This lesson defines computer security as a part of information security. It describes hardware, software, and firmware security. Common practices for implementing computer security are also included.

Defining Computer Security

If you want a computer to be perfectly secure, you could fill it with concrete and dump it in the ocean. This would protect any information on the computer from inappropriate use. Unfortunately, the computer would be completely unusable, so you probably don't want to do that! Since you want to both use your computer and keep it safe, you should practice good computer security. Computer security allows you to use the computer while keeping it safe from threats.

Computer security can be defined as controls that are put in place to provide confidentiality, integrity, and availability for all components of computer systems. These components include data, software, hardware, and firmware. This is a complex definition. Let's illustrate the definition by showing you a day in the life of Samantha, a security manager just hired for a small company. The company doesn't have any computer security yet, so she knows to start with the very basics.

Components of Computer Systems

Samantha's first order of business is learning about the components of the computer systems she needs to protect. She asks the IT manager what kind of hardware, firmware, and software the company uses.

  • Hardware is the physical part of the computer, like the system memory and disk drive.
  • Firmware is the permanent software that runs the processes of the computer and is mostly invisible to the user, like the start-up functions that make elements of the hardware work together.
  • Software is the programming that offers services to the user and administrator. The operating system, word processor, computer games, and Internet browser are all examples of software commonly found on a computer.

Learning about these components tells Samantha what hardware, software, and firmware she has to protect. She doesn't know what types of data she'll need to protect yet, but Samantha will work with people across the company to learn what information is stored and processed in the computer systems. Samantha knows that she'll have to learn about which data is important to the company, and she'll have to protect its confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

The CIA Triad

For confidentiality , she'll have to ensure that information is available only to the intended audience. That confidentiality includes privacy of information that may be personal and sensitive. Protecting the data's integrity is also a concern. The company needs certainty that information does not become inaccurate because of unintended changes. Finally, she'll work with the IT manager to protect the data's availability, or the ability for allowed persons to access the computer and its information whenever necessary. The protection of these qualities is her top goal as a security manager. These qualities are called the CIA triad.

Computer Security Controls

In simple language, computer security is making sure information and computer components are usable but still protected from people and software that shouldn't access or change it. The protection comes from controls, or technical, physical, and procedural choices that limit access to the computer components.

Samantha knows that controls for computer security could include virus protection, locked computer cabinets, and regular review of the people with access to the computer. She'll have to choose controls for computer security carefully in order to align the necessary user access with the minimum amount of unnecessary ability.

Samantha spends her first few weeks as security manager learning about the computer systems, data, and security needs of her company. She learns about the function each department performs and the ways that they use computers. When she understands the company's use of technology, she is ready to start adding computer security controls for the company.

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