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Welcome to the exciting world of cybersecurity

Begin your journey into cybersecurity! You’ll explore the cybersecurity field, and learn about the job responsibilities of cybersecurity professionals.

Understand risks, threats, and vulnerabilities

When security events occur, you’ll need to work in close coordination with others to address the problem. Doing so quickly requires clear communication between you and your team to get the job done.

Previously, you learned about three foundational security terms:

  • Risk: Anything that can impact the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an asset

  • Threat: Any circumstance or event that can negatively impact assets

  • Vulnerability: A weakness that can be exploited by a threat

These words tend to be used interchangeably in everyday life. But in security, they are used to describe very specific concepts when responding to and planning for security events. In this reading, you’ll identify what each term represents and how they are related.

Security risk

Security plans are all about how an organization defines risk. However, this definition can vary widely by organization. As you may recall, a risk is anything that can impact the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of an asset. Since organizations have particular assets that they value, they tend to differ in how they interpret and approach risk.

One way to interpret risk is to consider the potential effects that negative events can have on a business. Another way to present this idea is with this calculation:

Likelihood x Impact = Risk

For example, you risk being late when you drive a car to work. This negative event is more likely to happen if you get a flat tire along the way. And the impact could be serious, like losing your job. All these factors influence how you approach commuting to work every day. The same is true for how businesses handle security risks.

In general, we calculate risk in this field to help:

  • Prevent costly and disruptive events

  • Identify improvements that can be made to systems and processes

  • Determine which risks can be tolerated

  • Prioritize the critical assets that require attention

The business impact of a negative event will always depend on the asset and the situation. Your primary focus as a security professional will be to focus on the likelihood side of the equation by dealing with certain factors that increase the odds of a problem.

Risk factors

As you’ll discover throughout this course, there are two broad risk factors that you’ll be concerned with in the field:

  • Threats

  • Vulnerabilities

The risk of an asset being harmed or damaged depends greatly on whether a threat takes advantage of vulnerabilities.

Let’s apply this to the risk of being late to work. A threat would be a nail puncturing your tire, since tires are vulnerable to running over sharp objects. In terms of security planning, you would want to reduce the likelihood of this risk by driving on a clean road.

Categories of threat

Threats are circumstances or events that can negatively impact assets. There are many different types of threats. However, they are commonly categorized as two types: intentional and unintentional.

For example, an intentional threat might be a malicious hacker who gains access to sensitive information by targeting a misconfigured application. An unintentional threat might be an employee who holds the door open for an unknown person and grants them access to a restricted area. Either one can cause an event that must be responded to.

Categories of vulnerability

Vulnerabilities are weaknesses that can be exploited by threats. There’s a wide range of vulnerabilities, but they can be grouped into two categories: technical and human.

For example, a technical vulnerability can be misconfigured software that might give an unauthorized person access to important data. A human vulnerability can be a forgetful employee who loses their access card in a parking lot. Either one can lead to risk.

                     Ethical concepts that guide cybersecurity decisions


Previously, you were introduced to the concept of security ethics. Security ethics are guidelines for making appropriate decisions as a security professional. Being ethical requires that security professionals remain unbiased and maintain the security and confidentiality of private data. Having a strong sense of ethics can help you navigate your decisions as a cybersecurity professional so you’re able to mitigate threats posed by threat actors’ constantly evolving tactics and techniques. In this reading, you’ll learn about more ethical concepts that are essential to know so you can make appropriate decisions about how to legally and ethically respond to attacks in a way that protects organizations and people alike. 

Ethical concerns and laws related to counterattacks 

United States standpoint on counterattacks 

In the U.S., deploying a counterattack on a threat actor is illegal because of laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 and the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, among others. You can only defend. The act of counterattacking in the U.S. is perceived as an act of vigilantism. A vigilante is a person who is not a member of law enforcement who decides to stop a crime on their own. And because threat actors are criminals, counterattacks can lead to further escalation of the attack, which can cause even more damage and harm. Lastly, if the threat actor in question is a state-sponsored hacktivist, a counterattack can lead to serious international implications. A hacktivist is a person who uses hacking to achieve a political goal. The political goal may be to promote social change or civil disobedience. 

For these reasons, the only individuals in the U.S. who are allowed to counterattack are approved employees of the federal government or military personnel. 

International standpoint on counterattacks

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which updates its guidance regularly, states that a person or group can counterattack if: 

  • The counterattack will only affect the party that attacked first.

  • The counterattack is a direct communication asking the initial attacker to stop.

  • The counterattack does not escalate the situation.

  • The counterattack effects can be reversed.

Organizations typically do not counterattack because the above scenarios and parameters are hard to measure. There is a lot of uncertainty dictating what is and is not lawful, and at times negative outcomes are very difficult to control. Counterattack actions generally lead to a worse outcome, especially when you are not an experienced professional in the field. 

To learn more about specific scenarios and ethical concerns from an international perspective, review updates provided in the Tallinn Manual online.

Ethical principles and methodologies

Because counterattacks are generally disapproved of or illegal, the security realm has created frameworks and controls—such as the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) triad and others discussed earlier in the program—to address issues of confidentiality, privacy protections, and laws. To better understand the relationship between these issues and the ethical obligations of cybersecurity professionals, review the following key concepts as they relate to using ethics to protect organizations and the people they serve.

Confidentiality means that only authorized users can access specific assets or data. Confidentiality as it relates to professional ethics means that there needs to be a high level of respect for privacy to safeguard private assets and data.

Privacy protection means safeguarding personal information from unauthorized use. Personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive personally identifiable information (SPII) are types of personal data that can cause people harm if they are stolen. PII data is any information used to infer an individual’s identity, like their name and phone number. SPII data is a specific type of PII that falls under stricter handling guidelines, including social security numbers and credit card numbers. To effectively safeguard PII and SPII data, security professionals hold an ethical obligation to secure private information, identify security vulnerabilities, manage organizational risks, and align security with business goals. 

Laws are rules that are recognized by a community and enforced by a governing entity. As a security professional, you will have an ethical obligation to protect your organization, its internal infrastructure, and the people involved with the organization. To do this:

  • You must remain unbiased and conduct your work honestly, responsibly, and with the highest respect for the law. 

  • Be transparent and just, and rely on evidence.

  • Ensure that you are consistently invested in the work you are doing, so you can appropriately and ethically address issues that arise. 

  • Stay informed and strive to advance your skills, so you can contribute to the betterment of the cyber landscape.

 As an example, consider the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which is a U.S. federal law established to protect patients’ health information, also known as PHI, or protected health information. This law prohibits patient information from being shared without their consent. So, as a security professional, you might help ensure that the organization you work for adheres to both its legal and ethical obligation to inform patients of a breach if their health care data is exposed.