Cyber security online study

Cyber Security vs Network Security

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Cyber security and network security. To the untrained eye, these seem like very similar disciplines. After all, both deal with the protection of digital data, right? However, despite some crossovers, there are major differences between the two.

And to make an informed decision when you’re choosing between a network security course and a cyber security course, it’s important to understand just how different they are.

Let’s explore the differences between network security and cyber security – from what the experts do in the day-to-day business, the career opportunities for each, and to the tools you’ll need to become the best in the biz.


Cyber security

Cyber security is a comprehensive field that aims to protect digital assets such as data, devices, and networks from a range of cyber threats, including hacking and malware attacks.

Network security

Network security is a specialized subfield within cyber security. It focuses on the protection of an organization’s IT network from cyber-attacks like unauthorized access and data breaches.

Key differences

The core difference between cyber security and network security is their scope. Cybersecurity has a broader aim to secure all forms of digital assets, while network security narrows its focus to safeguarding just the IT network of an organization.

According to PCMag:

  • Cybersecurity: “An umbrella term for all systems that protect data, networks, and computer systems from intrusion and attacks.” (Cybersecurity definition)
  • Network Security: “Protecting the computer systems in the network from unwanted intrusions. It also prevents data from being leaked or stolen from the network.” (Network Security definition)

Illustrative examples

An example of a problem that can be considered both a network and a cyber issue is when an unauthorized user gains access to a company’s internal network using a weak password, posing a risk to confidential data.

Cyber threats can also exist independently of network security issues. For instance, in one example, a phishing email deceives an employee into revealing login credentials, which are then used to access a sensitive database. Another example occurs when a flaw in a mobile application allows hackers to access personal data stored on users’ smartphones.

In the first case, network security measures such as stronger password policies could prevent the breach. In the latter two examples, the issues extend beyond the scope of network security and fall under the broader umbrella of cyber security.

Example of Cyber Security vs Network Security

Phishing attack

Think of the last phishing email you received – that shouldn’t be too hard, there are around three billion sent every day. And let’s say that, when someone clicks the link in a phishing email, it unleashes ransomware onto the device.

Cybersecurity attempts to stop this happening in the first place. From deploying software that can prevent and detect threats to encouraging basic cyber-hygiene across all teams in the business.

 But imagine the worst happens. The malicious software is loaded onto one computer.

Network security kicks in. It’s there to stop that malware hitting other servers and devices connected to the same network.

So, generally speaking, cyber security defends devices and servers from a cyber-attack. Network security protects data transmitted across connected devices and servers on an organisation’s network.

Why are Cyber and Network Security Important?

Around 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created. Every. Single. Day. From photos of our loved ones on social media to our search history to our banking information, data is the lifeblood of our interconnected world. It just doesn’t work without it. Protecting that data is critical.

In 2020, cyber-attacks rose by 17%. During the pandemic, PwC noted a major uptick in the number in cyber-attacks. TechRadar reports a 50% increase year-on-year. And it’s unlikely to change, particularly in uncertain times, as global powers (and citizen cyber-attackers) jockey for the top position.

It’s a growing threat to the way we live, work, and play. And cyber security teams are right at the coalface of this digital war against hackers and scammers.

From a business perspective, the risk issues are clear

A cyber-attack can seriously impact a company’s operations and finances. An ecommerce site, for example, struck by a cyber-attack could find itself unable to process transactions. Already, in the financial world, operational resilience has become not a ‘nice-to-have’ but a necessity. Threat of fines loom for those unable to provide the security the business (and its customers) demand.

Severe or repeated cyber-attacks may also lead to reputational problems for an organisation. After all, can you trust a bank that was well-known for losing data and exposing users to cyber-criminals? If a site is repeatedly hit by DDoS attacks, would you think twice about using it, knowing it may be unavailable exactly when you need it? Or that your order may be lost through an attack? In the competitive digital marketplace, offering real consumer choice, most will go elsewhere.

Excellent cyber security and network security defences help strengthen an organisation. Keeping systems online and up to date against the latest cyber-threats is paramount.

Cyber and Network Security Tools

Since network security is a major element of overall cyber security, you’ll find some similarities between the tools and techniques used to prevent cyber-attacks.

Cybersecurity tools

  • Firewalls
  • Antivirus software
  • Cyber-hygiene training
  • Encryption
  • PKI policies
  • Penetration testing
  • Packet sniffers
  • Web vulnerability scanning tools

Network security tools

  • Firewalls
  • Antivirus software
  • Access control
  • Sandboxing
  • Network intrusion detection
  • VPNs
  • Network security monitoring tools
  • Data loss prevention
  • Network segmentation

Should You Major in Cyber or Network Security?

To become a serious expert in the field, you’ll find plenty of options available across universities, including a masters in cyber security or gaining a cyber security graduate certificate.

A cyber security major gives you a good grounding in the broader information security sphere.

It’s a great way to learn the essentials; these courses offer an overview of cyber security, helping you understand the basic requirements across a range of different disciplines. That includes security assessment, data and access management, engineering, and, of course, network security.

A network security major, on the other hand, gives extra attention to a segment of cyber security. You have the opportunity to specialise. Students focus on the best practices within the network security environment. You can zero in on an important element of cyber security that interests you and offers certain career opportunities.

In a way, it’s the difference between majoring in English Literature and Screenplay Writing 101. By taking the former, you can learn the importance of themes and characters and iconography, for instance, which informs what a script needs. What it won’t teach you is the art of how to specifically write for the screen.

The range of cyber security online courses available is considerable, with programs having varying levels of networking content. Because cyber security invokes such a broad ‘umbrella’, it’s about identifying where your skills and interests lie.

Complementary but different majors

When it comes to cyber and network security, both complement the other, of course – these courses help you build up knowledge, experience, and skills. But those skills aren’t necessarily transferable.

By taking a general course in cyber security, you may only gain a cursory understanding of network security. By limiting yourself to just network security, the other elements necessary to manage cyber security may, likewise, be covered in only moderate depth.

If you’re wondering, should you major in cyber security vs network security, there’s no right or wrong answer. You may choose to major in network security or cyber security – and that decision should be based on what chimes with your interests. And what career options each delivers at the end of the course.

Related: Is Cyber Security Hard? How Hard?

Career Comparison


So, you want to work in network security or cyber security? In career terms, there are a lot of options open across both the cyber security and network security space. On average, expect to earn around $130,000 USD – although that figure varies from role to role, company to company.

However, you’re unlikely to find a single job description or job title that defines them.

Engineers. Technicians. Administrators. Information architects. Cyber and network security professionals are a pretty varied bunch.

Differences in daily tasks

Working in network security, your role will be based around maintaining an organisation’s IT system. This will include:

  • Controlling network and device connections and access
  • Testing the network for vulnerabilities
  • Deploying the right software and tools to support security.

Network security job titles: network security engineer, firewall administrator, network security auditor, network security architect, intrusion detection analyst, VPN support specialist, network security consultant, network penetration tester.

For cyber security professionals, you’ll be tasked with preventing data breaches from those outside the organisation. This will include:

  • Testing and updating defensive tools and software
  • Training teams across the org to ensure security best practices
  • Building security solutions to keep cyber-attackers out.

Cybersecurity job titles: information security analyst, cyber security analyst, security consultant, cyber security specialist, ethical hacker, compliance analyst, incident responder, risk assessor, cyber security architect, security software developer.

Both career paths present opportunities

As businesses continue to pursue (and evolve) their digital transformation, demand for skilled, qualified security professionals is soaring.

And since the digital world is constantly evolving, with new threats and defences flying in thick and fast, it’s an exciting career path, full of challenges and variety and scope to carve out cunning and creative ways to head off cyber-criminals before they can strike.

Finding the right role to fit your skills is important – and it starts with choosing the right technology course.

Follow Ward Allebach:
Ward Allebach simplifies the complex world of tech careers, making it accessible and engaging. He excels in comparing fields like data analysis and cybersecurity, shedding light on education and career paths. His straightforward and relatable style helps demystify challenging areas such as information technology.

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