Silhouette of a hand holding a padlock in front of a binary code background to symbolize data security and privacy.

If your organization collects or manages data, the security and privacy of that data must be one of your top priorities. The handling of sensitive data like identities, finances, or health records requires special attention to stay compliant with privacy regulations and to protect that data from malicious actors. In order to achieve data privacy, you must have data security, but not everyone knows the difference between these two terms. You must recognize and understand the differences between data security and privacy so you can successfully protect your sensitive information and achieve data compliance.

Data Security and Privacy: What’s the Difference?

At a basic level, data security is about protecting data from unauthorized access—malicious and otherwise. Data privacy, on the other hand, is about which users are authorized to access the data, and how authorized users then handle the data. Your sensitive data should be both private and secure, and many of the security measures you take will also ensure privacy, and vice versa. However, it’s important to understand the key differences between data security and privacy if you’re going to achieve compliance.

Data Security

Data Privacy

Data security is concerned with preventing unauthorized access to data. This includes protecting against breaches and leaks by malicious actors, as well as restricting access to privileged employees. Data security is achieved using technology like firewalls, network segmentation, and encryption, as well as physical barriers like biometric door locks. 

Another important component of data security is administrative policies that specify who needs access to what data. A robust security policy will allow you to create more effective firewalls and access control lists, improving both your data security and privacy.

Data privacy is more concerned with how you use sensitive data, and whether your handling of that data is in compliance with privacy laws. In general, you must inform individuals of exactly how you’re going to collect, use, and share their data. You also must receive consent, often in writing, from an individual—for example, a signed Terms of Service—before you can collect or use their personal information. 

If your organization is subject to regulations like the GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, or PCI DSS, there are very specific guidelines for how to protect the privacy of your data that may include data security measures you must take.

As you can see, there are some key differences between data security and data privacy, but there is also significant overlap. Keep in mind that while you can improve your data security without necessarily addressing privacy concerns, it’s impossible to achieve data privacy compliance without implementing effective security controls. 

Data Security vs. Data Privacy in Practice

To help illustrate the differences and overlap between data security and privacy, consider the example of a doctor’s office that allows you to make appointments and fill out paperwork on their website. When you initially create an account, you’ll be prompted to read and consent to a HIPAA privacy agreement that outlines exactly what their office is and isn’t allowed to do with your personal information. Once you consent to that agreement and enter your personal data into their system, the doctor’s office is responsible for both securing your data against hackers and keeping your data private from unauthorized persons.

If your doctor sold your personal medical data to a third party for money, or a receptionist gave out your information to a family member without your consent, they would be violating your privacy (and HIPAA regulations). If a hacker breached the doctor’s network and stole your personal information, that would be both a data security failure and a data privacy violation. Even though your doctor’s office didn’t intentionally expose your personal information to hackers, they were responsible for protecting the privacy of your data by whatever security measures were necessary, so they’re still liable.

Keeping Your Data Secure and Private

Understanding the data privacy regulations you must be compliant with is important, but it’s only the first step. The landscape for malicious and accidental breaches is constantly evolving, which means meeting the minimum requirements for compliance isn’t enough to prevent breaches or privacy violations. Data security and privacy should be a high priority for your organization and there should be buy-in at every level, from the C-suite to the frontline staff. This means, among other things, you’ll need to educate your staff on the proper handling of sensitive data as well as teach them how to spot and avoid phishing attempts and other social engineering tactics. 

Building a security and privacy culture from the ground up will provide the foundation you need to implement effective technology and tools to stay compliant and keep your data safe from breaches.

New Context can provide your organization with the tools and support you need to achieve data security and privacy. Call us at 1.888.773.8360 or contact us online to learn more. 

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