Privacy vs. Security: Understanding the Difference

Privacy vs. Security: Understanding the Difference

From controversies like Cambridge Analytica to strict policies like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), privacy concerns have been in the spotlight over the past decade. As you put your energies into maintaining and monitoring cybersecurity standards across your organization, you may wonder what the real distinction is between privacy and security. How are they connected? And how can we differentiate between them? Privacy vs. security is a matter of definition, and often has to do with context – security is about the safeguarding of data, whereas privacy is about the safeguarding of user identity. Read on to learn more!

Are Data Security and Privacy the Same? 

Data security and privacy are interconnected, but they are not the same. Understanding their differences can give you a leg up in protecting your user’s identities and your organization’s assets. Privacy typically refers to the user’s ability to control, access, and regulate their personal information, and security refers to the system that protects that data from getting into the wrong hands, through a breach, leak, or cyber attack.

The other core difference between privacy and security has to do with the type of protection involved and who is seeking access to the data in question. Privacy regulations protect a user from having their information shared with a third-party without their consent or knowledge. Security measures protect a user’s data from being hacked or stolen – identity theft with malicious intent is not the same as a third-party marketer. However, when one isn’t informed that their information will be shared with a marketer, it can become a legal matter. Moreover, the more one’s privacy is compromised, the more opportunities hackers have to find it – when your data is everywhere, your data is more likely to be exposed to breaches and information security incidents

Can You Have Security Without Privacy?

You can have security without privacy, but they go better together. For example, a company may write into their privacy policy that they can share or sell a user’s data. In that case, privacy is less protected, but the organization’s systems and the systems of those they sell the data to can be secure. On the other hand, the less control users have over their data and the more that information is shared, the greater the chances are that their identifying information will be victim to a breach. 

What Is More Important: Data Security or Privacy? 

Most of the time, data security and privacy are equally important; depending on your compliance requirements however, more emphasis may be placed on one or the other. For example, if you are adhering to ISO 27001, the International Organization for Standardization’s guidelines for developing information security management systems (ISMS), your concerns will predominantly be about creating secure systems that protect your organization’s assets. One of those assets may be employee data or PHI, but privacy isn’t front and center. If you are adhering to HIPAA guidelines, privacy is the star of the show and security measures you must take to comply with HIPAA are all designed to protect patients’ privacy. 

Consider one more case. Say, you are complying with NIST’s password guidelines; in this case, you’re ensuring that your users’ and employees’ passwords remain unknown to even your IT administrators, but admin has security tools, like password dictionaries and hashes, at their disposal to scan the system for default passwords and potential weak passwords. It’s possible to protect both privacy and security, and the strongest standards frame data privacy vs. security as a collaboration, not a battle. 

What About Data Privacy and Security vs. Compliance?

Compliance means ensuring that you are meeting the requirements of a standard or law; there are many situations in which a company’s compliance requirements are designed to protect user data. So, now how can we define privacy vs. security vs. compliance? Take HIPAA as an example. Compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule requires administrative and technical safeguards to ensure the privacy of a patient’s protected health information (PHI). In this case, your compliance needs place privacy and security as equally paramount to protecting a patient’s rights. In this case, data protection becomes a legal issue. In the case of data like HIV status, for example, it is has been crucial that even if the system is secure, patients know exactly who has access to their data – a third-party getting ahold of the information could expose a patient to discrimination or slander. 

Compliance to a standard or regulation generally entails thinking about privacy and security in tandem. Moreover, when you are seeking to achieve compliance with multiple standards, you will likely face significant overlap. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for example, is predominantly geared towards protecting consumer data, specifically personal identifiable information (PII). If you are ticking off the boxes on your GDPR compliance checklist, you know that anyone doing business in or with the European Union must take measures to encrypt PII. Encryption is a security tool that helps to prevent a third-party from reading, and thereby potentially exploiting or stealing, a consumer’s PII. Encryption can help to prevent a phishing or cyberattack, but it isn’t sufficient on its own. GDPR doesn’t really spend much time on security measures, though it does stipulate that security measures must match the risks a specific organization faces. It also places hefty fines on organizations that operate in the EU and are noncompliant or do experience a breach. Thus, GDPR treats security primarily as a tool for protecting privacy. 

Unfortunately, secure systems are often not enough to prevent a compromise of privacy – even internal sharing of protected health information can become a HIPAA violation, for example. In these cases, internal controls to prevent fraud and access control within an organization becomes equally important to battening down the hatches against cyber criminals.

Ready to Uplevel Your Approach to Privacy and Security?

When you have multiple compliance needs, you may have to take a multi-level and multi-standard approach to protect user data, from financial to health data. Whether you are implementing standards like ISO 27001 to create strong information security management systems or implementing HIPAA guidelines to safeguard protected health information, compliance management software can help you better organize your approach to data privacy vs. security concerns. Ensure you don’t miss anything by using a platform that can keep track of all of your compliance needs, including where privacy and security requirements overlap. The right compliance management software can make your job much simpler and ensure that you are protecting your users’ data and your organization’s internal networks against attack.

Related Articles