Data privacy vs. data security: What’s the difference?

Data privacy and data security both sound very similar, almost interchangeable, as terms. In fact, they refer to two related, but nonetheless distinct, concepts. Understanding the difference between the two is extremely important, especially in a world in which data is one of the most valuable (and, when something goes wrong, volatile) assets at the disposal of a company.

Data privacy vs. data security

Data security is focused on protecting data from being compromised. This compromise could be the result of either outside attackers or from potentially malicious insiders, such as employees with an axe to grind. Meanwhile, data privacy is all about the governance of data: namely, how it’s collected, used, and shared.

Both are therefore about protecting data to various degrees, but data security focuses on protecting data from threats, such as data leaks, while data privacy is about protecting the responsible use of data. An alternate way to think about the division is that security is about protecting data, and privacy is about protecting identity.

Which is more important?

Both are critically important, and tied up heavily in the reputation of a company. A data leak can be extremely damaging to the trust that users will put in a particular company. While customers and users may have more sympathy for a company that has been targeted by hackers than they are a company that exposes user data through negligence, in each case they are likely to think twice about trusting that enterprise with their personal data in the future.

Similarly, data privacy deals with properly informing individuals about the types of data that are being collected about them, the reason for this collection, and information about how this data will be shared and with whom. If users discover that a company is not being transparent about this, it could be extremely harmful reputationally for that organization.

Both data security and data privacy are also bound by regulation. Companies have been fined for data breaches in which it is deemed that they did not take sufficient precautions to protect that data, such as not employing the proper strong encryption. Fines have also been handed out for failing to abide by rules set as the EU’s GDPR, which give users more control over how their data is gathered and used. Specific laws vary depending on both where in the world you are located, and also the type of data in question — such as data privacy in healthcare and data privacy in financial institutions (FIs). These laws are only going to become more commonplace, and tightly enforced, as time goes by.

How do you protect both?

Just because data security and data privacy are different doesn’t mean they don’t have things in common. Organizations that are looking to improve both security and privacy (which should be every organization) can address both with proper planning and strategizing. To begin with, organizations must establish a data map that shows clearly where data is being held and who has access to it.

Next, they should prioritize it according to sensitivity. This allows enterprises to place particular focus on those repositories which contain the most sensitive data, which could pose the biggest risk to users and the business if something were to happen to it.

After this, organizations must identify the owners of the data in question, as well as asking (and answering) questions about why that data is being held and for how long. They should additionally look at the flow of that data to ensure that it is not being moved in a way that breaks rules.

Finally, organizations should remediate any risks associated with the data. This means using the right technological approaches to safeguard it, ensuring that every measure is taken to guarantee both security and privacy.

Which tools can help with data privacy and data security?

As essential as both data privacy and security is, it’s no surprise to hear that there is no shortage of tools designed to help safeguard both. Consider change management tools, data masking that anonymizes data via encryption, ethical walls for maintaining separation between business groups so as to comply with M&A requirements, user rights management, user tracking, and more. Seeking out cyber security experts for advice can ensure that you’re taking all the right steps when it comes to both privacy and security of the valuable data at your command.

This is an extremely complex area, but one which is only going to get more important as time passes. It’s essential that any organization which deals with data — which, frankly, is virtually every digital business today, takes the right steps to handle data the correct way.

Fully understanding the difference between data privacy and data security is one crucial part of that journey. If it means avoiding eroded trust from customers, being the victim of cyber attacks from hackers, and facing fines and other damages from regulators, it’s an investment that no organization worth its salt should avoid making.

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