Security vs Compliance: Understanding Key Points of Difference

In today’s digital age, IT security, and compliance are two essential terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and objectives. Security and compliance are two critical aspects of any organization that works hand in hand to protect sensitive data and ensure regulatory adherence. Security is all about protecting an organization’s assets and information from cyber threats, while compliance is the process of adhering to laws, regulations, and industry standards.

While the two are related, they serve different purposes and require different approaches to ensure that an organization is protected from potential threats and remains in good standing with regulatory bodies. In this article, we will explore the differences between security and compliance and how organizations can achieve both to protect their digital assets and maintain regulatory compliance.

Understanding Security

IT security is a complex and ever-evolving field that requires constant attention and vigilance. Implementing robust security measures, staying up-to-date with the latest threats and vulnerabilities, and training employees to follow best practices are all critical for ensuring the safety and security of your IT systems and data.

What is Security?

IT security or information security, refers to the practice of protecting computer systems, networks, and data from unauthorized access, theft, damage, or disruption. IT cybersecurity is critical for organizations of all sizes and industries that rely on technology to store, process, and transmit sensitive information. It involves using various technologies, processes, and policies to protect digital assets and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information.

IT security involves various methods and technologies to protect systems and data from cyber threats, including malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, social engineering, and other types of cyberattacks. Cybersecurity professionals use a range of tools and techniques to identify vulnerabilities and risks to IT systems and implement controls and procedures to mitigate those risks.

Ensuring IT security is essential for any organization that wants to protect its digital assets and sensitive information. Cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated and frequent, and organizations must proactively protect their systems and data. By implementing robust IT cybersecurity measures, organizations can protect their digital assets and sensitive information, reduce the risk of cyberattacks, and maintain the trust of their customers and stakeholders.

Types of Security Threats

A threat is any potential danger that can compromise the security of an IT system. Examples include viruses, malware, phishing attacks, hacking attempts, and physical theft or damage of equipment. There are various types of IT security threats that can harm computer systems, networks, and data. Here are some of the most common types of IT security threats:

  • Malware: Malware refers to any malicious software that is designed to harm a computer system or network. This includes viruses, Trojans, ransomware, spyware, and adware.
  • Phishing: Phishing is a type of social engineering attack where attackers use fake emails, text messages, or websites to trick users into giving away sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.
  • Password attacks: Password attacks are attempts to gain unauthorized access to a computer system or network by guessing or stealing passwords. These attacks include brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, and credential stuffing attacks.
  • Denial of Service (DoS) attacks: DoS attacks are designed to overwhelm a network or website with traffic, making it unavailable to users. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks use multiple compromised systems to launch the attack.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks: MitM attacks involve intercepting and altering communication between two parties. Attackers can eavesdrop on conversations, steal data, or inject malware into the communication stream.
  • Physical attacks: Physical attacks involve stealing or damaging computer hardware, such as laptops, servers, or routers. Attackers may also gain unauthorized access to restricted areas or data centers.
  • Insider threats: Insider threats refer to employees or contractors who intentionally or accidentally compromise the security of a computer system or network. This includes unauthorized access, data theft, or sabotage.

Best Practices for Security

To protect against security threats, it’s essential to implement a layered approach to security that includes employee training and awareness, policies and procedures, and technical controls. Implementing best practices for IT security is essential to protect computer systems, networks, and data from security threats. Here are some of the most important best practices for IT security:

  • Regularly update software and hardware: Keep all software, operating systems, and hardware up-to-date with the latest security patches and upgrades to ensure they are protected against known vulnerabilities.
  • Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication: Require users to create strong passwords and enable multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Encrypt sensitive data: Use encryption to protect sensitive data both in transit and at rest. This ensures that even if data is stolen or intercepted, it cannot be read or used by unauthorized parties.
  • Implement access controls: Use access controls such as role-based access and privilege management to limit access to sensitive data to only authorized personnel.
  • Implement firewalls and antivirus software: Use firewalls and antivirus software to protect against malware and other security threats. Ensure that they are configured properly and regularly updated.
  • Regularly back up data: Regularly back up data to prevent data loss due to hardware failures, ransomware, or other security incidents.
  • Educate employees: Train employees on security best practices, such as identifying phishing emails, keeping passwords secure, and reporting security incidents.
  • Implement security policies and procedures: Establish security policies and procedures that govern how employees should use computer systems, networks, and data. Ensure that employees are aware of these policies and understand their responsibilities.

Understanding Compliance

By and large, compliance is a part of the overarching security posture. Compliance ensures that an organization is operating in a legal and ethical manner and that they are meeting the requirements of the industry and regulatory bodies they operate in. Compliance covers a wide range of areas, including data privacy, information security, financial reporting, and environmental regulations.

What is Compliance?

Compliance is the adherence to laws, regulations, and standards that govern the handling and processing of data. Compliance ensures that an organization is following the rules and regulations set forth by regulatory bodies such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, GDPR, or SOC, depending on the industry and the type of data being handled. In the context of information security, compliance means that an organization has implemented and maintained adequate security controls and procedures to protect sensitive data and meet regulatory requirements.

Compliance is not an option but a legal obligation that organizations must meet to avoid fines, legal sanctions, and reputational damage. Compliance requirements are often established by governing bodies such as government agencies or industry associations, and failure to comply can result in severe consequences, including financial penalties and loss of business. There are some compliance frameworks that are mandatory while some are more like guidelines to adhere to the industry’s best practices.

For instance, Service Organization Control Type 2 (SOC 2) is a framework that businesses can choose to follow if they need guidance to deal with data securely, whereas Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a compliance framework that healthcare companies are required to abide by.

Types of Compliance Regulations

Compliance regulations refer to the laws, regulations, and standards that govern the management and protection of information technology systems and data. There are several types of IT compliance regulations that organizations must comply with, including:

  • Data Privacy Regulations: These regulations focus on the protection of personal and sensitive information, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States.
  • Information Security Regulations: These regulations require organizations to implement appropriate security controls to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the ISO/IEC 27001.
  • Financial Regulations: These regulations aim to ensure the accuracy, transparency, and integrity of financial reporting, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
  • Health Regulations: These regulations focus on the protection of personal health information, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States.
  • Accessibility Regulations: These regulations require organizations to ensure that their digital content and services are accessible to people with disabilities, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States.

Best Practices for Compliance

It is important for organizations to implement best practices to ensure compliance with applicable regulations. Compliance with regulations helps organizations ensure that they are operating in a legal and ethical manner and that they are adequately protecting the privacy and security of their data and systems. Non-compliance can result in significant fines, legal action, and damage to an organization’s reputation. Here are some best practices for compliance:

  • Conduct Regular Risk Assessments: Organizations should conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential compliance risks and vulnerabilities. This can help organizations proactively address compliance issues before they become problematic.
  • Develop and Implement Policies and Procedures: Organizations should develop and implement policies and procedures that clearly define compliance expectations and requirements. This can help ensure that employees understand their compliance obligations and are held accountable for complying with applicable regulations.
  • Provide Employee Training: Organizations should provide regular employee training on compliance requirements and best practices. This can help ensure that employees are aware of their compliance obligations and can help reduce the risk of non-compliance.
  • Monitor and Audit Compliance: Organizations should monitor and audit compliance to identify potential issues and ensure ongoing adherence to applicable regulations. This can involve regular internal audits or third-party audits, depending on the organization’s size and complexity.
  • Establish a Compliance Program: Organizations should establish a formal compliance program that includes a designated compliance officer or team responsible for managing compliance activities. This can help ensure that compliance is a priority and that there is a structured approach to compliance management.
  • Document and Report Compliance: Organizations should document their compliance activities and report on compliance as required by applicable regulations. This can help demonstrate compliance to regulators and other stakeholders and can help avoid penalties for non-compliance.
  • Implement Technology Solutions: Organizations can implement technology solutions, such as compliance management software or data loss prevention tools, to help manage compliance activities more efficiently and effectively.

Differences between Security and Compliance

The primary difference between security and compliance is that security is about protecting the organization from potential threats, while compliance is about adhering to regulations and standards to avoid legal repercussions. While security focuses on protecting the data and systems from external and internal threats, compliance is about ensuring that the organization is meeting legal and regulatory requirements.

Security Compliance
Influenced by security threats Influenced by regulatory bodies, industry standards, and customers
Focuses more on protecting the assets of the company Focuses more on protecting the reputation of the company
Requires constant effort Requires periodical effort
Lapses in Security result in cyber attacks Lapse in Compliance results in penalties and fines

While IT security and compliance are related, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Focus: IT security is focused on protecting information technology assets from security threats, while compliance is focused on adhering to legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Scope: IT security covers all aspects of information technology, including hardware, software, networks, and data, while compliance can apply to specific areas such as data privacy, financial reporting, or environmental protection.
  • Objectives: The objective of IT security is to protect information technology assets, while the objective of compliance is to adhere to legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Implementation: IT security measures are implemented to protect information technology assets, while compliance measures are implemented to ensure adherence to legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Consequences: Failure to implement adequate IT security measures can lead to security breaches and data loss or theft, while failure to comply with legal and regulatory requirements can result in penalties, legal action, and reputational harm.

Relationship between Security and Compliance

Security and compliance are related concepts that are both important for protecting an organization’s information technology assets. As stated before, compliance is a part of the overall IT security posture. Therefore, they are closely related and often work together to achieve common goals.

The relationship between security and compliance can be described as follows:

  • Compliance requirements drive IT security: Compliance regulations and standards often require organizations to implement specific security measures to protect data and systems. Compliance requirements can provide a framework for identifying and implementing appropriate security measures.
  • Security enables compliance: Effective security measures can help organizations meet compliance requirements by protecting data and systems from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure. Security measures can also help ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data, which are key compliance objectives.
  • Non-compliance can lead to security breaches: Failure to comply with legal and regulatory requirements can result in penalties and legal action, as well as reputational harm. Non-compliance can also increase the risk of security breaches, as compliance requirements are often designed to address specific security threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Security breaches can lead to non-compliance: Security breaches can result in the loss or theft of sensitive data, which can lead to non-compliance with data privacy regulations. Security breaches can also result in disruptions to business operations, which can affect compliance with financial reporting or accessibility regulations.


While security and compliance are related concepts, they have distinct focuses and objectives. Security is about protecting information technology assets from security threats, while compliance is about adhering to legal and regulatory requirements. Organizations need to implement both security and compliance measures to protect their information technology assets and ensure legal and regulatory compliance.