It’s easy to think of security and compliance as the same thing: After all, if you’re being compliant aren’t you also being secure (and vice versa)? Not quite.


The truth is that compliance doesn’t always equal security, and security doesn’t always equal compliance. Information technology has reached highs previously thought to be impossible — the industry topped $5.2 trillion in 2020 — yes, that’s a trillion with a “T.” But with this rapid growth, it naturally becomes more difficult for policies and procedures to keep up with changing tech, making it more important than ever to know exactly how companies share, store and receive information. 


IT compliance frameworks have been established to make sure that the regulation of this data happens securely, but when the rubber hits the road, things don’t always run the way they should. The good news is, a smoother ride is more than possible.


Security vs. Compliance: What’s the Difference? 

Compliance and security absolutely must work hand-in-hand, as they are both necessary to an effective business and information technology strategy. Both concepts exist in order to manage and mitigate risk, and that all-important shared goal is all the motivation in the world for them to not just coexist, but to integrate effectively and efficiently. Here’s how security vs. compliance basically breaks down. 


Defining Compliance

Compliance refers to the data stored and handled by a company, as well as what regulations (or frameworks) apply to its protection. It is often viewed as the figurative stick that motivates the donkey, rather than the carrot. 


A company may have to apply multiple compliance frameworks, though, and understanding these frameworks can be difficult. Ultimately, the goal of the frameworks is to manage risk. They oversee policies, regulations and laws, and they cover physical, financial, legal and other types of risk. These regulations are especially common in industries such as healthcare and finance. At the end of the day, compliance means that a company is — you guessed it — complying with the minimum of these security-related requirements. And speaking of security…


So, What Is Security?

Security, on the other hand, is the practice of using due diligence to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of critical business assets. Ideally, an effective security program observes all of an organization’s security needs and implements the proper physical, technical and administrative controls necessary. As such, compliance is not the main concern of a security firm, despite being important to the business. 


Security encompasses many aspects, such as physical controls as well as permissions to access a network. Standardized methods and tools provided by third-party vendors make security, in some ways, easier than compliance, which is a process that can vary especially widely, depending on the company’s data and security processes.


Secure Synergies

At a glance, we can see that a purely compliance-based strategy falls apart. This approach only focuses on the minimum required to meet the needs of the regulations and nothing more. By the same token, a security-only strategy program is directionless, too, where programs and defensive measures can be implemented but with no cohesive plan or structure.


Compliance and Security Based on Specific Frameworks

Compliance essentially studies a company’s security practices. It takes a snapshot of security processes at a single point in time and then compares that snapshot to a set of regulatory requirements. These requirements potentially come from a wide variety of different sources, which can include legislation, industry regulations and best practices. Some common compliance frameworks include the following:


  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which applies to the healthcare industry. It encompasses how a company should handle sensitive medical records and information.
  • SOX (The Sarbanes-Oxley Act) applies to the maintenance of financial data in public companies. It defines what data must be kept and for how long it needs to be held. It also outlines controls for the destruction, falsification and alteration of data.
  • The ISO 27000 family is a set of standards that outline the minimum requirements for securing information. As part of the International Organization for Standardization’s body of records, it determines the way the industry develops information security management systems (ISMS). More than a dozen different standards make up the ISO 27000 family.


Security’s Trifold Reach

At its core, security focuses on protecting your company’s IT and informational assets. While that’s admittedly a broad concept with a whole lot of reach and application, in the business world, IT security typically breaks down into three key categories of protection: 


1. Networks

Networks allow us to share information quickly around the world, but this also makes them a sensitive risk. A breached network can do huge amounts of damage to a company, with network data breaches averaging $4.35 million in costs in 2022.


We’ve all seen the damage that can happen when a data breach wreaks havoc on a company’s public image, reputation and stock price — one only needs to look at Yahoo or Equifax to be reminded of the colossal disaster that follows a compromised network. Likewise, data loss can lead to criminal liability, as compromised networks are no longer in compliance with legal regulations. This makes network protection a challenge, but an absolutely essential challenge to face.


2. Devices

When a user’s personal device connects to a company network, it’s a necessary convenience. But that connection also opens up the possibility of downloading unknown code into enterprise systems. The simple act of clicking on the wrong email can lead to fast-spreading, immensely damaging malware. 


Antivirus tools can stop attackers from gaining access to devices, while phishing attacks and viruses can be monitored constantly and isolated. But even one new attack without a known signature can take down a system for hours or days, making device security ever more important as the amount of devices we rely on increases.


3. Users

You’ve heard the term before, and you’ve heard it for a reason. Say it with us: user error.


Careless — or just plain humanly fallible — users will always be a risk for any company, and that’s just a fact of life. Whether it’s as sophisticated as a well-orchestrated phishing email or as simple as a password left on a sticky note next to the computer, mistakes happen and issues arise. This is where personnel training comes in to help limit harmful actions, whether they’re malicious or well-meaning but careless.


Security and Compliance: Why You Need Both

As a business, it pays to think of it less like “security vs. compliance” and more like a need for security and compliance working in tandem. 


Security is something that all companies need, which is why most will already have some form of protection in place when it comes to IT infrastructure, even if it’s just the bare minimum antivirus software or firewalls. But turning security practices into reliable and compliant systems is a greater challenge. Companies need to prove their compliance with the regulatory standards in order to measure up to a compliance audit.


Creating one unified system, an alliance between security and compliance is the first controlled step in mitigating risk. A security team can put in place systemic controls to protect information assets, and then a compliance team can validate that those controls are functioning as planned. That’s how synergy makes us more secure.


Two Concepts, Working Hand in Hand

A reliable, integrated system of both security and compliance is a necessary component in every sector, and knowing how each relates to data security is critical. The IT industry relies heavily on the public’s trust, and companies that provide them with information systems need to have glowing records, full stop. A failure in security can cost many millions of dollars or break a company altogether. Conversely, when security and compliance work together, the results speak for themselves:


  • Valuable assets are secured
  • Your business’s reputation is bolstered
  • You become more attractive to customers, investors and partners who value security


The good news is, security and compliance are two sides of the same coin. Each relies on the other to keep data security at its peak performance level. When a company meets compliance frameworks with its internal security measures, the implementation of both will keep data safe and a company’s reputation intact, freeing up the resources you need to move toward a brighter — and safer — future. See how with CapLinked.



Comptia – IT Industry Outlook 2020

TechTarget – Compliance

BMC – IT Security vs. IT Compliance: What’s the Difference?

UpGuard – What Is the Cost of a Data Breach in 2022?