Information Technology roles are not as simple—or at least not as simple to describe—as they once were. The IT industry changes at such a rapid pace and features so many new avenues to manage, it is difficult to keep up. However, it is important to distinguish the difference between compliance and security.

While these two disciplines may come across as completely symbiotic, or as utter opposites to others, the truth lies somewhere in between. Once you are able to distinguish the finer points of each, as well as how they may best work together, they will seem like less of a clattering racket and far more harmonious.

What Is Compliance?

Compliance entails following a collection of guidelines set forth by standards and regulations to help businesses to meet best practices for a specific issue. Various bodies—such as local, state and federal governmental bodies or private and public companies—often issue policies, rules or regulations either to help businesses avoid still fines and penalties, or they help them to provide assurance to customers and vendors of best practices.

Depending on the industry, following are just a few of the most common bodies that regularly update regulations, policies, rules and more:

  • HIPAA for the healthcare industry
  • PCI DSS for the credit card industry
  • GDPR for the increased protection of EU consumer data rights and privacy
  • MAR/SOX for public companies and accounting firms
  • GLBA for financial institutions

A timely example that may help to soundly distinguish compliance from security is the new set of regulations set forth by the EU. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has laid out a full set of requirements intended to protect the data rights of European citizens. Every company that does business with EU residents must comply with these requirements for a specific reason that has nothing to do with your organization’s computing system, necessarily.

Each governing body has its own specific reasons for developing its set of standards that may or may not have anything to do with the security of a company’s system. However, the objective may well be to ensure that your computing system is secure.

Here you may see that, while many guidelines do increase security as a by-product, the real intention is to ensure that you have adhered to a set of industry standards that may have an impact on your customers, patients, business associates, investors or any other third-party stakeholders. Again, some of those requirements are in place to ensure that your internal controls are secure for a specific standard but is not the core reason for the requirements.

What Is Security?

Information technology has managed to become a completely organic facet of modern business, supporting nearly every task the modern employee performs throughout the day. From data entry to scanning a document and sending it to one’s own file drive, technology is simply the driving mechanism of collecting, processing and storing data.

With all of that data, as well as a whole collection of creative cybercriminals, you must do everything possible to protect it with solid security systems and practices.

Security indicates doing everything possible to protect information from any unauthorized or malicious access from within the company or by an unknown hacker, outside of the company.

The primary focuses of security involves the hardware, software and cloud system wherein you store your data by using passwords, firewalls, encryption tools or any other data and network safety measures.

IT managers develop and rely on a set of policies, protocols, tools and checklists that support security endeavors to keep data safe.

Compliance and Security Are Not the Same Thing

As you can tell from the respective descriptions, compliance and security have their own unique functions and intentions, no matter how much they do occasionally and meaningfully intersect.

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Compliance and Security Must Work Together

Now that you have a better idea of the specific functions and intentions of compliance, it may help to further explore the two to see how their overlapping points serve to create harmony for your business.

While their respective purposes are unique unto themselves, compliance and security can and should, whenever possible, support each other to create the most secure possible environment for all the data in your organization’s possession in order to protect customers, patients, vendors and any other interested parties. You also have a stake in avoiding fines and penalties, as well as protecting your brand reputation by complying with industry regulations and securing vital data.

How Compliance Supports Security

Most of the time, compliance offers the equivalent to a set of best business practices that can help set the foundation to your security efforts. The most common industry frameworks—think ISO, NIST, COBIT and PCI DSS—recommend protocols that have been tested and have achieved desirable results in protecting computing information environments.

Legislative acts like Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and HIPAA specifically developed iron-clad standards meant to protect IT environments from data breaches and other infiltrations.

How Security Supports Compliance

Some industry standards, such as PCI DSS, provide step-by-step instructions on how to best secure your company’s information. HIPAA, on the other hand, requires that you engage in a risk assessment that most often begins by inspecting your cybersecurity landscape. From there, HIPAA provides a set of protocols and policies to help meet your company’s needs to comply with their standards while also simply providing an added layer of security to your company.

How to Improve the Strength of Both Security and Compliance

The stage is set for security and compliance to work together in perfect harmony while never veering from their own unique and respective purposes. There are a few ways that you can boost their ability to work together for the best possible outcome for your business and other stakeholders in your business.

Catalog Your Environment

Set up a meeting with your legal compliance, risk management and IT teams to determine just what falls under the respective heading of “security” and “compliance” within your organization.

Once you have made the specific distinctions, as well as who is responsible for each, you can start to find the points where both overlap. Work with your team members to find ways to use those points of intersection to your advantage to consolidate tasks and cross-check results.

Define Your Business Objectives

Determining your organization’s business objectives, particularly when it comes to matters like security and compliance, can help you best focus your energy, time and other resources. Most likely, the priority for these matters has equal footing in your organization, so you may search for the best strategies to achieve the objectives of both, equally.

Determine the Compliance Standards That Apply to Your Organization

This core task is essential to your organization since many compliance standards feature hefty penalties and fines for non-compliance. Take a close look at your industry to determine the standard, or standards, that apply to your business.

A few key ways you can do this include:

  • Continuous Monitoring. By using this process and technology, you can detect compliance and risk issues related to your organization’s operational and financial environment.
  • Gap Analysis. As the name may suggest, gap analysis involves comparing the actual performance or outcome with the potential or desired performance defined at the outset.

Guidance for Better Security and Compliance

If you still have questions about security and compliance, our team can help you sort it all out. We understand that the never-ending stream of regulations and legislation can complicate your standard daily operations in ensuring solid information security.

Together, we can sit down and look at the nature of your business—and any compliance regulations you need to adhere too—and your computing system to see where everything stands regarding security and if we can find ways to improve it all.

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