Security vs. Compliance: What's the Difference?

What is the difference between security and compliance? This blog answers that question and more.

One of the biggest concerns in the minds of your potential clients is your company’s ability to protect itself against cyber attacks. Regulatory agencies like the IEC or GDPR have certain sets of standards in place to ensure companies are taking responsible security measures to protect their users’ digital information. 

The standards can be met to acquire compliance. Compliance certifications exist to show clients and partner companies that your organization is taking the steps to adequately protect their sensitive information.

But while security and compliance share the same objective (protecting sensitive data from cyber threats), they aren’t the same thing. It’s possible for your system to be compliant with cybersecurity standards without actually being fully secure. Likewise, the steps you should take to achieve compliance are very different than those you should take to achieve security.

What Is Security?

Security comprises all the different moves your organization makes to defend against cyber attacks. Security can be high-tech or low-tech — for example, installing a firewall and conducting cybersecurity training for your employees both fall under the umbrella of security. 

Implementing simple security measures is often not enough to defend your company against the evolving landscape of cyber threats. This is especially true when it comes to security compliance. The building blocks of cybersecurity take a bit of work to implement, but with consistent maintenance and a dedicated approach, any company of any size can build an effective cybersecurity program.

There are three main components to a complete cybersecurity program:

1. Understand risk

Many cybersecurity certifications are renewed somewhat infrequently. For example, you’re required to renew both the SOC2 attestation and the ISO 2700 certification only once per year. You need to assess your security systems for vulnerability more often than this. The best way to fully understand your level of risk is to perform risk assessment scans on a regular basis.

2. Mitigate risk

The purpose of understanding your system’s risk is so you can mitigate it.  But rather than begin patching holes indiscriminately, you should start by prioritizing the most severe risks and addressing those vulnerabilities first.

The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures system of designation assigns each known security vulnerability’s level of severity a score from 1 (least critical) to 10 (most critical). This is helpful for determining which threats pose the greatest risk to your organization in particular — meaning which threats carry the greatest potential for loss.

3. Transfer risk

Even after taking careful security measures to mitigate risk, you’re still left with residual risk. It’s impossible to completely eliminate risk altogether. The best way to protect your company against residual risk is to invest in cyber insurance. Insurance can protect you against some of the fallout in the event of a cybersecurity incident and help you recover financially.

What Is Compliance?

Compliance provides evidence of security. It exists to show clients that your system is secure without requiring them to go through the difficult process of verifying for themselves. It provides a prospective client with the confidence that their information is secured effectively when they do business with your organization.

A compliant cybersecurity system meets a certain set of cybersecurity standards that have been established by a regulatory agency. Whereas the most effective technical security measures differ from company to company according to each one’s needs, the same cybersecurity regulations apply uniformly to many different organizations. 

Usually, an organization that passes an audit performed by an objective third party is awarded a certification. Certifications of compliance demonstrate a company’s systems are verified to assure security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of customer data. The auditing process typically entails a comparison of the current state of your cybersecurity system against the relevant standards in your industry.

Be aware you must meet strict deadlines to renew compliance certifications. It can sometimes be challenging for smaller businesses to meet these deadlines without careful planning. Making this a priority by scheduling reminders to your renewal dates at least 90-days prior can help avoid any lapses in certification. 

Achieving the right certifications is essential for convincing potential clients that their data is safe with your company. However, holding a certification is not a guarantee of protection against a cyber attack. It’s only a guarantee that your cybersecurity system is compliant with the standards that are in place.

While certification and compliance are obviously closely linked, compliance can be achieved without being certified. Certification is simply proof of compliance issued by an objective third party. Regardless of external audits, your cybersecurity program should include an internal compliance program. Reviewing compliance internally is necessary to ensure your cybersecurity program is working correctly not only nominally, but also practically.

When is compliance necessary?

Security is necessary at all times — documenting compliance becomes necessary when it’s time to renew a certification in order to prove to clients that you’ve been doing the security due diligence all along. The more thorough you are in your regular security practices, the easier it becomes to adhere to compliance standards.

How Security and Compliance Work Together

Compliance and security are two sides of the same coin. While security measures are driven by business risk, compliance is fueled by legal obligation and demonstrates to your clients that they can trust your organization to keep their data free from harm. Without compliance requirements, it would be next to impossible for clients to individually verify which vendors have proper cybersecurity in place.

However, being compliant is not the same as actually being secure. You still need to take steps to understand risk, mitigate risk, and transfer risk to keep your system protected against threats. Security ensures your organization is well-protected, and compliance communicates this protection to your clients. 

You can improve your organization’s cybersecurity compliance with the help of professional IT compliance services like Trava. Trava is a cybersecurity risk management platform that integrates compliance and security into one comprehensive tool. You can ensure your organization is protected at all times with Trava’s convenient combination of assessment, insights, and insurance.