The Difference between Data Protection and Information Security

Data protection and information security are often conflated but have distinct meanings. Understanding their differences is crucial for regulatory compliance and securing personal data. Let’s explore the key distinctions through analysis of definitions, goals, solutions and roles.

How is Data Protection Different from Information Security?

Data protection focuses on ensuring proper use and management of private information. Its aim is to protect individuals and privacy rights as per privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Data protection emphasizes appropriate handling and processing of personal data. This includes obtaining informed consent for data use and providing access/correction rights to individuals. Protecting privacy is the foremost goal.

Comparatively, information security has a broader scope beyond privacy alone. It centers on preserving confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and IT systems through technical and organizational security controls.

Information security handles threats from both internal and external sources via measures like access control, encryption, patching and auditing. Upholding the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data systems is paramount rather than just privacy.

Information Security

Information Security

Information security, also known as cybersecurity or IT security, involves safeguarding data and systems from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification or destruction through establishment of security policies and implementation of technical security controls.


The key goals of information security as defined by the International Organization for Standardization(ISO) 27001 standard are to:

  1. Preserve confidentiality – Protect data from unauthorized access.
  2. Uphold integrity – Protect data from being improperly modified or deleted without consent.
  3. Ensure availability – Protect systems and data availability for authorized access.

Controls and Solutions

Common technical controls for information security include:

  • Access controls – Authentication, authorization, and access provisioning
  • Network security – Firewalls, VPNs, intrusion detection/prevention
  • Endpoint security – Antivirus, disk encryption, patch management
  • Data security – Encryption, database security, removable media management
  • Operational security – Secure configurations, change/vulnerability management

Organizational controls involve leadership support, policies, risk assessments, employee training, auditing and monitoring for ongoing risk mitigation and compliance .

Data Protection

Data Protection

Data protection refers to regulations including GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 governing how individuals’ personal data is collected, handled and stored. It aims to safeguard citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and fair processing of information.


Key principles under data protection law that organizations must follow include:

  • Lawful, fair and transparent processing
  • Specified purpose limitation
  • Data minimization
  • Accuracy
  • Storage limitation
  • Integrity and confidentiality
  • Accountability


Data protection is enforced through compliance with regulatory frameworks prescribing rules for obtaining user consent, data subject rights, breach notifications, international transfers and more. Non-compliance risks heavy penalties up to 20 million EUR or 4% annual global turnover.

Key Differences

While information security and data protection share goals of protecting information assets, their main divergence lies in scope and emphasis:

Scope – Data protection only considers personal data. Information security encompasses all data including financial records, intellectual property etc.

Focus – Data protection aims to protect individual privacy rights through fair information handling practices. Information security focuses more broadly on preserving confidentiality, integrity and availability of data systems.

Source of threats – Data protection mitigates threats from unauthorized access or misuse of personal data within the organization. Information security addresses risks internally and externally like hacking, malware or human error.

Enforcement – Data protection non-compliance draws heavy regulatory fines. Information security is enforceable through contractual obligations and industry standards like ISO 27001 rather than direct legislation alone.

Common Areas

Both share common security domains like access controls, encryption, auditing etc. to reinforce:

3 – Access Control – Identification, authentication and authorization of users and systems
4 – Data Security – Encryption, data masking, anonymization
5 – Security Operations – Patching, backups, monitoring, auditing
6 – Asset Management – Inventory, secure configurations, removable media
7 – Vulnerability Management – Scanning, remediation workflow

Coordinating these controls is crucial for holistic information technology security upholding all confidentiality, integrity and availability needs alongside specific data protection requirements.

Key Differences

Data ProtectionInformation Security
Focus on privacy rights of individualsFocus on maintaining security of data systems
Scope limited to personal dataEncompasses all data types
Mitigates internal and external privacy risksMitigates internal and external security risks
Enforced through privacy regulationsEnforced through compliance frameworks
Non-compliance draws heavy finesNon-compliance risks contractual breach

Data Protection vs Data Security

Data Protection vs Data Security

What is Data Protection As discussed earlier, data protection deals specifically with handling of personal data as per privacy regulations like GDPR. It focuses on lawful and fair collection and processing of personal information, while respecting individual rights.

Data security refers more broadly to technical and organizational measures for protecting data at rest, in transit and in use against any breaches of confidentiality, integrity or availability. This involves controls over access, networks, endpoints and operations.

Difference Between Data Protection & Data Security

While data protection and security share common security practices, their scope and emphasis diverge as one zeroes in on privacy compliance whereas the other takes a wider system security approach.

How to Manage Data Protection & Data Security

Effectively managing both requires designating privacy champions responsible for stipulating data protection policies and a Chief Information Security Officer to spearhead maintaining technical security controls.

Solutions for Data Protection

Key solutions for data protection involve conducting Privacy Impact Assessments, adopting data minimization practices, providing access and objection rights to individuals, notifying regulators of breaches promptly and maintaining proper records of processing activities.

Solutions for Data Security

Major solutions for data security comprise multi-factor authentication, whole disk encryption, patch management, identity and access controls, logging and monitoring, firewalls, antivirus, intrusion prevention, vulnerability scanning, backups and business continuity plans.

Managing Both Effectively

Integrating privacy and security programs is critical through policy alignment, coordinated risk assessment and impact analysis, interlinking roles of privacy officers and CISOs, conducting integrated audits, ensuring coordinated response structures and action plans.

Aligning Privacy and Security Teams

Privacy TeamSecurity Team
Focus on privacy complianceHandle security threats proactively
Governed by privacy lawsAdhere to security standards
Handle privacy complaintsResolve security incidents
Data minimization practicesApply security controls
Provide consent and rightsMonitor systems and events
Conduct DPIA and auditsRisk management frameworks

Case Study: IKEA Privacy and Security Measures

Furniture giant IKEA assigned dedicated privacy managers and appointed its Group CISO to oversee both data protection compliance and cyber security risk management across its global operations. They created an integrated privacy and security program establishing enterprise-wide policies aligned to industry regulations and standards. Comprehensive employee training, technical safeguards, auditing and incident response procedures helped meet legal obligations and secure customer trust through a holistic governance model.

Role of a Data Protection Officer

As per privacy laws, large organizations must designate a Data Protection Officer responsible for monitoring internal compliance, advising on data protection impact assessments, being the point of contact for data subjects and supervisory authorities, providing training to staff and reporting breaches.

Key duties of a DPO involve keeping updated on regulatory changes, auditing policies and systems, conducting privacy investigations and crafting mitigation strategies. They act as a bridge between technical security teams and senior leadership on privacy-related governance, risk and compliance matters.

Data Privacy Professional with InfoSec Train

Data Privacy Professional with InfoSec Train

Info sec Train is a leading training provider that offers comprehensive certification programs for privacy and security professionals. Their certified Data Protection Practitioner (CDPP) program teaches:

  • Best practices and methodologies for upholding privacy and data protection regulations
  • Conducting privacy impact and risk assessments
  • Implementing security policies, procedures and technical controls
  • Incident response and breach notification processes
  • Auditing programs and frameworks like ISO 27001
  • Emerging technologies’ impact on privacy such as AI, IoT and big data

The CDPP designation demonstrates expertise in governance, risk and compliance pertaining to information security, cyber security and privacy law. It is awarded upon passing a rigorous exam testing knowledge across legal frameworks like GDPR and technical domains concerning both protection and security.

Solutions for Aligning Privacy and Security Teams

Some effective solutions for aligning privacy and security teams include:

  • Conducting regular integrated risk assessments covering both personal data handling risks and cyber security threats
  • Developing an integrated information security and privacy policy establishing roles and responsibilities clearly
  • Implementing a coordinated audit and assurance program testing controls for both protection and security objectives
  • Creating jointly owned incident response procedures dealing with both types of incidents holistically
  • Providing cross-functional training to build understanding between different compliance specialists
  • Fostering regular communication channels for discussion and coordination
  • Appointing an integrated risk officer overseeing all risks from a unified perspective
  • Aligning privacy and security objectives into the overall business strategy and governance framework

Case Study: Microsoft Cyber security and Privacy Strategy

Technology giant Microsoft established a unified security, privacy, and compliance division headed by their Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). They created a robust privacy engineering program where privacy and security expertise is fundamentally built into products and development processes.

Microsoft appointed data protection officers in all global regions and incorporated privacy and security reviews at various stages. Their multidisciplinary threat intelligence and incident response functions handle all incidents with data-centric privacy lenses. Privacy dashboards give real-time visibility into personal data flows. These initiatives exemplify achieving privacy by design and by default through integrated strategies.


The effectively managing both data protection and information security requires recognizing the distinct yet overlapping scopes of each discipline. While data protection focuses specifically on compliance with privacy regulations through secure handling of personal data, information security takes a broader view of protecting all information assets.

Coordinating these separate but complementary functions allows establishing robust safeguards that uphold both individuals’ privacy rights and organizations’ security posture. Designating privacy and security champions to develop aligned policies and integrated programs, through a process-oriented approach, provides the necessary governance for maximizing compliance with all relevant requirements.

Organizations that strategically bring together these critical functions through a cooperative model will be best equipped to navigate evolving privacy threats and regulations.

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