Advanced cybersecurity threats have heightened the harm of data breaches. At the same time, individuals have become increasingly aware of the information they share with companies and expect organizations to protect that sensitive information. These two trends have led companies to invest in information security and data privacy practices.

The trends have also led to confusion about the difference between data privacy and protection. The two concepts are complementary, but they’re not identical.

Moreover, since the two ideas are fundamental to complying with various data storage and processing regulations, such as the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), understanding the difference between data protection and data privacy is essential.

This article will help you distinguish between data privacy and data protection and learn how to develop data security processes that will allow you to stay one step ahead of hackers.

What Is Data Protection?

Data protection is the set of measures, procedures, and strategies developed to assure your data’s availability, integrity, privacy, and security; the concept is also known as data security or information security. The objective is to keep your data safe – internal company information and your client’s data.

Frameworks such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) propose data protection solutions to safeguard Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and cardholder data. Different types of data protection practices exist, depending upon the requirements of various government and industry regulations.

Access Controls

Data access is the first element of a data protection policy, and access controls define who can access what data. The Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) suggests that users should only have access to the data and resources necessary for their job. This type of data security limits physical and digital access to critical systems and information and protects access to endpoints and digital spaces.


Authentication is related to access controls. It refers to the precise identification of the users of a network before allowing access to the information. Strong passwords are no longer enough to protect a network; multi-factor authentication methods are now employed to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

Backups and Recovery

Data protection also refers to data availability. An organization must have processes to recover information in case of accidental or intentional data loss. With the increase in ransomware attacks worldwide, backups are one of the most effective cybersecurity practices to ensure the availability of your systems and information after an attack.


Encryption can assure the security of your data, even in the event of a data breach or leak. Encryption takes advantage of computer algorithms to transform data to an unreadable state unless the user has the correct decryption key. One-way encryption, such as hashing, is recommended for safeguarding certain data types, like Primary Account Numbers (PAN).

Data Resiliency

Data resiliency supports the availability of information. Its practices seek to prevent power outages or natural disasters from interrupting your operational chain.

Data Deletion

Data protection measures are necessary even when information is no longer helpful to an organization. Data erasure takes advantage of specialized tools that rewrite the data in storage systems to eliminate the info appropriately contained.

What Is Data Privacy?

Data privacy refers to individuals’ fundamental rights over their personal information. For companies, data privacy is the corresponding response to these rights. It refers to the subset of data protection focused on adequately handling sensitive, especially personal data.

Although there are no international data privacy regulations, there are a variety of regional and national data privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), HIPAA, and the GDPR for EU citizens.

Data privacy isn’t just about regulatory compliance. Adequate data privacy also fosters trust between businesses and their customers. The harm of mishandling PII or Protected Health Information (PHI) can devastate the reputation of data controllers or data processing companies, not to mention the fines and other legal consequences that can arise.

Data Protection vs. Data Privacy: Differences and Similarities

Although the two concepts are related, they are not interchangeable. Refusing the two can put you in compliance with information privacy regulations or at risk of cyber threats.

In general terms, data privacy focuses on creating policies; data protection enforces those policies. Consequently, the existence of one does not assure the presence of the other.

For example, data privacy guidelines can only exist with access control tools to enforce their objectives. You can also have system access restrictions that don’t address the requirements of specific data privacy rules.

Data protection aims to safeguard the assets of businesses, so it is primarily concerned with keeping dangers out. On the other hand, data privacy concerns what happens to user data: how it is stored, processed, and transferred.

Common Challenges to Data Protection

When it comes to protecting data, organizations often struggle with the following issues:

  • Insufficient access controls: Not appropriately limiting access to sensitive data through authentication and authorization can leave data vulnerable to unauthorized access and cyberattacks.
  • Weak passwords: Using simple or reused passwords makes accounts easy for hackers to breach. Multi-factor authentication is essential for data security.
  • Failing to encrypt data: Encryption protects sensitive data if devices are lost/stolen or if malware infiltrates systems. Not encrypting data puts its privacy and security at risk.
  • Lacking backups: Without proper backups, data loss from hardware failure, ransomware, or accidents can be catastrophic. Backups are key to data protection.
  • Poor key management: Encryption depends on keys being protected. Losing keys renders personal data unusable and unrecoverable.
  • Outdated security tools: Security requires constant upgrades as new cyberattack methods and vulnerabilities emerge. Legacy systems often contain weaknesses.
  • Insufficient monitoring: Attempted attacks or data breaches may only be noticed with comprehensive monitoring and alerting across all systems and apps.

Common Challenges to Data Privacy

Organizations seeking to protect data privacy often encounter difficulties with:

  • Obtaining meaningful consent: True informed consent for data collection requires clear communication without legalese per GDPR and other privacy laws.
  • Honoring data access requests: Organizations must be able to efficiently find and provide individuals’ personal data when requested as part of GDPR’s data subject rights.
  • Retaining data only as long as necessary: Establishing and following clear data retention policies aligned to regulatory requirements is complex but required.
  • Accurate personally identifiable information: Incorrect or outdated PII can lead to improper data use and handling, causing compliance issues.
  • Protecting data in transit: Encryption and access controls are essential when sharing or transferring personal data and sensitive information.
  • Vendor management: Businesses are responsible for vendors handling personal data to comply with GDPR and data privacy regulations.
  • Data subject rights enforcement: Scalable tools for managing data deletion requests, opt-outs, etc., are needed to honor individuals’ rights under GDPR.
  • International data transfers: Moving personal data across borders safely and legally while meeting GDPR and other regulatory requirements is complex.

Data Protection & Privacy Best Practices

To overcome challenges with safeguarding data, organizations should implement best practices such as:

Inventory and Classify Data

Organizations should maintain an inventory of all collected personal data and sensitive information. Data should be classified based on sensitivity levels, and appropriate protections defined in privacy policies and data protection regulations like GDPR. Only collect the minimum amount of personal data necessary to minimize compliance obligations and unauthorized access risks.

Protect Data Security

Implement access controls allowing only authorized user access to sensitive data. Enforce strong multi-factor authentication. Encrypt personal data in transit and at rest per cybersecurity best practices. Use approved data transfer methods when moving sensitive data across borders to comply with GDPR and data privacy laws.

Back Up and Recover Data

Maintain current backups of critical systems and personal data to enable recovery after outages or cyberattacks. Use immutable object storage for backups to safeguard against ransomware modification. Store backups separately from live data with proper physical safeguards.

Update and Monitor Systems

Keep software regularly updated to reduce vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to breach security. Actively monitor networks, systems, and data access to detect potential unauthorized access or data breaches.

Retain and Delete Data

Establish data retention policies aligned with HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA and other regulatory requirements. Securely delete personal data and sensitive information when no longer needed for the specified purpose.

Manage Vendors and Contractors

Audit vendor and contractor security measures when handling personal data to ensure compliance with privacy regulations. Include data protection requirements contractually.

Train Staff

Educate personnel regularly on security awareness, privacy policies, safe data handling procedures, social media use policies, and proper responses to cybersecurity incidents or data breaches.

What Industries Need to Abide By Data Privacy or Data Protection Laws?

Lots of industries gather sensitive customer information. They need to follow data privacy and protection laws.

Healthcare groups like hospitals and insurance companies store health records electronically. This is private medical data. They need to keep it safe under laws like HIPAA.

Banks, credit unions, and investment companies collect personal financial information. This includes Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and credit cards. They have to protect this under laws like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

Retailers online and in stores get customers’ personal information when they buy stuff. They need to keep data safe under PCI DSS, privacy policies, and state laws.

Schools and colleges access student records like grades and discipline history. This is private student data. They must follow education privacy laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Phone and Internet companies have customer billing details and usage records. They need to protect privacy under laws like Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI).

Government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) collect citizen data like IDs and health records. They have to keep it safe under laws like the Privacy Act.

Human Resources (HR) gets private employee information. This could be medical and financial data. HR needs to protect this under laws like HIPAA.

ZenGRC Helps Businesses Protect Their Data

Understanding how to safeguard personal data appropriately is complex. This is especially true in the United States, where state and federal regulations protect privacy. Regardless, your organization must still follow them all.

ZenGRC is governance, risk management, and compliance software that keeps up with evolving compliance rules in real-time, so you don’t have to. Quick access to information and a full view of control environments allows practical risk evaluation and management. As a result, your firm can achieve its cybersecurity requirements across a wide range of frameworks.

A single source of truth assures your organization is always audit-ready. Policies and procedures are revision-controlled and easy to find in the document repository. Workflow management features offer easy tracking, automated reminders, and audit trails. Insightful reporting and dashboards provide visibility to gaps and high-risk areas.

Schedule a demo today to see how ZenGRC can assist you in achieving compliance.