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6 min read

Security vs Compliance: What’s the Difference?

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As a small business owner, you know how important it is to protect your assets and follow the rules. But do you understand the difference between security and compliance? They are not the same thing, even though they are often used together.  

Security and compliance are both essential for running a successful business in the digital age. They have the same goal of managing risks and securing data, but they are different in how they do it.  

In this blog post, we will discuss security and compliance for your business. We will explain their differences and similarities. Additionally, we will highlight the importance of aligning them for operating in the digital world.  



What is IT Security? 

IT Security involves safeguarding your company's digital assets. This is done by preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing them. Unauthorized access can occur through various means such as cyber-attacks, breaches, or data leaks.   

The goal is to protect your data from different angles. This is done by implementing security measures for identity, devices, emails, documents, applications, vulnerabilities, and networks.  

Common IT security measures include using multi-factor authentication, encoding data, setting up a firewall block unauthorized access, regularly saving copies of information (backups), using antivirus software, creating data loss prevention policies, training employees on security, constantly checking for problems, and staying informed about new threats.  

IT security takes the unique technological needs of your business and finds solutions to keep your data safe. Think of it as building a Lego castle, where inside you keep a valuable treasure – your SMB. Security would be all the building blocks that make a sturdy fortress to keep out any intruders.  

what is it security

The consequences of inadequate security can be devastating for a small business faced with a data breach, leading to loss of revenue, reputational loss, and possible business shutdown.  60% of small businesses go out of business withing six months after an attack!  


What is Compliance? 

 Compliance means meeting third-party requirements to ensure a business follows set standards or rules.   

The aim is to show clients, partners, and regulators that your business follows rules to protect data and consumers' rights. This is done through a third-party assessment that proves adherence to guidelines and frameworks.  Examples of common compliance frameworks that apply to SMBs are SOC 2, NIST 800-171, ISO 27001, and HIPAA. 

In the scenario of your Lego Castle, compliance would be an audit to make sure that you followed the instructions booklet to the T: your bricks are the right brand and material -- not knock-offs, and you did not leave any holes or weak structures on the walls. 

what is it compliance

Let’s use another analogy. Think of compliance like getting your driver’s license for the first time. You can’t just walk into the DMV, tell them you are qualified to drive, and receive your license. It’s a process, and you must follow the rules.  

You must comply with all the requirements and provide evidence such as proof of residence and insurance. To drive legally, you must have a permit. Additionally, you need to practice driving and pass a written exam to demonstrate your knowledge of the laws. Finally, you must also pass a driving test to prove your ability to drive safely. While the process is inconvenient, it is necessary to ensure the safety of all drivers and reduce the risk of accidents. 

With compliance, you can’t just say your business is securing data and protecting privacy, you need to follow the rules set forth in the chosen framework and provide the evidence to a 3rd party auditor to prove your business’s security.  

The process can be lengthy and involves implementing security controls, policies, and procedures across the entire organization, as well as providing evidence (proof). 

And sure, you can skip the process and drive without a license, but if you get caught, the consequences can be severe – definitely not an acceptable risk! Similarly, failure to comply with security frameworks could cost your business in fines, penalties, or lawsuits, not to mention a damaged reputation amongst clients and stakeholders.  

By adhering to compliance, you show commitment to protecting your business by thoroughly investigating any issues. 


Similarities and Differences Between Security and Compliance

IT security and compliance both have the same objectives: to manage cyber risk and secure sensitive data and systems. They are both essential for any organization that uses technology to store, process, or transmit information.

However, they have different motivators, focus and methods, scope, outcomes, and responsibilities. 

IT Security Compliance
Manage cyber risk.

Secure sensitive data and systems.  
Manage cyber risk.

Secure sensitive data and systems. 
Driven by technical needs.
Driven by business needs.
Focus and Method
Follows industry best practices and standards to implement the physical, technical, and administrative controls to prevent, detect, and mitigate security incidents. 
Follows the guidelines and policies set by external entities to demonstrate the organization’s compliance status.
Primarily an internal initiative.

Comprehensive security beyond the baseline to protect company data.
Initiative to meet external requirements.
Meet Security Baseline to satisfy 3rd party requirements. 
Satisfy needs of the individual business.
Satisfy customers, partners, or regulatory agencies.
IT Department – security team.
Multiple departments – Leadership, HR, Legal, Finance, IT, etc. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of these areas:


security vs compliance

IT security is driven by technical needs to increase security posture to avoid data loss. It follows industry best practices and standards to implement the physical, technical, and administrative controls to prevent, detect, and mitigate security incidents.  

In contrast, compliance is driven by business needs such as investor requirements, regulatory requirements, or customer contractual requirements. It follows the guidelines and policies set by external entities to demonstrate the organization’s compliance status. IT compliance might involve conducting audits, assessments, or certifications to show that the organization meets the requirements of customers, partners, or regulatory agencies such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, GDPR, etc. 



Although the scopes intersect, IT security is primarily an internal initiative. It aims to provide comprehensive security beyond the baseline to protect company data. 

 For example, a compliance requirement may be to enforce Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). It might not specify the exact MFA implementation, so a weaker MFA method would be allowed.  IT Security strategy may choose to use password-less MFA to provide stronger protection for identities, beyond the compliance security baseline.  



data security compliance

IT security is the responsibility of the IT department, specifically the security team. They are the experts who design, implement, monitor, and maintain the security controls and processes for the organization. They are also responsible for responding to security incidents and reporting on security metrics. 

IT compliance is the responsibility of multiple departments – Leadership, HR, Legal, Finance, IT, etc. They are the stakeholders who coordinate with each other to ensure that the organization meets its compliance obligations and expectations. They are also responsible for documenting and communicating compliance status and issues to internal and external parties. 


The Importance of Aligning Security and Compliance

Compliance means meeting a set of security standards, but it does not guarantee a strong information security system. For example, having a driver's license does not make you an expert driver in every situation. To balance compliance and security, you should integrate them into your business operations.  

 importance of compliance

To align your IT security and compliance goals and strategies, you should consider your specific business needs and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Different industries, organizations, and systems may face different challenges and solutions.

You should also know the risks and requirements that affect your data and systems, have a team that works well together, and have a process that tracks and improves your results. 

 By going beyond compliance and making sure that IT supports the goals and needs of the entire business, you can align your compliance and security needs. Security and compliance are both important for protecting data and building trust with stakeholders. By understanding how they differ and relate, you can find the best way to balance them. Investing in security and compliance will benefit your organization in the long run. 

While security and compliance have unique focuses, they are essential components in safeguarding data and maintaining the trust of stakeholders. By understanding their differences and similarities, organizations can strike a balance between implementing strong security measures and meeting compliance obligations.  

Ultimately, investing in security and compliance not only protects organizations from cyber threats, but also builds a solid foundation for long-term success. So, whether you're striving for data protection to avoid a catastrophic data breach or required to be compliant to stay in business, both security and compliance play vital roles. 


Need Help Managing Security and Compliance? 

The choice is yours where to start –If you aren’t ready for compliance at this stage in the game, BEMO can get you ready for future compliance initiatives by helping you secure your Microsoft365 environment first. BEMO offers multiple levels of security packages, based on your business needs and maturity.   

If you are seeking compliance now, we will deploy our “beyond-the-baseline”, comprehensive Platinum security package along with our Managed Compliance services and coordinate the entire effort, from Compliance Automation Software and Penetration Testing to Policy Handbooks and Auditing.  And, if you haven’t migrated to the cloud yet, we will perform the migrations for free as part of our Compliance service.  

Remember, achieving compliance is a lengthy process. If it hasn’t been on your radar, you might want to start planning now! We are here to help you align and streamline your security and compliance efforts.  

Free Compliance Brief

Check out how BEMO takes care of your compliance journey, whether you need to achieve a framework attestation or you need to maintain it over time. Click here to download the brief.


Below you can read more of our blogs on security and compliance to become a pro!

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