Security vs. Compliance: What’s the Difference?

Written by Jacob Acker

December 8, 2021

Business data security and protection has never been this important! Especially in this dispensation of fast digital transformation.

On one hand, advanced technology has got businesses running more smoothly and increasing their conversion rates. However, on the negative side, cybersecurity threats have also grown in sophistication, thanks to the same cutting-edge technology, which cybercriminals are taking advantage of. The result is the need for heightened IT security by businesses and strict IT compliance requirements by regulatory bodies.

But is security just another name for compliance? Is your business secure after you have all those boxes ticked in the compliance document? Let’s explore each and help you remove the blurry line between both.


In a nutshell, it’s the processes and controls involved to ensure your data, systems, and networks are masked against cyber breaches. Generally, security encompasses:

  • Data: Your data storage and transmission media are critical. Every business should have data loss and recovery plans, such as cloud backups. Additionally, proactive network monitoring should ensure that no criminals intercept the data while in transit.
  • Systems: Your systems should be physically protected and, more importantly, digitally protected against malware and attacks. This can be achieved through constant software updates or patching. And regular/automatic system scans to detect an infection/breach early. Besides, as more businesses adopt BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at the workplace, you should ensure that those personal devices accessing the company network are free from malware or security vulnerabilities.
  • Users: From phishing to reckless errors, users play a crucial role in determining whether your business is secure or not. That is why you should conduct frequent user training about security and ways to prevent attacks.


Compliance comes into play when third-party regulatory/governmental bodies are involved. Typically, compliance seeks to ensure that your business has implemented the irreducible minimums of various security standards such as HIPAA, GDPR, or PCI. Compliance aims to meet:

  • Industry regulations
  • Security frameworks
  • Government policies
  • Client contractual terms


Both. For you to be successful in business, you’ll need to both secure your business and comply with third-party regulatory or contractual guidelines. For instance, to get a DOD contract, you’ll need to comply with CMMC standards that apply to that contract. On the other hand, if you experience a breach due to weak security, you risk the loss of critical business data, revenue, and reputation damage, even if you’re compliant.

In summary, security:

  • Is done for your own sake while compliance seeks to satisfy a third party’s requirements.
  • Seeks to protect your digital assets through risk assessment, monitoring, and mitigation, but business needs drive the need for compliance.
  • Should be frequently maintained, whereas compliance is a one-time event and is complete once the regulatory body is satisfied.

To conclude everything, IT security is the practice of executing adequate technical controls to defend your systems and networks against cybersecurity threats, while compliance is applying these practices to meet third-party regulatory or contractual requirements.


Whether you’re looking to solidify your security or meet a new compliance threshold, you’ll need a good IT team to implement the required security measures. However, building an effective in-house IT team is not easy, not to mention how costly that may be. Therefore, seeking a managed security solution, such as ICS Data, is wise, practical, and cost-effective, especially for SMEs. Get in touch to get started.