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A Simple Guide To Data Security Standards

A Simple Guide To Data Security Standards


Data security standards have become a feature of the modern cybersecurity landscape. Most organizations will now be required to comply with at least one of them. Even if they’re not, it may be to their advantage to comply voluntarily. With that in mind, here is a brief overview of data security standards.

What are data security standards?

Data security standards are sets of guidelines, best practices, and requirements established to ensure the protection, confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information within an organization.

These are designed to provide a systematic and structured approach to managing and securing data against security threats such as unauthorized access, loss, and corruption. Complying with a data security standard forces organizations to address potential security vulnerabilities.

Many data security standards are linked with compliance programs. This means that there can be penalties for not adhering to them. In some cases, these penalties can be very severe. For example, the GDPR data security standard allows for prison sentences (albeit only in very serious cases).

Data security standards vs data security frameworks

Data security standards are sets of specific rules that organizations must follow. Data security frameworks are broader, more flexible structures that outline general principles, best practices, and methodologies for securing data. Unlike data security standards, data security frameworks can be customized to suit an organization’s specific needs and circumstances.

Applying a data security framework often lays the foundation for achieving compliance with a data security standard. For example, achieving ISO/IEC 27001:2022 certification (more commonly known as just ISO 27001 certification), lays a lot of the groundwork for many of the most common data security standards.

Key data security standards

There are numerous data security standards currently in use. Here is a brief overview of five of the main ones.

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard): Set of security standards by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council, ensuring secure handling of payment card information during transactions.

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation): European Union (EU) regulation ensuring the protection of personal data for residents of the EU and European Economic Area (EEA). GDPR is applied on the basis of residency not nationality or business location. It therefore applies to many organizations outside the EU/EEA.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act): U.S. legislation establishing standards for the privacy and security of healthcare information, and protecting patients’ medical records.

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act): U.S. federal law safeguarding the privacy of student education records, ensuring confidentiality and control over the release of such records.

FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act): U.S. legislation defining comprehensive cybersecurity requirements for federal agencies to protect government information and systems.

The benefits of complying with data security standards

Complying with data security standards will typically require some administrative effort and, therefore, cost. It’s understandable that organizations may view this as a burden, especially when money is tight.

The process of achieving and maintaining compliance with a data security standard can, however, often deliver meaningful business benefits. These can often more than justify the time, effort, and money involved. Here are five of the most common benefits of complying with data security standards.

Enhanced security: Implementing a data security standard forces organizations to prioritize security as a whole. This includes physical security. More specifically, it forces them to commit to updating their security measures promptly to reflect developments as they become known. This means that organizations will always maintain a high level of security.

Gaining a competitive advantage: Complying with a data security standard is credible proof that an organization can keep sensitive data safe. This is a very reassuring signal to potential customers. In fact, it is increasingly likely to be a requirement for winning their business.

Boosting operational resilience: Enhancing security will make it less likely that an organization will fall victim to a security breach. It will also ensure that any potential or actual security breaches are handled as efficiently as possible. This reduces the likelihood that organizations will experience severe disruptions that will negatively impact their productivity.

Improving operational efficiency: On a similar note, improving security often leads to greater operational efficiency. This is because improving security tends to involve looking at processes and seeing where the weak points are. The weak points are often the operational pain points. This means that addressing them benefits operations as well as security.

Making cost savings: Complying with a data security standard doesn’t just save organizations money in penalties they don’t have to pay. It can save them money by addressing operational inefficiencies that reduce productivity.

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