Information Security vs Privacy

Information Security vs Privacy, are the Lines Blurring?

My original title was “Data Security vs Data Protection[…]”, but an unfortunate number of people see these as pretty much the same thing, even interchangeable. Then I chose Cybersecurity instead of Data Security but that doesn’t cover all forms/formats of personal data, so I finally had to settle on Information Security.

As for Data Protection, it’s not, in and of itself Privacy, and so on…

But you see the problem already? If we can’t even agree on common terminology, how are we expected to ask the right people the right questions in order to solve our problems? But I digress…

For the purposes of this blog I have chosen the following definitions of ‘Information Security’ and ‘Privacy’:

  • Information Security – “…is the practice of preventing unauthorised access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, inspection, recording or destruction of information.”; and
    o
  • Privacy – “…is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively.”

It should be immediately obvious that these are NOT the same thing. Significant overlap, yes, but as always, security is just an enabler. Security does not dictate the goals of a business, it enables them; security does not give you privacy, it enables you to have it. A personal trainer does not make you healthy, s/he provides guidance in ONE aspect of your health goals. You still have to eat better, drink less, stop smoking, reduce stress and so on.

But now there seems to be an expectation that security people should also be privacy experts (I’m not saying they can’t be, but I actually don’t know any). Because GDPR is a big deal and ‘data protection’ is seen as the same as ‘data security’, everyone is looking to security people for guidance. Would you hire a fat personal trainer?

Take me for example: I have spent a large chunk of the last 2 years learning more about privacy (and GDPR in particular), I still consider myself 99.9% a security guy. I have even written fairly extensively on both privacy (personal opinion) and GDPR (hopefully accurately), but once again, neither of these things is what I DO. Privacy is not a core competence of security (just look at the CISSP CBKs).

But, and to the point of this blog, can a ‘security guy’ keep doing just security in the brave new world post-May 25th? The short answer is of course yes, if that’s all they want, but are they doing their careers any favours? And what about their clients? Can a security expert without at least a foundation in privacy really perform their function appropriately? For security to enable anything, they need context, privacy is now a major factor of that context for any business.

In other words, has privacy now become so important, that any field with a significant impact on it must revise its training syllabus? And given that information security has such a significant overlap with privacy, are security people best placed to take on a bigger role in providing privacy guidance?

The answer, as in everything else, is; that depends. A business has to be able to find the appropriate help, and the ‘expert’ has to have the appropriate skillset. There is no standard here, and only the people [on both sides of the equation] who educate themselves should be making any decisions. Should.

In reality, most organisations don’t even have in-house security expertise, let alone privacy expertise, so where is this guidance supposed to come from? I now think that security folks are very well placed to begin taking on a larger privacy mantle. I even believe that security folks who don’t get a foundation in privacy are severely limiting their careers. Could you imagine hiring a CISO who hasn’t even read the GDPR?

Information Security and Privacy will never merge completely, they are just too big and too different, but the lines are indeed blurring.

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