Data Privacy and Security: Concerns, Challenges, and Best PracticesData Privacy and Security: Concerns, Challenges, and Best PracticesData Privacy and Security: Concerns, Challenges, and Best Practices

Advanced computer networks and high-speed internet reinvented how businesses communicate, store data, and share resources, such as software and digital files. Virtually every modern office has computer networks and systems in place so that employees can internally share information and collaborate securely. However, with technical advancements come newfound vulnerabilities, and cybercrime is the biggest threat that companies face.

In 2021, the average healthcare data breach cost an average of $10.1 million per incident, according to CompTIA. Further, Security Intelligence reports that phishing attacks increased by 48% over the first two fiscal quarters of 2022. Those phishing attacks cost businesses approximately $12.3 million, according to estimates. No industry is immune from attacks either: In 2022, the top five most targeted industries were healthcare, financial services, retail, education, and energy and utilities, Tech Business News reports.

Considering the financial harm and other associated risks that cybercrime poses, it has motivated many companies to make cybersecurity a top priority not only for their own sake but also for their clients. Data privacy and data security are two main components of cybersecurity. Companies that wish to safeguard their data and information technology (IT) infrastructure need to understand the most relevant challenges and most effective best practices of these two concepts. Those who are interested in working to fight cybercrime should consider pursuing an advanced education in IT to develop the required skills and competencies.

Data Privacy vs. Data Security

Since they’re both rooted in the protection of data from cybercrime, the concepts of data privacy and data security are sometimes used interchangeably. However, when comparing data privacy vs. data security, several attributes set them apart.

Data privacy is defined in the cybersecurity and IT fields as the retention, collection, use, and deletion of data. By comparison, data security consists of the policies and methods used to protect private data from unauthorized access and use. For data to be private, it must also be secure.

What Is Data Security?

Data security is what maintains the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of a company’s data. It can be thought of as a digital padlock that is only for those who have the correct credentials to access it. This begs the question of what data types are being secured and the methods of securing them. Data is divided into one of the four following categories:

  • Public information — information that is freely available to the public
  • Personal information — information that can be used to identify a person, such as name, address, and phone number
  • Confidential information — information maintained in a company that shouldn’t be shared externally, for example, a company’s proprietary code, customer lists, and engineering designs
  • Sensitive information — information that must be kept secure to maintain the security or privacy of an organization or individual

Sensitive data may also be classified as confidential. Sensitive data typically consists of the following types:

  • Intellectual property (IP)
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
  • Electronic protected health information (ePHI)
  • Protected health information (PHI)
  • Personally identifiable information (PII)

Multiple methods of applying data security exist, and many companies employ a multitiered strategy when developing their data security structure. The following are some of the most common data security methods.

Data Backup and Resiliency

A data backup is a copy of the main files and databases that exist at a different location. It’s not uncommon for companies to have second, third, and fourth data backup locations. If primary data is stolen, corrupted, or otherwise fails, data backups ensure that companies have a fail-safe in place. Data backup is an example of resiliency: an organization’s ability to adapt to data security threats and recover its data.

Data Loss Prevention

Data loss prevention (DLP) software monitors activity and scans data for policy violations and other actions that appear out of the ordinary. When a policy violation or an anomaly occurs, DLP software either issues an automated response or creates an alert. For instance, an attempt to access secure files from outside would trigger the DLP software due to suspicious activity.

Data Erasure

Data erasure uses specific software to permanently erase confidential or otherwise sensitive data, thus making it unrecoverable. A series of 0s, 1s, or other random digits overwrites the data. This is a far more effective method than simply deleting the data, which may still be recoverable. When recycling a computer, data erasure is typically a part of the standard protocols.

Access Control

Access control designates who is allowed to access certain databases or files. This is done in two main ways. The first way is through authentication: the process of confirming that users are who they claim to be. The second way is through authorization: the process of ensuring that users who have authenticated their identity have access to the data and resources that they’re approved for. Many people set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on their smartphones and banking accounts to prevent unauthorized access.

Data Masking

Data masking is a method of securing data by making it unreadable. When obscuring data, data masking uses several techniques, including scrambling, substitution, and shuffling. Data masking is often used in scenarios in which data analysis, user training, or software testing is needed, but not with sensitive data.


The process of encryption often gets compared to data masking because the end result is the same — unreadable data. Using an encryption cipher or algorithm, this process converts readable plaintext into unreadable ciphertext. Without the encryption key, encrypted data is completely useless.

Why Is Data Security Important?

Data is a company’s entire knowledge base. It comprises everything from confidential information about products and services to sensitive information about employees. Most companies have proprietary information and customer data that must remain under lock and key; this is why data security is important. It ensures that sensitive data is never stolen or made public. Data security also ensures that organizations remain compliant with government and industry regulations.

Companies that fall victim to a data breach may incur the following:

  • Reputational harm and loss of public trust
  • Unplanned work stoppages
  • Fines from regulatory and government organizations
  • Litigation and other legal challenges
  • Substantial financial loss
  • Negative public relations and media coverage
  • Loss of market share and/or competitive advantage

What Is Data Privacy?

Data privacy is defined in the cybersecurity and IT fields as the method of handling data, especially when referring to privacy best practices, regulations, and data protection laws. When discussing data privacy, it helps to think of it in terms of control. How data is handled, used, transferred, and stored all relate back to how much control an individual or a company has over the data. People have the right to select which pieces of information they wish to share about themselves, to what parties they wish to share them with, and when they want to share them.

Several laws and regulations govern data privacy, including the following:

  • California Consumer Privacy Act: CCPA is a state statute that enhances consumer protection and privacy rights in the state of California.
  • General Data Protection Regulation: GDPR is a series of strict privacy and security laws that applies to the European Union and its citizens.
  • National Data Protection Laws: Best illustrated by the Privacy Act of 1974, the national data protection laws establish individual privacy protection and the right to access personal data and have it corrected if necessary.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act: Specific to the healthcare industry, HIPAA is a federal law that protects sensitive patient health information and data.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act: Owners and operators of websites and online services that target users 13 years of age or younger are subject to COPPA: a federal law that gives parents control over what information can be collected about their children.
information security analyst with a pc

Why Is Data Privacy Important?

Privacy is widely considered a basic human right, which is why several laws and regulations are in place to protect that right. The ability of an individual or organization to control their own data and how it’s used is why data privacy is so important. Further, data privacy is a necessary element when doing business with a company or an organization. Customers need the reassurance that a business won’t exploit their data by sharing or selling it without their permission.

When data privacy is compromised, it can lead to negative results, including the following:

  • Criminal activity, such as harassment or fraud
  • Unauthorized sale or transfer of data
  • Private data being used to monitor a person without their consent

What Are the Biggest Data Security Threats?

A cyberattack can target any individual or organization, resulting in stolen or compromised data. Cyberattacks take many forms; this means that several data security measures must be implemented to defend against them. Below are some of the main cyber and data security threats.

Phishing Scam

A phishing scam targets individuals and company employees by using an email that appears to be from a familiar source, such as a co-worker, friend, family member, or company they do business with. The scammer attempts to trick the email recipient into revealing personal information about themselves. After obtaining this personal information, the scammer can use it to open new accounts, access existing accounts, or commit other forms of abuse.

Exploiting Vulnerabilities in Cloud Infrastructure

Although cloud-based systems carry plenty of benefits and have advanced how organizations maintain their data, they aren’t without their vulnerabilities. One of the main vulnerabilities is misconfigurations: gaps or glitches in the cloud infrastructure that can be exploited. Another vulnerability is data theft and loss, which is particularly dangerous to cloud-based systems. Further, cyber criminals can exploit cloud-based servers that are out of compliance, have weak access management, or have vulnerable application programming interfaces (APIs). Data privacy and security careers addressing cloud-based systems are in high demand now that more companies have adopted cloud-based servers.


Malware is defined as any software specifically designed to disrupt a computer, network of computers, or server in a way that compromises data, grants unauthorized access to cybercriminals, restricts access to authorized users, or otherwise interferes with functionality. On a related note, one of the leading smartphone security concerns is malicious apps, which are various types of malware designed to impact cell phones.


Ransomware comprises various types of malware. Once ransomware has been installed on a device or network, it encrypts all the files and makes them inaccessible to users. Victims must pay a ransom (hence the name) within a certain time frame, or their data will be destroyed or otherwise made unrecoverable. CompTIA reports that ransomware attacks grew by 41% in 2022, making them one of the most common data security threats in IT.

Unprotected Endpoints

Endpoint devices, such as computers, printers, smartphones, and tablets, are capable of remotely communicating with and connecting to secure networks. If an endpoint device is unprotected, it can be exploited and grant cyber criminals unauthorized access. Phishing scams and ransomware attacks are two of the biggest ongoing endpoint threats in cybersecurity.

Weak Passwords

Weak passwords remain one of the biggest vulnerabilities to secure networks. Cyber criminals have long been able to access networks due to passwords that are overly simple or that use a piece of easily obtainable personal information, such as a birthday or a pet’s name. Once a cyber criminal figures out a user’s password, they can access the user’s accounts, then change the passwords so that the user is locked out.

Internal Threats

An attack from within an organization is deemed an internal threat. An internal threat can be an individual pretending to be an employee who has possession of their credentials. It can also be a current or former employee who has malicious intent against an organization. Negligent employees who don’t follow proper security protocols are also a threat to an organization.

What Cybersecurity Best Practices Should be Implemented?

Considering the various cyber threats that can impact individuals and organizations, government agencies all over the world stress the importance of establishing cybersecurity measures and following a system of best practices. Best practices for cybersecurity programs that the U.S. Department of Labor recommends include the following:

  • Establish a cybersecurity program that can detect, identify, and respond to cybersecurity threats. It should also be capable of protecting data and network systems.
  • Conduct cybersecurity risk assessments at least once a year to look for issues such as unprotected endpoints and vulnerabilities in the cloud infrastructure.
  • Hire a third-party auditor to test the reliability of current cybersecurity measures.
  • Establish roles in charge of cybersecurity measures, such as a chief information security officer (CISO).
  • Implement strict access control procedures to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Independently review cloud-based networks for vulnerabilities.
  • Conduct regular cybersecurity awareness training for employees. The training should cover data privacy vs. data security, the most common cybersecurity threats, and the potential impacts of a successful cyberattack on an organization.
  • Implement a secure system development lifecycle (SDLC) program. The program includes architecture analysis, code review, and penetration testing.
  • Implement a business resiliency program that addresses situations such as disasters and other critical incidents that could threaten data.
  • Encrypt all sensitive data.
  • Keep all software, hardware, and firmware up to date.
  • Establish a process for data security threats, cybersecurity breaches, and other incidents. Response protocols should be systematic and quickly implemented.

Top Data Security and Data Privacy Careers

Organizations of all sizes and in every industry are investing heavily in data privacy and security. Spending on IT security services is forecast to exceed $76 billion in the U.S. in 2023, according to Statista. Keeping that in mind, there are several data security and data privacy careers for well-qualified professionals with an advanced education and the right experience.

Data Scientist

Data scientists oversee the process of collecting, storing, and interpreting data for business purposes. Their duties include building frameworks to collect data, creating tools that automate data collection, and creating reports and presentations that showcase valuable data insights that will serve the organization’s decision-making.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that data scientists made a median annual salary of $100,910 in 2021. The BLS projects that data scientist jobs will increase by 36% between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the average growth rate of 5% for all occupations.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and information systems managers, who are also known as IT managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities. Further, they work with company leadership and department managers to determine the IT goals and implement the solutions to meet those goals.

According to the BLS, computer and information systems managers made a median annual salary of $159,010 in 2021. Between 2021 and 2031, the BLS projects the role to grow by 16%.

Computer Network Architect

Computer network architects conceptualize and build data communication networks while ensuring that the appropriate IT security measures are in place. They’re also responsible for hardware and software upgrades that will further support the network.

The BLS reports that computer network architects made a median annual salary of $120,520 in 2021. Positions for computer network architects are projected to increase by 4% between 2021 and 2031.

Database Administrator or Database Architect

Database administrators and database architects create systems that securely store various data on an organization’s network, such as proprietary information and company files. They also ensure that data access is given to those who need it by overseeing permissions. Finally, they play a role in organizing and securing data, as well as preventing data loss by creating backups.

The BLS reports that database administrators and database architects made a median annual salary of $101,000 in 2021. The BLS projects 9% growth between 2021 and 2031.

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts are integral to an organization’s data privacy and security. They plan and execute security measures that protect an organization’s IT network and systems. Further, they perform duties such as monitoring networks for security breaches, maintaining firewalls and other security software, and routinely checking for IT network vulnerabilities.

The BLS reports that information security analysts made a median annual salary of $102,600 in 2021. With a projected growth of 35% between 2021 and 2031, this is one of the fastest-growing roles in IT.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Network and computer systems administrators oversee the day-to-day operations of an organization’s IT network by ensuring that it stays in optimal working condition. Their duties include providing technical support for computer systems, updating software packages, and making repairs and upgrades to the network. Further, they’re responsible for adding users to the network and assigning security permissions.

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for network and computer systems administrators was $80,600 in 2021. The BLS projects the position to grow by 3% between 2021 and 2031.

Cybersecurity Engineer

Cybersecurity engineers create and manage software, hardware, and security policies that ensure data privacy and security. This discipline combines computer science with electrical engineering, which makes cybersecurity engineers uniquely qualified to test and monitor the security of computer network systems.

Cybersecurity engineers made a median annual salary of approximately $100,000 as of March 2023, according to Payscale.

Malware Analyst

Malware analysts support their organizations by identifying and examining malware threats, such as Trojan horses, bots, worms, and viruses. Additionally, they install anti-malware defenses and software packages into their organization’s network. If malware does infect a network, malware analysts work with other IT professionals to resolve the issue. Malware analysts made a median annual salary of approximately $93,000 as of April 2023, according to Payscale.

Penetration Tester

Penetration testers, who are also known as ethical hackers, use penetration tools to try to exploit their own network’s vulnerabilities, similar to how an unethical hacker would. Proactively identifying vulnerabilities allows IT professionals to put the necessary fixes in place before they can be exploited. Successful penetration testers have great networking skills and a thorough knowledge of several different programming languages. Penetration testers made a median annual salary of approximately $91,000 as of April 2023, according to Payscale.

Computer Forensics Analyst

When an organization falls victim to a cyberattack, computer forensic analysts come into play. These IT professionals handle each cyberattack like a criminal case, gathering evidence of the attack and working to recover stolen, manipulated, or deleted data. Forensic computer analysts made a median annual salary of approximately $76,000 as of April 2023, according to Payscale.

Application Security Engineer

Application security engineers support their organization by creating, implementing, and maintaining the data privacy and security of a company’s apps. When creating and implementing security policies, they’re mindful of both external and internal threats. Their day-to-day duties include searching for vulnerabilities and bugs and then applying patches or other fixes to resolve them. The average application security engineer made a median annual salary of approximately $77,000 as of April 2023, according to Payscale.

Cloud Security Specialist

Because cloud-based systems have their own unique set of vulnerabilities, cloud security specialists are essential for organizations that use them. Cloud security specialists are responsible for the data privacy and security of cloud-based systems. Their typical responsibilities include analyzing vulnerabilities and data security threats, implementing security measures, and ensuring that the system is within regulatory compliance. Professionals with the primary skill of cloud computing made a median annual salary of approximately $131,000 as of April 2023, according to Payscale.

Pursue a Rewarding Career as a Data Privacy and Security Professional

Organizations that take data privacy and security seriously know the value of having a staff of experienced IT professionals. The risk of a cyberattack or compromise of valuable information is why data privacy is important. In addition to putting cybersecurity measures in place, IT professionals are responsible for creating intricate computer networks, analyzing and interpreting large data sets, and solving network security issues.

As illustrated by the various IT and data privacy careers available, the field boasts some of the fastest-growing professions, with opportunities in several different industries. IT professionals work in finance, retail, marketing, healthcare, big data analytics, and more. Those who are interested in turning their passion for IT into a career are encouraged to investigate higher education, such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science program.

This fully online program teaches the most in-demand skills and competencies that organizations look for in their candidates. Students will learn about computer coding and programming, data mining, machine learning, experiential learning, and statistics and mathematics. The program consists of 36 credit hours, including courses such as:

  • Math Modeling
  • R Programming
  • Python
  • SQL
  • SAS Programming
  • Predictive Modeling
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Data Visualization

An advanced degree in IT ensures that students have the tools they need to enter this demanding field. Maryville graduates can enter the workforce with confidence knowing they’ll make an immediate impact in their organizations. Learn more about how Maryville’s online master’s degree in data science can support your professional goals. 

Recommended Readings

Predictive Analytics in Insurance: Types, Tools, and the Future

What Is Data Modeling?

What Is Data Wrangling? 

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Payscale, Average Cyber Security Engineer Salary

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