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What’s the Difference Between Online Security and Digital Privacy

Data breaches can be detrimental, and that’s why online security and digital privacy have become essential in today’s digital era.

The radical digital growth experienced over the past two decades has been accompanied by all sorts of threats. Online frauds such as identity theft, hacking, ransomware, and illegal spying have taken center stage.

There are all sorts of dangers while surfing the web, even without exposing your data or personal information. Given the importance of data in almost all business processes, digital privacy and online security remain critical. Therefore, understanding each approach may help you move towards a secure online environment.

While both online security and data privacy may seem related, they are distinct concepts. In fact, not many people can differentiate between the two concepts.

This article takes you through the online security and digital privacy differences that you need to understand. Read on!

What is Online Security?

Online security refers to the means and tactics employed to protect data, online identity, and other digital assets. Ideally, online security is a combination of tools, processes, and strategies used to protect data, networks, systems, and much more.

Online security is how personal information is protected. Simply put, online security is the protection layer enacted to fend off malicious attempts to compromise data and information.

Online security protects your computer systems, storage devices, cloud servers, internet networks, and much more.

What is Digital Privacy?

What is Digital Privacy?

Digital Privacy is the state of being free from information compromise. It gives you the right to control how personal information is shared or used. It is a fundamental right to autonomy of private information and data. The digital privacy concept is such that whatever information is confidential remains private.

There are various policies set to help achieve digital privacy. However, with the increase in instances where personal information is tracked, digital privacy is under threat. Online activities are monitored even without your knowledge. Entities with your personal information may use it maliciously against you or even predict your future actions.

Achieving digital privacy can be challenging, as you can’t be sure whether your information is being collected or shared. Also, when using the internet, it’s possible to give unconscious permissions to entities regarding the use of your data.

Digital privacy may be broken down into several categories;

Corporate Digital Privacy

Corporate data privacy is the sole authority for companies and organizations to keep confidential data private. This extends to customer data, sensitive documents, financial information, etc.

Personal Privacy

This concept of personal privacy is to have all individual information intact. This includes credit card/bank details, SSN, email accounts, social media, etc.

To help you understand digital privacy and online security, it’s best to know how both can be compromised:

How Does Online Security Get Compromised?

Compromise security

Security breaches may occur to organizations as well as individuals. As long as you have data stored digitally, it’s possible to experience a security breach. Your online security can be compromised in several ways;

Social Engineering Tactics

Hackers may use a variety of social engineering tactics to gain access to your network. For instance, hacker phones you claiming to work with a certain credit card company and asks you for card details to fix it from being ‘closed.’ In the process, they ask for account details, passwords, balances, etc.

When an intruder leverages psychological manipulation to trick you into giving out sensitive information, your online security is compromised.

Malware Attacks

Malware is software embedded illegally on your computer to perform malicious activities. This could be a virus that siphons your data unknowingly or software that creates duplicate data files then sends them to the hackers.

Phishing Emails

A phishing email is an illegitimate email designed to seem legit by the sender. Mostly, these emails look like they’ve been sent from the trusted sources, while actually, it’s cybercriminals who create them.

For instance, you receive an email that seems to be from your credit company asking you to verify your account through a certain link. Before sending out email newsletters, you should always employ tools for verifying emails. On opening the provided link and inputting your details, the information is sent to the hackers, who use it for identity theft.


Assume you receive a phishing email with an impeded malicious software that, upon clicking, installs on your computer. On installing, the software encrypts your data, making it inaccessible unless you pay a ransom. A prime example is the WannaCry worm of 2017 that caused massive losses to organizations and individuals alike.

Weak Passwords Guessed

Assume you lose your personal computer protected by a weak password. Trying to gain access to your computer, the hacker guesses the 1-8 digit combination that accordingly opens your computer seamlessly. Besides, the hacker opens your browser, stealing critical passwords saved in your browser. Even worse, they log into crucial systems such as payment merchant accounts and steal your money.

Other ways in which your security may be compromised include;

  • Spyware Trojans embedded in your computer to spy via webcam
  • Exploits to vulnerable systems
  • Attacks to unsecured cloud architecture
  • Denial of Service attack that compromises your website traffic

Your online security is breached in all the above instances, and critical data may be lost or compromised.

How Does Digital Privacy Get Compromised?

As long as you use digital platforms to store or share information, it’s possible to have your privacy compromised even without your knowledge. Digital privacy is compromised in the following ways;

Social Media Platform Sharing Your Info With Third-Party Entities

Some social media platforms share user information with third-party entities for marketing or political purposes.

A good example is the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. This organization harvested Facebook data from millions of users without their knowledge or consent to influence American’s psychological profiles for political reasons. The information collected was analyzed such that the company could influence user decisions in voting.

Web Crawling

Intruders have come with all sorts of web crawlers to collect as many contact details as possible. These contact details include emails and phone numbers that are sold to other users such as marketers, campaign teams, etc. These entities then sent unwanted messages seeking you to take some action.

Third-Party Apps Request for Permissions Before Accessing Services

Some third-party apps ask users to permit access to tools such as galleries, massages, files, and location as a prerequisite for accessing services. Most users end up providing access to personal information, which is a violation of digital processes.

What are the Online Security and Digital Privacy Differences?

Digital security and online security differ a lot. Online security is aimed at safeguarding data, whereas digital privacy is the sole authority to private data and information. The main online security and digital privacy differences include;

Security Objectives vs Privacy Objectives

Online security has 3 main objectives;

  • Data and information integrity
  • Information and asset confidentiality
  • Availability of data in a secure environment

Security aims to safeguard sensitive data and information from unauthorized access. Any security approach addresses either or all of these objectives.

Digital privacy aims at sensitizing online users on safe usage habits to avoid data compromise. It is an approach to user sensitization about their rights as to how communication is shared or used. Users have the right to be explained how their personal information is used and distributed transparently. Also, it aims that users should first give consent before their personal information is used.

Security vs Privacy Programs

Online security tools are a set of regulations to protect resources and critical digital assets. They may involve VPNs, endpoint protection, encryption, etc. These tools add a security layer over data, information, and their distribution channels.

On the other hand, digital privacy is a policy control over access to personal information such as browsing behavior, passwords, login details, etc. for instance, a privacy policy for a certain eCommerce platform provides details on who is allowed to access the user’s information. This info is considered private with respect to the privacy policy. Ideally, no one in the backend can collect stored information such as card details, shipping location, etc.

Achieving Online Security vs Achieving Digital Privacy

With the ultimate approaches, online security can be easily achieved. Security is achieved when a set of protocols are maintained.

On the other hand, privacy cannot be achieved without security. Any entity, whether an individual or organization seeking digital privacy, has to have the ultimate security protocols in place. It should ensure safe browsing, enact strong passwords and authentication, use VPN, secure Wi-Fi networks, etc.

When online security is maintained, it’s easy to achieve digital privacy.

A Summary of Online Security and Digital Privacy Differences

To help you understand the differences seamlessly, this table summarizes the two concepts;

Online SecurityDigital Privacy
Security is the protection of data and information against unauthorized/malicious access.Privacy is the ability to protect personally identifiable information.
Security protects data and digital assets using various technologies and strategies.Privacy uses policies to protect sensitive information relating to organizations and individuals.
You can achieve security without privacy.Privacy can only be achieved with online security.
Security protocols aim to provide integrity of confidentiality data and information assets.Digital privacy aims to protect privacy rights with respect to sharing, storing, and processing personal data.

As evident, both digital privacy and online security complement each other. While they are two different concepts, they aim towards a secure online environment.

The Bottom Line

Both online security and digital privacy are essential elements as they can affect a person or organization’s reputation, compliance, and financial well-being. With almost everything going digital, securing data and information remains critical.

Individuals and organizations have to carry out their online activities while applying the ultimate online security and digital privacy measures.

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