What is data integrity


Data integrity

Data integrity is a fundamental aspect of data management, which refers to data accuracy, consistency, and reliability throughout its entire lifecycle. The value of data can be severely diminished if it becomes corrupted, inaccurate, or lost. Moreover, the risk of sensitive data loss poses a significant threat to businesses, making preserving data integrity a crucial focus of many enterprise security solutions.

Data integrity can be compromised in various ways, including hardware failures, software bugs, human errors, and malicious attacks. Therefore, it is essential to implement robust measures to ensure data integrity at all stages of its lifecycle.

For instance, when data is copied or transferred, it is critical to ensure that it remains unchanged and accurate between updates. This is typically achieved through error checking and validation procedures, which verify the integrity of data transferred or copied without any intention of modifying it.  

By implementing such measures, businesses can reduce the risk of data corruption, loss, and breach and ensure their data remains trustworthy and reliable. 

Why is data integrity important?

In today's data-driven business landscape, the importance of data cannot be overstated. Data is used in every aspect of businesses, from decision-making to strategic planning and everything in between. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure the accuracy and reliability of data, which is where data integrity comes into play.  

Inaccurate or unreliable data can be almost useless for organisations, leading to poor decision-making, operational inefficiencies, and even financial losses. That's why ensuring data's reliability and accuracy is paramount, as it enables organisations to make informed decisions, develop effective strategies, and achieve their business goals.  

Implementing robust data integrity measures will enhance the quality of decision-making and enable businesses to optimise their operations, reduce risks, and gain a competitive edge in their respective markets. 

What is monitored to ensure data integrity?

Data integrity is crucial in maintaining the accuracy and reliability of data throughout its lifecycle. Data must be monitored for completeness, accuracy, consistency, and security to achieve this. 


Completeness refers to preserving all data elements without filtering, truncation, or loss. For instance, if ten tests are conducted, all the data from all trials should be included, regardless of whether a test failed. 


Accuracy ensures that data is not modified or manipulated to affect data analysis. Test results should not be rounded up or down; test criteria should be well-documented to ensure consistency. 


Consistency means that data remains unchanged, regardless of how often it is accessed or stored. The data retrieved today should be precisely the same as next year's. 


Security is also a critical component of data integrity. Data must be stored securely, and access should only be granted to authorised applications or individuals. Data security measures such as authentication, authorisation, encryption, backup, and access logging must be implemented to protect the data from unauthorised access, modification, or theft.  

By monitoring data integrity in these ways, organisations can ensure that their data is trustworthy and can be relied upon for decision-making and other critical functions. 

Types of data integrity

Data integrity consists of two types: physical integrity and logical integrity. Both are collections of processes and methods that enforce data integrity in hierarchical and relational databases.  

Physical Integrity

Physical integrity is a crucial aspect of data protection that safeguards the completeness and accuracy of data while it is being stored and retrieved. This requires addressing issues related to the storage and retrieval of data, especially concerning storage devices, memory components, and all associated hardware. 

Hardware failures can compromise or damage data integrity, resulting in significant loss. For example, if a hard drive or memory device is damaged, the stored data may become inaccessible or even corrupted.  

In addition to hardware failures, many other threats can affect physical storage hardware, including power outages and natural disasters. Power outages can cause abrupt shutdowns and failures, leading to data loss or corruption. Natural disasters such as floods, fires, or earthquakes can damage physical storage devices and result in data loss or destruction. 

How to ensure reliable data storage through physical integrity measures? 

Organisations must implement measures such as data backup, disaster recovery plans, and redundant hardware systems to mitigate the risks to physical data integrity. These measures can help protect critical data, even during hardware failures or natural disasters. By prioritising physical integrity, organisations can enhance the reliability and trustworthiness of their data storage and retrieval systems. 

Logical Integrity

Logical integrity is critical for maintaining the accuracy and security of data within a relational database. This type of integrity ensures that data remains unchanged, even when used differently. Logical integrity also protects data against human errors and hackers, albeit differently from physical integrity. In particular, logical integrity aims to answer the question: "Are the data accurate, or have they been unexpectedly changed?"  

However, various factors can compromise logical integrity, including poor software design, software bugs, and human errors. To prevent such issues, four types of logical integrity are commonly distinguished: 

Entity Integrity

This type of integrity guarantees that no data element is repeated and no critical data input is blank or invalid. In relational database systems, entity integrity is crucial for maintaining logical integrity. 

Referential Integrity

These rules determine how data is stored and used in a database, ensuring that only authorised changes, additions, or deletions can occur. Referential integrity rules help prevent duplicate data, ensure data accuracy, or eliminate irrelevant data. 

Domain Integrity

This type of integrity defines the format, style, quantity, and scope of acceptable data values within a database. For instance, an alphanumeric value would be rejected if a data element needs to be numeric. 

User-Defined Integrity

These additional rules and constraints are implemented per the organisation's specific needs and do not fall under the first three types of integrity. User-defined integrity rules can include business rules, workflows, or other customised constraints.  

By implementing these types of logical integrity measures, organisations can help ensure their relational databases' accuracy, consistency, and security. This, in turn, can enhance the reliability and trustworthiness of their data management systems.  

Dangers to Data Integrity

Data integrity can be compromised by a variety of factors, some of which include: 

Human errors

This occurs when individuals make mistakes when entering, deleting, or duplicating information. Not following the proper protocols or making errors in the execution of procedures can also result in data integrity issues.  

Transfer errors

A transfer error may occur if data cannot be successfully transferred from one location in a database to another. This can be due to network or software issues. 

Bugs and viruses

Spyware, malware, and viruses are software programs that can infiltrate a computer and modify, delete, or steal data. They can be introduced through email attachments, downloads, or other means. 

Damaged hardware

Sudden computer or server crashes and issues with operating a computer or other device are significant malfunctions that may indicate damaged hardware. This can cause data loss or corruption. 

Data Integrity vs Data Security

Data integrity and data security are two interdependent concepts in the field of data management. While data security aims to protect data from unauthorised access, corruption or breaches, data integrity ensures that data remains accurate, consistent, complete, and reliable throughout its life cycle. 

The relationship between data integrity and data security is such that data security is crucial to maintain data integrity. This is because data security measures such as authentication, encryption, access control, and backup mechanisms are necessary to safeguard data against various cyber threats, including hacking, malware, and data breaches.

Data literacy, data governance and data integrity

Data literacy, governance, and integrity are essential to a successful data management strategy.

Data literacy refers to reading, understanding, and analysing data. Individuals and organisations must be data literate to make informed decisions based on data insights.

Data governance refers to the policies, processes, and standards put in place to ensure the proper management of data. Effective data governance involves defining roles and responsibilities, establishing rules for data usage, and ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

Organisations can optimise processes and make better decisions based on reliable and trustworthy data by prioritising data literacy, governance and integrity.

Frequently Asked Questions
What is data integrity?

Data integrity refers to the accuracy, consistency, and reliability of data over its entire lifecycle, from creation to destruction.

Why is data integrity important?

Data integrity is essential for businesses to ensure that their data is accurate and reliable. It is especially important in industries such as healthcare and finance, where incorrect data could have serious consequences.

How can data integrity be maintained?

Data integrity can be maintained through various measures, such as data backups, access controls, data validation, and encryption. It is important to have a comprehensive data management plan in place to ensure that data integrity is maintained.

What are the consequences of compromised data integrity?

Compromised data integrity can lead to inaccurate data, which can have serious consequences. Inaccurate data can lead to incorrect decisions, loss of reputation, legal liabilities, and financial losses.

What is the difference between data integrity and data security?

Data integrity refers to the accuracy, consistency, and reliability of data, while data security refers to the protection of data from unauthorised access, theft, and corruption.

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