What is Personal Identifiable Information and How Can You Protect It?

3 min read

The term Personally Identifiable Information (PII) refers to any data that can be used to track down, identify, or contact a specific individual. Examples of PII include names, birth dates, addresses, credit card numbers, phone numbers, ethnicity, gender, criminal history, and health records. Every company stores and makes use of PII, whether it pertains to their customers or employees.

A wide variety of privacy regulations govern the gathering, storing, and utilisation of personally identifiable information by organisations. In general, businesses have the responsibility to protect the confidentiality of customer data, prevent data breaches and leaks, and watch out for any unauthorised loss or modification of that data.

The impacts of the loss and leakage of PII data are severe. The resulting identity theft and costs associated with it, inevitably cause harm to the individuals involved. However, organisations can suffer losses in a variety of ways. These can be the costs of investigating and repairing the damage – which can be extensive. The company can also face steep fines for non-compliance with relevant data protection laws. Also, customers can lose trust in the company and leave it permanently.

Different Types of PII

Different Types of PII

PII is of two types, and the determination of the level of protection is as per the type.

Sensitive PII: This is data that is not readily available from public sources. For example,a person’s Aadhaar Number, PAN Number, medical information, or driver’s license number.

Therefore, there should be encryption of sensitive PII – both while the data is in transit and while it is at rest. Biometric data, medical information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and personally identifiable financial information like credit scores are examples of the types of information that fall under this category.

Non-Sensitive PII: This is information that is readily available in open public sources. It includes phone books and online resources, or a person’s zip code or date of birth.

It is essential to protect PII in order to maintain confidentiality, the privacy of data, data security, information privacy, and information security. Fraudsters can create false accounts in the identity of the person, or incur debt in the person’s name. They can also create a fake passport, or sell an identity of an entity to a criminal.

People’s unique identifiers, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, are becoming increasingly important to protect. This is because they are used in biometric scanning and in the unlocking of devices on a daily basis.

Tips to Protect PII

As you’ve learned about personal information, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to protect it. Take into consideration the following examples of best practices for protecting PII:

Locate and Categorise your PII

Be sure to divide your personal information into sensitive and non-sensitive categories before submitting it. Where is this highly confidential information currently being stored? Is there any unsecured storage of potentially sensitive PII? Don’t forget to keep track of what data you possess and its storage. This will help you to implement the appropriate security measures for each type of data.

Conduct Periodic Risk Assessments

Conduct Periodic Risk Assessments

Performing a risk assessment will assist you in identifying and prioritising your vulnerabilities. This will allow you to address the most serious challenges first. In order to carry out a risk assessment, you should enquire about certain key points. These are: Where exactly are the weak points in the current security strategy? In what ways do the risks you currently face impact the sensitive data you possess? What kind of repercussions could arise from the theft or loss of certain data?

Establish the Proper Model for User Access and Privileges

To ensure that employees only have access to the information that is essential for them to do their jobs, one should implement the least privilege model. You can prevent unauthorised data loss or alteration by using a model called role-based access control, which gives you the ability to grant specific access levels to sensitive data.

Don’t Store Any PII that You Don’t Need

When the records are no longer in need, you should have a plan in place for safely destroying them. This should be a well-managed procedure to keep prevent sensitive information from getting accidentally deleted or being left in an unencrypted location.

Encryption is a Good Idea

PII can be kept secure through the use of encryption, even if it ends up in the wrong hands.

Prepare Standard Operating Procedures for Handling Confidential Information

Prepare Standard Operating Procedures for Handling Confidential Information

Your approach needs to detail the different kinds of data that you keep, the categories of personally identifiable information and their levels of sensitivity, and the procedures for storing and safeguarding the various kinds of data. Make sure that your users and/or employees are aware of those policies by educating them.

Employees, administrators, and third-party agencies need to understand the severity of mishandling data and be held accountable for their actions as organisations continue to collect, store, and distribute PII and other sensitive data. 

Predictive analytics and AI are being used by businesses to ensure that any PII that is stored is in accordance with all applicable regulations. Other recommended procedures include the utilisation of robust encryption, safe passwords, and both Two-Factor (2FA) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).

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