As the digital world continues to grow and advance, so does the way businesses collect, store, and use customer data. Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. This can include things like name, address, Social Security number, driver’s license number, financial information, health information, etc.
Why is it important to secure PII?
There are a number of reasons why it’s important to keep PII secure. First and foremost, it’s a legal requirement in many cases. Failure to comply can result in heavy fines. Beyond the legal ramifications, there are also reputational and financial risks associated with PII breaches. If customer information is compromised, it can damage your company’s reputation and lead to a loss of business. In some cases, it can also result in direct financial losses (e.g., if fraudulent charges are made on credit cards).
Two main benefits are:
Retaining customer trust:
Almost 81% of customers say they will not engage with a brand after a data breach. Companies need to protect their customers' PII to retain their trust.
Preventing legal, financial, and reputational loss:
For hackers, PII is a goldmine of data; they attempt to abuse vulnerabilities that could help them steal PII and sell them on the dark web. Any breach can lead to immense reputational, financial, and legal losses.
Personally Identifiable Information as defined by different legislations
Data security is a crucial concern for businesses and governments; various countries have piloted legislation to ensure companies handling PII take adequate precautions such as:
PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) of Canada
The US NIST or National Institute of Standards and Technology’s guide
The EU’s directive 95/46/EC
How companies can secure Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
1. Classify data by level of sensitivity
Not all data in a company's repository qualify as PII. Classifying data is the first step toward securing it. Companies can also classify PII as sensitive and non-sensitive. Once information gets classified, it is mandatory to treat sensitive PII as restricted; companies must draft rules and regulations to tag and safeguard them.
2. Identifying the level of information stored in PII
Taking stock of the PII collected and where it is stored is essential. Evaluating how much of it is sensitive and non-sensitive will also assist businesses in determining the measures needed to safeguard their data.
3. Being aware of the compliance regulations
Every country and industry has different legal compliance rules. Understanding the laws is critical since they govern how the collected data is stored, managed, and used. Failure to adhere to local laws can lead to severe repercussions and harm the company's reputation. Here are some common compliance standards that businesses should know:
Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in Canada
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) if you work in the healthcare industry
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), especially if you do business with the EU
Personally Identifiable Information risk assessment
A risk assessment can help companies identify the risks associated with PII and take steps to mitigate them. The assessment should cover the entire data life cycle, from collection to destruction. It should also consider internal and external threats, as well as the likelihood and impact of each threat.
Some critical aspects that companies should assess to secure PII are:
Regulated & unregulated PII and the policies in place to secure that data.
Possible threat sources that can expose the PII to hackers.
Companies can deploy risk management strategies to ensure a robust security infrastructure.
Take action on PII that is no longer required
While taking stock of PII, a company must also identify obsolete data. Identifying outdated data and deleting them strengthens security practices. Additionally, the less data you store, the less storage and security costs you may incur.
Keeping security policies up-to-date
Regularly updating your security policies and deploying trusted frameworks like SOC2 or CIS can help store information in compliance with the latest privacy laws. Additionally, it also helps in keeping up with the best practices of security and safeguarding your data against new-age threats.
With increasing incidents of data breaches, security is a top priority for organizations. With regulations like GDPR, customers control how companies use their PII, and businesses also have increased responsibility for managing PII.
At Packetlabs, we help enterprises get a detailed penetration testing report of your company’s security infrastructure environment and how they can safeguard PII. Contact us to get an assessment done for your company.