Businesses today rely heavily on data gathered from customers, clients, and even owners. Data offers companies insights into trends, opportunities, and customer behavior to help them stay ahead of the competition. It is the lifeline of any organization that seeks to grow and prosper, regardless of the industry.

Personally identifiable information (PII) is a type of data used for such instances, upon the consent of the consumer, so it’s important to keep it secure. Keep reading to understand what PII is, the importance of guarding it, and what you can do to keep it protected.

Understanding PII – The Breakdown

understanding-pii-as-practice-to-protect-personal-identifiable-informationPII is data that can identify a person with or without other relevant data and has two forms. The first one is non-sensitive or indirect PII, which is information that can be accessed through public sources such as open databases, phonebooks, and directories.

Non-sensitive PII can come in the form of zip codes, race, gender, birth dates, birthplaces, and religion. This type of PII is essentially a quasi-identifier that can be released publicly without explicitly identifying an individual. However, it can still be used to identify a person when utilized with additional data.

On the other hand, sensitive PII is data that can easily identify a person even without other data. Your full name, social security number, driver’s license, home or mailing address, passport details, and medical records are just some of the information that falls under sensitive PII.

PII is the kind of data that companies and credit bureaus use to analyze and gain insight into customer behavior and how they can improve the interaction with the consumer.

However, it’s this value that makes PII a prime target for cyberattacks. If you’ve ever heard the news of organizations experiencing data breaches, it’s likely the work of cybercriminals hunting for sensitive information and using it for fraudulent activities.

Why Should You Secure PII?

why-to-secure-pii-as-practice-to-protect-personal-identifiable-informationKeeping PII protected is essential to upholding personal privacy and data protection. A couple of leaked sensitive PII is all it takes for cybercriminals to create false accounts, fake identification documents, and even incur debt.

When this happens, consumers whose data were used for fraudulent activities are likely to lose their trust in the companies that held their sensitive details.

This loss in confidence is a long-term consequence of malicious attacks and information leaks, eventually leading to a decrease in customer retention. It will also tarnish the organization’s reputation and could affect its ability to attract potential customers in the future.

What’s more, an organization that has hundreds of thousands of sensitive PII could lose millions of dollars following a massive data leak.

According to an IBM-commissioned 2020 study, PII is the most sought-after and costliest record type among the data breaches it analyzed. The average cost of each lost or stolen data per customer was $146 and goes up to $150 if it contains personal customer information, according to the study. That price soars to $175 if the breach stems from malicious attacks.

That’s a big blow for large companies, but an even bigger impact on emerging businesses.

These threats are the reason why businesses should have a solid data protection system in place. Having well-founded security tools can protect your organization from cyberattacks and keep sensitive information away from malicious entities.

Best Practices to Keep PII Safe

best-practices-to-protect-personal-identifiable-informationThere are no stopping organizations from collecting, storing, and even distributing PII, and nothing is keeping cyber criminals from taking advantage of this digital practice to attack them. That’s why companies need to meet the minimum PII compliance standards to protect their businesses and customers against these dangerous individuals.

Identifying and classifying PII should be the first thing on your PII compliance checklist. Doing so allows you to determine what information goes where to keep them properly stored and protected.

Knowing where you stored sensitive information also allows you to track it properly and make intelligent decisions when a malicious attack occurs. You can also act immediately when you know the movements of your data.

Establishing measures to regulate access and control of PII can mitigate unwanted disclosure of confidential data. Creating strong encryption, password, and two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication also adds a layer of security to your PII storage.

You should also take advantage of different data security and management tools to further reduce the risk of data leaks and unauthorized access to sensitive and non-sensitive information. Employees should know how to use these systems, so they can manage and keep PII secure even on their own.

Final Thoughts

Mishandling of sensitive data leads to serious consequences and is seen as a red flag for potential consumers. The loss of customer loyalty and financial blow that comes with data leaks can ultimately lead to a shutdown in business if not resolved accordingly.

That’s why it’s in your best interest to invest in security software and data management tools to keep sensitive information secure. Training employees on how to handle PII will also go a long way in preventing data breaches and efficiently addressing them when they do occur.