Personally identifiable information (PII) is a type of data that can be used to identify an individual. It can contain direct identifiers that can be used alone to identify a person, or it can be combined with other quasi-identifiers, such as race or date of birth. When we talk about PII, we usually mention it in the context of data farming, data breaches, and other criminal activities such as identity and money theft. Let’s learn why PII is so important and what you can do to protect it.

Why Is Personally Identifiable Information Important?

Hackers and other cybercriminals steal this type of information because it has a great value on the dark web. Big data is another term that is often connected with personally identifiable information. Companies tend to collect huge amounts of data for various reasons, including:

  • Making payments or purchases
  • Improving customer experience
  • Targeted advertising
  • Research

However, because companies own this type of data, they are often prone to data breaches and cyberattacks. It is important to note that not all personally identifiable information is equally as important. We can split them into two categories, namely:

  • Sensitive PII
  • Non-Sensitive PII

Sensitive PII usually includes legal information, such as:

  • Driver’s license
  • Full name
  • Social security number
  • Passport information
  • ID information
  • Credit Card information
  • Medical records
  • Mailing address
  • Financial information

On the other hand, non-sensitive PII is the type of information that can be obtained from public databases, such as social media, phone books, the internet, and other directories. Non-sensitive PII includes:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Zip Code
  • Place of birth
  • Date of birth
  • Gender

However, even though the information above is classified as non-sensitive, it can still be used to identify an individual. By combining multiple information types from the list, malicious actors can link it and distinguish one person from another.

5 Tips to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information

Although multiple different data protection laws have been adopted by the government, sometimes laws can’t fully protect you. These laws either deal with consequences that will arise in case there’s a data breach, or they recommend best practices when it comes to handling sensitive data. 

However, even if a company follows the latest industry standards, that doesn’t mean that it’s impenetrable. You should still implement additional security measures to ensure that your data is as safe as possible. Here are some tips you should consider following.

1. Don’t Share Too Much Information Online

Oversharing has become normalized in recent years, especially after the rise of social media. Users share their location, dates of birth, education, relationship status, employment info, etc. Although most of this information can be classified as non-sensitive PII, hackers can still link it and use it for social engineering, answering account security questions, or hack into their work accounts. It would be smart to lock all profiles and restrict what other people can see.

2. Be Careful When Using Public Wi-Fi

Public and open Wi-Fis are notorious for being an extremely vulnerable breeding ground for hackers. However, sometimes you have to use public Wi-Fi because there aren’t any other options around. In that case, make sure to install a VPN solution that offers a killswitch feature, such as NordVPN. The VPN will protect your connection, and the killswitch will immediately stop the Wi-Fi connection in case the VPN malfunctions.

3. Use a Password Manager

Password managers are an outstanding tool for two main reasons. They can be used to generate strong passwords, and they store saved passwords securely. Hackers can crack a weak password within minutes. When it comes to long and strong passwords, it can take more than a decade to crack it. Moreover, using a password manager reduces the risk of being keylogged, because instead of typing, the password is entered directly from the software. 

4. Educate Yourself on Phishing Scams and Social Engineering

Phishing scams are one of the most common and most effective methods of stealing one’s sensitive information. Phishing can be both easy and difficult to detect, depending on the level of effort that has gone into creating the scam. By educating yourself on how to recognize and avoid phishing scams and social engineering, you’re less likely to get scammed. Also, share that knowledge with others.

5. Monitor Your Financial Activity

Sometimes, hacks can be silent and the victim won’t know that they’ve been affected for a long time. To prevent this from happening, make sure to monitor your credit card statements and other financial activity to check whether there were any suspicious transactions. 

The digital world can be a scary place, especially when there are so many different threats lurking around the corner. Always make sure to take as many precautionary measures as possible, such as using a VPN, antivirus, anti-malware, and other security software solutions. Moreover, always be alert because anyone can become a victim. If someone obtained your personally identifiable information, they would be able to cause you a lot of harm and stress. Prevention and education are the key to remaining safe.