Feb, 2023


In this data-driven digital world, almost everyone has two identities. Apart from his or her physical appearance, one can be identified with their digital footprints as well. Personally Identifiable Information is available digital information of a person by which that person can be identified precisely.

What is PII

PII stands for Personally Identifiable Information, which refers to any data that can be used to identify an individual. Examples of PII include a person’s full name, address, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, passport number, email address, phone number, and biometric data. 

PII is considered sensitive information, and its protection is important to prevent identity theft, financial fraud, and other types of malicious activities. Many organizations, especially those that handle sensitive data, have policies and procedures in place to protect PII from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure.

Sensitive vs Non-sensitive Personal Identifiable Information

Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII) refers to any data that, if compromised, could cause significant harm to an individual or organization. Some examples of sensitive PII include social security numbers, financial account numbers, health records, biometric data, and login credentials.

Non-sensitive PII, on the other hand, is information that alone or in combination with other information cannot directly identify a particular individual or pose a significant risk if disclosed. Examples of non-sensitive PII include demographic information such as age, gender, race, occupation, or educational level.

While both sensitive and non-sensitive PII require protection, sensitive PII requires more stringent security measures due to the potential harm it could cause if it falls into the wrong hands. Organizations and individuals must take extra precautions to ensure that sensitive PII is encrypted, stored securely, and transmitted only over secure channels. Non-sensitive PII may still require some level of protection, but the risks associated with its disclosure are generally less severe.

How can PII be Compromised ?

Personal identifiable information (PII) can be stolen in a variety of ways, including:

Phishing: This is the most common method of stealing PII. Phishing attacks use fraudulent emails or messages that appear to be from legitimate sources to trick victims into giving up sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.

Malware: Malware, such as viruses, Trojans, and spyware, can be used to steal PII. Once a malware infects a device, it can collect information from the device, such as keystrokes, screenshots, and files.

Social engineering: This is a technique that hackers use to manipulate victims into giving up their personal information. Social engineering can be done through phone calls, emails, or text messages that appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or government agency.

Data breaches: Data breaches occur when hackers gain unauthorized access to a company’s database or server and steal the PII of customers or employees.

Physical theft: Physical theft of devices such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets can also lead to the theft of PII if the device contains sensitive information that is not properly secured.

How to Safeguard PII

Companies have to collect PII for various reasons. However, as we’ve seen in the past, due to different data breaches, personal information collected by companies are often lost and fall into the hands of malicious parties. So, it’s the collector’s responsibility to ensure the safety of collected personal information. Here’s how to safeguard the collected PII 

Identify and classify PII: The first step is to identify all the PII your organization collects, processes, stores, or transmits. Then classify them based on their sensitivity and level of risk.

Implement access controls: Implement access controls to restrict access to PII to only those who need it to perform their job duties. Use role-based access control (RBAC), two-factor authentication (2FA), and encryption to ensure that only authorized users can access PII.

Secure storage and transmission: PII should be stored and transmitted securely. Use encryption to protect data at rest and in transit. Implement strong password policies, firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection/prevention systems.

Monitor and audit: Monitor and audit PII access and use to detect and prevent unauthorized access or misuse. Implement logging and alerting systems to track PII usage, access attempts, and suspicious activities.

Train employees: Train employees on PII handling, security policies, and best practices. Educate them on how to detect and report phishing attacks, social engineering, and other cyber threats.

Dispose of PII securely: PII should be disposed of securely when no longer needed. Use secure data destruction methods such as shredding, wiping, or degaussing to ensure that PII cannot be recovered.

Stay compliant: Ensure that your organization complies with all relevant data protection laws and regulations, such as GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, or PCI DSS.

Following these steps can definitely help safeguard PII and protect your organization from cyber threats and data breaches.

PII vs Personal Data

PII (Personally Identifiable Information) and personal data are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings and legal implications.

While both terms used to describe information that can be used to identify an individual, PII is a specific type of personal data that is considered sensitive and requires special protection.

Personal data refers to any information that relates to an identified or identifiable individual. This can include things like a person’s name, address, date of birth, email address, social media posts, location data, and more. Personal data can be used for a variety of purposes, including marketing, research, and personalization of services.

PII, on the other hand, refers to specific types of personal data that can be used to identify an individual, such as a social security number, driver’s license number, passport number, financial account numbers, and biometric data such as fingerprints or facial recognition. PII is considered more sensitive than other personal data because it can be used for identity theft or fraud.


Overall, while all PII is personal data, not all personal data is considered PII. Both types of information need to be handled with care and protected from unauthorized access or misuse. It is important to protect PII as it can be used to commit identity theft, fraud, and other malicious activities. Both the data collector and the person should be responsible for safeguarding it.

The Author

Shahriar Rahman

Shahriar is a cybersecurity enthusiastic, computer geek and keen blogger. Writing in various niches for the last five years. Working towards making the internet a safer place for everyone.
Shahriar Rahman
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