Understanding Personally Identifiable Information: What is PII and how is it protected online? (2023)

Today's world demands that you share your PII, but doing so can pose a security threat. Know which laws apply and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Understanding Personally Identifiable Information: What is PII and how is it protected online? (1)

there was more3 million casesof fraud and identity theft last year. Misuse of your personally identifiable information (PII) is the leading cause of this type of cybercrime. This article explains more about PII and tells you how to protect yourself.

A quick overview of what we'll cover

What is PII?

PII stands for Personally Identifiable Information and refers to aindividual's private datawhich can be used to discover your identity.

PII can be confidential and non-confidential. Someone's social security number, passport, or driver's license are unique identifiers and excellent examples of sensitive personally identifiable information.

Non-confidential personal information can become a risk when such data is gathered to indirectly identify an individual.For example, gender, date of birth, ethnicity or medical information can reveal a person's identity when combined with other information.

A company can store PII in a variety of ways, but cybercriminals most often access it when it's available online.

What qualifies as PII?

Experts often disagree on which personal identifiers should be considered PII and how sensitive those items should be. The general rule is to evaluate every bit of personal information from the perspective of the personal harm it could cause if it were lost or compromised.

Here are some common examples of personally identifiable information:

    • *Name: Full name, maiden name, mother's maiden name, etc.
    • *Birth date
    • Government-issued personal identification numbers:Social Security Number (SSN), Passport Number, Driver's License Number, I.D. card, taxpayer identification number, Medicare or Medicaid.
    • Other personal identification numbers:Financial account numbers, credit and debit card numbers, etc.
    • *Contact information: Address, phone numbers and email addresses.
    • Personal characteristics- Biometric information including photos (face and other identification features), retinal scan, fingerprints, handwriting, voice and facial geometry.
    • *Electronic and digital account information:Internet account numbers and passwords.
    • Records and identification of school officials and staff. numbers:Any educational records or identification numbers.

*Of importance:Identity Theft Resource Center, a distinguished expert in the field of identity protectiondoes not consider names, phone numbers, passwords or email addresses to be PII.

The above list does not show every possible example of PII, but it does give an idea of ​​the types of data that need to be protected.

(Video) Personally Identifiable Information (PII) - Cybersecurity Awareness Training

PII sensitivity range

In fact, the scope of PII can be confusing, which is why people often ask about the meaning of PII or the definition of PII. When asked what is considered personally identifiable information, the answer is the same. It is any separate or combined personal data specific to an individual, which could compromise his identity if it fell into the wrong hands. The important thing to note here is that PII can become more or less confidential when combined with other details. For example, name, date of birth and bank account number become harmful when put together.

  • OneRep Security Tip

Always feel free to share your personal information and verify that you are dealing with a reputable entity before filling out online forms, contests you might see at the grocery store, or offers you receive in the mail.

What is not considered PII?

There is a lot of information about us online that appears personal but is not necessarily sensitive PII. These details are sometimes referred to as non-PII or non-confidential information.

Some examples of non-confidential information include:

  • *Name
  • Naturalness
  • *Birthday
  • IP addresses
  • Aggregate statistics on the use of services and products
  • Cookies

How can a name or date of birth be considered non-confidential information? Because many people share the same name or birthday. By itself, a name or birthday is not specific to a person. However, when they go online as part of a cache of information about someone, they become sensitive PII.

We created this infographic to show the spectrum of personal information with one specific goal in mind: to raise awareness of the risks involved in the simple act of sharing your personal information.

Understanding Personally Identifiable Information: What is PII and how is it protected online? (2)


Device ID

IP addresses


personal information

👌 Nothing sensible



Home address

Phone number

👆Sensitive if combined with another identifier

Birth date


immigration status




sexual orientation

medical information


Criminal record

unique name

mother's maiden name

user name

account password

❗Sensitive by itself

social security number

The last 4 digits of the Social Security number

Driver's license

state identification number

Passport number

foreign registration number

financial account number

(Video) Data Security - Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

biometric information

(Video) Understanding and Protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • OneRep Security Tip

Be careful about sharing any information that a cybercriminal might later combine with other information they find elsewhere to harm you.

What PII data is at risk?

The short answer is that everything is on the line. Credit card and social security information can be sold on the dark web, also known as the online black market.

What we consider less sensitive data, such as names, birthdays, contacts, details, criminal and professional backgrounds, are displayed on social networks and people search sites. Cybercriminals can find these pieces of your PII and combine them to steal your identity and funds.

  • OneRep Security Tips
  1. Be careful about sharing your Social Security number on forms such as employment, doctors' offices, and other places that ask for it. It is generally not required in all places that require it. Before you give it to them, ask how they will keep it safe.
  2. Remove your personal information from the web by opting out of people search sites. Confidencea representativeto monitor the web and keep you permanently deleted. You can also use ourDIY removal guidesto be removed manually.
  3. Do not share too much personal data on social media.

How is PII stolen?

Here are some ways that PII can be compromised:

  • A lost or stolen wallet containing identification, credit cards and/or social security numbers falls into the wrong hands.
  • data breachthrough website hacking or insider theft.
  • Social engineering criminals trick victims into revealing confidential information or trick them into clicking on malicious links that install malware that steals their PII.
  • Data transmissions over unsecured or public home Wi-Fi networks allow hackers to steal banking and shopping account passwords.
  • email spoofingyphone scamsare used to disclose confidential information.
  • Credit card theft devices steal card numbers and pins.
  • Unencrypted websites with weak security allow cybercriminals to intercept your personal information when you use them.

What are the dangerous consequences of PII theft?

When criminals have your PII, they can:

  • Participate in all kinds ofbank scamsto steal funds, cash checks and open new credit cards in your name, etc.
  • Steal your tax returnor government benefits.
  • Apply for loans on your behalf.
  • Log in to your personal accounts(bank, doctor, email, social networks, etc. to make fraudulent purchases or defraud others.
  • Open new phone and utility bills.
  • Change your service billing addresses and increase charges.
  • Get a new driver's license or official ID in your name to assume your identity, thenuse your identity when questioned by the police.
  • Buying drugs or sending fraudulent invoicesfor health coverage you didn't receive.

PII theft has devastating consequences as criminals prey on the victim's life. By the time someone realizes what has happened, they may have lost money, damaged their credit, or even be subject to jail time if a criminal committed a crime using their identity.child identity theftit can go unnoticed for years and create a mess that needs to be fixed later.

If cybercriminals create asynthetic identityusing real PII, such as a social security number combined with false identification information, the resulting harmit can have serious long-term consequences for the victim, causing credit, insurance, tax, and other issues that are difficult to resolve.

How do I protect my PII?

In addition to the security tips we've already shared in previous sections, here's a checklist with specific recommendations to follow to keep your PII safe:

  1. Don't keep your social security card in your wallet.
  2. Destroy or safely dispose of any printed PII as spam.
  3. Avoid storing PII on electronic devices and permanently delete any PII records that are no longer needed on a device.
  4. Create and use strong passwordson all digital devices and keep them locked away when not in use. Even if you don't store PII on these devices, you can still use them for transactions that contain your private data.
  5. Use antivirus protection andtwo-step verification.
  6. Do not use public Wi-Fi or allow strangers to connect to your main Wi-Fi network.
  7. Use VPN to protect your data and privacy online. Also, a VPN lets you discoverWhich country has the best Netflix?🇧🇷 It's a win-win!
  8. Do not click on links in emails or messages from unknown senders.
  9. Use trusted third-party payment services, encrypted websites, and otherssafe methodsfor entry of any PII.
  10. proactivelyfreeze your credit reportsto prevent cybercriminals from getting credit with your identity.
  11. Monitor your accounts for known data breaches. Many services areavailable to help.

Applicable Laws and Regulatory Institutions

There are several personally identifiable information laws and agencies that protect individuals' sensitive PII. The following are some of the widely known protective laws that govern the handling of PII in the US. However, it is important to note that the protections are not limited to these rules, acts and laws.


Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA)details the requirementsthat online services targeting children must follow when collecting PII. In some cases, parents of children under 13 can choose what information they want to share with a website. Violation of these rules can result in heavy fines and criminal penalties.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is ashe federalwhich protects private patient information from being disclosed without permission. Individually identifiable health information is protected by HIPAA on a national and standard basis. HIPAA also allows for the flow of non-confidential health data that can be used for public health and wellness.

Personally Identifiable Information The HIPAA rules are very detailed in this law and clarify the protections for patients and guardians.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects students' educational records. It also provides provisions for parents and students to request data and give permission to release records.

FERPA's protection of personally identifiable information applies to all schools that receive funding from the US Department of Education, but may not apply to some private schools, colleges, or universities.

Privacy Act of 1974

The Privacy Act of 1974established information-gathering practices governing the use, maintenance, and dissemination of PII maintained by the US federal government. Additionally, it provides a means by which citizens can access and request changes to their records.

Some of the agencies that regulate the handling of PII include:

(Video) How to Secure Personally Identifiable Information or PII

Frequently Asked Questions About Personally Identifiable Information

What is a PII violation?

LosMost frequent PII breachit's identity theft. But any instance where your personally identifiable information is used or shared without your consent is a violation.

Who owns the PII?

Businesses collect PII about consumers and are responsible for keeping that data secure. Although the information contained in its systems may be about consumers, the company owns these records. In some cases, you may be entitled to see these records if requested. It is your responsibility to make good decisions about how to protect your PII and to make wise decisions about how to share it.

Who is responsible for protecting PII?

Companies and individuals share a responsibility to protect PII. Many companies have personally identifiable information training to ensure that their employees understand how to protect sensitive PII.

What should you do when sending personally identifiable information via email?

PII should never be emailed using an unsecured email. Use encrypted and secure email systems that cannot be easily intercepted by hackers who can steal any personally identifiable information.

What is the best example of protected health information?

Protected health information (PHI) includes PII that can identify a patient and anymedical informationabout that person. A person's disease history is protected from unauthorized disclosure. PHI is legally protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and can lead tofines of up to $50,000 per violationwith a maximum of $1.5 million per year.

Is it considered a PII VIN?

Yes, a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is considered PII as it is specific to a vehicle.

Is the place of birth PII?

Anyexpertsdo not consider your birthplace as non-sensitive information. When added to your name and bank account number, it may become confidential.

Are the last four of the SSN considered PII?

Yes, the last four digits of your Social Security number are confidential PII. This truncated SSN is highly sensitive both independently and in combination with other PII bits.

Is personally identifiable information the same in all states?

There are federal and state laws that define and regulate PII. Personally identifiable information law can vary from state to state. But federal laws, acts, and organizations protect the disclosure of PII across the country. Additionally, different industries have regulatory organizations that require PII handling.

The meaning of PII is understood consistently across all states, as any data thatdirectly identifies an individual.

to wrap

PII violations can be devastating to your life. That's why it's so important to protect your information and take precautions to protect your data and your identity.

Remember, even information that is not considered PII can be reconstructed by cybercriminals, resulting in fraud and identity theft. To avoid this, we strongly recommend that you useOneRep 5-day free trialto remove your personal information from people search sites that expose your PII and other personal data.

Understanding Personally Identifiable Information: What is PII and how is it protected online? (3)

Iryna Slabodchikava

Content Strategy Manager at OneRep |LinkedIn

(Video) How To Protect PII (Personal Identifiable Information) in the Contactless World


How is Personally Identifiable Information PII protected? ›

Sensitive PII must be transmitted and stored in secure form, for example, using encryption, because it could cause harm to an individual, if disclosed.

What is the main reason that Personally Identifiable Information PII needs to be protected? ›

Keeping PII private is important to ensure the integrity of your identity. With just a few bits of your personal information, thieves can create false accounts in your name, start racking up debt, or even create a falsified passport and sell your identity to a criminal.

What is personally identifying information PII )? Give one example of PII? ›

“(1) any information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity, such as name, social security number, date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, or biometric records; and (2) any other information that is linked or linkable to an individual, such as medical, educational, financial, and ...

What is Personally Identifiable Information PII )? Quizlet? ›

Personally Identifiable information (PII) is any information about an individual maintained by an organization, including information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity like name, social security number, date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, or biometric records.

What is the difference between PII and protected PII? ›

Protected health information is a subset of PII, but it specifically refers to health information shared with HIPAA covered entities. Medical records, lab reports, and hospital bills are PHI, along with any information relating to an individual's past, present, or future physical or mental health.

What is PII and why does it matter? ›

As its name suggests, Personally Identifiable Information comprises any data that identifies a specific person. This includes email and postal addresses, phone numbers, and Social Security numbers. However, PII can also mean IP addresses, social media identifiers, and geolocation information.

What is the best example of PII? ›

What Is the Best Example of Personally Identifiable Information? The most common types of PII are a person's full name, social security number, and date of birth. These pieces of information may not seem sensitive, but used together by the wrong person, they are enough to do serious damage.

What are the two types of personally identifiable information? ›

According to NIST, PII can be divided into two categories: linked and linkable information.

What are the 3 classification of personal identifiable information PII? ›

At a minimum, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) must be treated as Internal Data, and elements of PII may be classified as Sensitive, Confidential, or High Risk Data.

What is this PII? ›

Personally identifiable information (PII) uses data to confirm an individual's identity. Sensitive personally identifiable information can include your full name, Social Security Number, driver's license, financial information, and medical records.

What are the four 4 specifications related to personally identifiable information PII? ›

Personal identification number: Social security number (SSN), passport number, driver's license number, taxpayer identification number, financial account numbers, bank account number or credit card number. IP addresses - Some jurisdictions even classify IP addresses as PII. Medical Records. Financial information.

What does PII mean in healthcare? ›

Personal Identifying Information (PII):

Protected Health Information (PHI) is an individual's. health information that is created or received by a. health care provider related to the provision of health. care by a covered entity that identifies or could. reasonably identify the individual.

What are three examples of personal information? ›

For example, personal information may include:
  • an individual's name, signature, address, phone number or date of birth.
  • sensitive information.
  • credit information.
  • employee record information.
  • photographs.
  • internet protocol (IP) addresses.

What is the best protection method for sharing PII? ›

What is the best protection method for sharing Personally Identifiable Information (PII)? Digitally sign and encrypt the email.

What are the 5 examples of PII? ›

Sensitive PII includes but is not limited to the information pictured here, which includes Social Security Numbers, driver's license numbers, Alien Registration numbers, financial or medical records, biometrics, or a criminal history.

What is the first step in protecting PII? ›

The first step to protecting PII is centralized control. Centralized control ensures that the data is accessed only by authorized people and not shared with unauthorized parties. Additionally, it helps you track who has access to the data and where it's being stored.

What is the best way to access sensitive PII? ›

Accessing Sensitive PII while away from the office. The best method is to save the Sensitive PII on an encrypted, DHS-approved portable electronic device such as a laptop, Blackberry, CD, USB flash drive, or other removable media.

How can PII data be avoided? ›

Top 10 Tips to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) for Data Privacy Day
  1. Be careful about sharing your social security number. ...
  2. Lock down your social media accounts. ...
  3. Be wary of public Wi-Fi. ...
  4. Get creative with security questions. ...
  5. Use strong passwords. ...
  6. Browse privately. ...
  7. Watch out for phishing scams.

What are the top 3 important steps to securing your information? ›

Here are some practical steps you can take today to tighten up your data security.
  • Back up your data. ...
  • Use strong passwords. ...
  • Take care when working remotely. ...
  • Be wary of suspicious emails. ...
  • Install anti-virus and malware protection. ...
  • Don't leave paperwork or laptops unattended. ...
  • Make sure your Wi-Fi is secure.
Aug 8, 2022

What are the top 3 action items to protect PII? ›

Three Steps to Protecting PII in the Government
  • Identify your PII through marking and metadata tagging.
  • Educate and build awareness of the organization's PII among employees, contractors, and partners.
  • Select the appropriate controls to protect PII.

What are three examples of PII? ›

Sensitive PII includes but is not limited to the information pictured here, which includes Social Security Numbers, driver's license numbers, Alien Registration numbers, financial or medical records, biometrics, or a criminal history.

Which step should we take to secure PII data? ›

6 Steps to Start Securing PII Today
  1. Identify the PII your organization uses. ...
  2. Locate where PII is stored. ...
  3. Classify PII in terms of sensitivity. ...
  4. Establish an acceptable usage policy. ...
  5. Implement an encryption solution. ...
  6. Back up your solution with training.
Sep 30, 2019

How PII data should be handled while working? ›

Encrypt PII

Encrypting your PII at rest and in transit is a non-negotiable component of PII protection. Use strong encryption and key management and always make sure you that PII is encrypted before it is shared over an untrusted network or uploaded to the cloud.

How do I collect data from PII? ›

In the United States, PII is gathered through application for assistance, registration of property, tax filing, registration for selective services, application for driver's license, government employment, professional licensure, and other voluntary and mandatory information submission.

What are PII rules? ›

The term “PII,” as defined in OMB Memorandum M-07-1616 refers to information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity, either alone or when combined with other personal or identifying information that is linked or linkable to a specific individual.

What are the risks of PII? ›

When PII is lost, stolen, or compromised, the potential exists that the information has been used or may be used for unlawful purposes such as identity theft or fraud. The personal impact on the affected individual(s) may be severe if the PII is misused.

Who is ultimately responsible for protecting PII at our company? ›

Generally, the responsibility is shared with the organization holding the PII and the individual owner of the data. That said, while you might not be legally responsible. Most consumers believe that it is your responsibility to protect their personal data.


1. Protecting Your PII(Personally Identifiable Information)
(Madeira Networks Technical Tips)
2. What is Personally Identifiable Information (PII): quick guide
(Anathem Law)
3. Personal Identifiable Information (PII) Overview
(Derek Pocoroba)
4. Introduction to Personally Identifiable Information | Marketing Analytics for Beginners | Part-21
(Data Science Dojo)
5. Personally identifiable information (PII)
(San Diego County Office of Education)
6. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) | Internet safety | Khan Academy
(Khan Academy)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nicola Considine CPA

Last Updated: 03/29/2023

Views: 6362

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nicola Considine CPA

Birthday: 1993-02-26

Address: 3809 Clinton Inlet, East Aleisha, UT 46318-2392

Phone: +2681424145499

Job: Government Technician

Hobby: Calligraphy, Lego building, Worldbuilding, Shooting, Bird watching, Shopping, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Nicola Considine CPA, I am a determined, witty, powerful, brainy, open, smiling, proud person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.