What is Personal Identifiable Information (PII)?

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Personal Identifiable Information (PII)?

What is Personal Identifiable Information (PII)?

Have you ever received a suspicious email asking for your personal information or noticed unauthorized charges on your credit card? If so, you’ve likely been targeted by identity thieves seeking your personal identifiable information (PII). In today’s increasingly digital world, protecting your PII is more important than ever. So let’s dive into the world of PII and learn how to keep your information safe.


  • Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that could be used to identify a person – from a name or address, to biometric data like fingerprints or voice recordings.

  • It is important to protect an individual’s privacy and their personal data. Organizations must take secure steps and comply with frameworks & regulations when handling PII.

  • Strategies such as strong passwords, encryption & avoiding unsecured networks are key for safeguarding your data from misuse.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Defining Personal Identifiable Information (PII)

PII stands for Personally Identifiable Information, which refers to any information that can uniquely identify people as individuals, separate from all others. Examples of PII include names, Social Security numbers, dates and places of birth, mother’s maiden names, biometric data, and any other personal information that is associated with an individual.

The specificity of this information makes PII highly sought after by cybercriminals on darknet markets, who can use it for nefarious purposes like identity theft and fraud.

The Importance of PII in Today’s Digital World

As technology advances, companies are collecting, analyzing, and processing more data than ever before. This increased data collection has led to a growing concern about privacy and cybersecurity. With biometric scans of our fingerprints and facial recognition systems used to unlock our devices, it’s more important than ever to safeguard our identities and any information that makes us unique.

People are increasingly worried about how companies manage the confidential details of their customers and the potential consequences of data breaches.

Categories of PII: Sensitive and Non-Sensitive

Sensitive PII is subject to compliance standards and needs to be well-protected from attacks, such as biometric data, medical information, and unique identifiers like passports or Social Security numbers. On the other hand, non-sensitive PII may be publicly available, like your telephone number, but it can still be used to identify you when combined with other information.

De-anonymization and re-identification processes can be successful when multiple sets of quasi-identifiers are combined, allowing identity thieves to differentiate one person from another.

Protecting Personal Identifiable Information (PII)

Protecting PII is essential to maintain individuals’ privacy and security, as well as avoid any legal and financial repercussions for organizations that fail to protect it. Various laws, guidelines, and best practices have been established to help organizations safeguard PII, but the ever-evolving tactics of cybercriminals and the constant threat of data breaches make it a challenging task.

Organizations must stay vigilant and take proactive steps to protect PII. This includes implementing strong security measures, such as encryption, two-factor authentication, and regular security audits. Additionally, organizations should educate their employees on the importance of data security.

Legal Frameworks and Regulations

Key regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Privacy Act 1988, and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) aim to protect PII across different jurisdictions. These regulations have become de facto standards across the globe and provide guidance on what type of information is considered PII, how to store, secure, and delete it, and how to ensure organizations comply with data protection requirements.

They also grant customers the right to stop organizations from using and collecting their data, imposing serious fines for non-compliance.

Best Practices for Handling PII

Organizations can responsibly manage PII by identifying and classifying it according to its sensitivity and implementing a PII policy that outlines data collection, storage, and disposal procedures. Encryption, endpoint security, and cloud data loss protection are crucial data security tools to ensure the safety of PII.

Additionally, identity and access management (IAM) processes help manage user identities and access to systems and data, while employee education on phishing and social engineering can further protect against PII theft.

Common Methods of PII Theft

PII can be stolen through various means such as phishing, social engineering, unsecured internet activity, and document/mail theft. For instance, the IRS experienced a data breach in 2015 that led to the theft of over a hundred thousand taxpayers’ information. The attackers used information they had stolen from multiple sources to gain access to an IRS website application.

Being aware of these threats and taking necessary precautions can help you protect your PII from unauthorized access.

Strategies for Safeguarding Your PII

Individuals can reduce the risk of PII theft by securing their mailboxes, using strong passwords, encrypting sensitive data, and being cautious about sharing personal information online. Additionally, it’s important to avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi networks, as they can expose your sensitive data to hackers.

By implementing these strategies, you can take a proactive approach in protecting your PII and minimizing the chances of falling victim to identity theft.

PII Across Borders: International Perspectives

Different countries have their own laws and regulations when it comes to PII, with some of the most notable privacy laws being the GDPR, EU ePrivacy Directive, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA), and PIPEDA.

International human rights law offers a clear and universal framework for promoting and protecting the right to privacy, but the treatment of PII can still vary greatly across different jurisdictions.

PII vs. Personal Data: Understanding the Distinctions

While PII is a kind of personal data, not all personal data is PII. Personal data refers to any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual, such as IP addresses, cookies, and medical history.

PII, on the other hand, specifically refers to information that can uniquely identify an individual, like names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

Real-Life Examples of PII Misuse

One of the most notorious cases of PII misuse is the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, where over 50 million Facebook users had their data exposed without their consent. Cambridge Analytica acquired this data through a researcher who developed a Facebook app that was a personality quiz.

The company then used this data for political consulting, highlighting the potential consequences of PII breaches for both individuals and organizations.

Non-PII: What Doesn’t Qualify as Personal Identifiable Information?

Not all data is considered PII. Anonymous data, device IDs, cookies, and IP addresses are examples of non-PII. Other types of data, such as the company you work for or data that has been anonymized, also do not qualify as PII.

However, these types of non-PII data may still be relevant in the context of privacy and security, as they can be combined with other information to potentially identify an individual.

Recognizing and Reporting PII Violations

The legal consequences of PII violations include fines, penalties, and other forms of legal action, varying depending on the jurisdiction. If you suspect unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of personal information, it is essential to act quickly to stop further sharing of the information and report the breach to the appropriate authorities, such as your supervisor, Privacy Official, or IT team.

Taking swift action is the best way to protect yourself and your organization from the legal repercussions of a PII violation. It is important to understand the laws and regulations that apply to your organization and to take the necessary steps.

Tips for Securely Sharing PII via Email

When sharing PII via email, it is crucial to use encryption and secure verification techniques to safeguard the data from unauthorized access. Some recommendations for securely sharing PII via email include sending encrypted emails, password-protecting emails and attachments, and using encrypted cloud storage services.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that your PII remains secure even when transmitted through email.


Understanding and protecting PII is essential in today’s digital world, as the consequences of PII theft can be devastating for both individuals and organizations. By learning to recognize common methods of PII theft, implementing strategies to safeguard your PII, and being aware of the legal frameworks and regulations that protect personal information, you can take proactive steps to minimize the risk of identity theft and maintain your privacy and security. Remember, knowledge is power, and with the right information and tools at your disposal, you can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and keep your PII safe.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is considered PII information?

Simply put, PII is any data that could be used to identify a particular person – from a name or address, to biometric data like fingerprints or voice recordings. Ultimately, it’s all about protecting an individual’s privacy and safeguarding the personal information they entrust to us.

In summary, personally identifiable information (PII) is any information that can be used to identify an individual, such as their name, address, social security number, driver’s license number, or biometric data. It is important to protect an individual’s privacy and their personal information.

What are PII data examples?

PII data examples include personal identification numbers such as social security numbers, passport numbers, and driver’s licenses; personal address information such as street addresses or email addresses; personal telephone numbers; personal characteristics such as photographic images, fingerprints, or handwriting; and biometric data such as retina scans.

With this wide range of data types, it is important to ensure PII data is kept secure.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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