Personally Identifiable Information (PII) refers to any information maintained by an agency that can be used to identify or trace a specific individual. In other words, it includes data points, such as social security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, biometric data, tax identification number, race, religion, location data, and other information, that can be used to deanonymize anonymous data.
If your organization handles PII, you must take steps to secure your customer data. Not only is it essential from a compliance standpoint, but with security breaches on the rise, you have to make sure customer PII is not being compromised. Risk-Based Security revealed that by the end of 2020, a total of 36 billion records had been exposed and compromised. Of such data breaches, 60 percent are caused by insider threats or security threats that originate from within an organization. To make things worse, reports indicate that the number of insider incidents has increased by 47 percent over the last two years.
Let’s deep dive into the potential risks that insider threats pose to PII, especially for healthcare and financial institutions, and how you can protect your organization against such threats.
An insider threat is a security risk that originates from within your organization and is usually someone with authorized access misusing data (intentionally or unintentionally) to harm your company or your customers. The culprit could be any individual who has authorized access to confidential and sensitive company information, right from your present or former employees to consultants, partners, or contractors.
If you don’t secure your employee or customer PII, you leave yourself vulnerable to data breaches. Insider-led data breaches are widespread and can happen in multiple ways – from a negligent employee inadvertently downloading malicious malware to a disgruntled contractor selling customer data on the Dark Web to make money.
Insider-led data breaches are hard to detect because the threat actors have legitimate access and are probably familiar with your cybersecurity defense tools as well. It is much easier for them to circumvent your defenses, access sensitive customer data and expose it.
As a healthcare or financial institution, if your customer PII is exposed, it can cause a great deal of trouble to both your company and your customers. Let’s look at some of the potential risks:
Risks to Your Company
- Reputational damage: According to a study by Ponemon, 44 percent of companies believe it takes anywhere from 10 months to over two years to restore a company’s reputation after a breach. This is bound to be worse for healthcare or finance institutions since the data collected is extremely personal and sensitive. Even if you respond promptly and properly to your customers regarding a data breach, it could still result in a PR disaster and a decline in customer base.
- Financial loss: The average cost of a data breach in the U.S. is $8.19 million. Some of the consequential costs that companies find themselves paying include compensation to affected customers, fines and penalties for non-compliance with regulations such as GDPR, expenses for forensic investigations, and more. On top of that, the valuation of your company could tumble as well.
- Ransomware costs: A malicious insider who gains access to your data systems can steal sensitive customer PII from your network. Once your systems are hacked, the cybercriminal can block access to your data and then threaten to sell the information on the Dark Web if you don’t pay the ransom. Malicious insiders could be current or former employees or even outsiders who use or manipulate an unsuspecting employee to get past your security perimeter.
- Operational standstill: Data breaches have the potential to paralyze your business operations. You will have to conduct a detailed investigation to determine what data has been compromised and the cause behind the breach. In case data has been lost, you will have to take steps to recover it. Furthermore, you may be faced with expensive lawsuits and settlements. Unless you have substantial emergency resources, you will have to halt your business operations temporarily.
Risks to Your Customers
- Identity theft: Cybercriminals may acquire sensitive customer data and use it to their advantage. For instance, they could use your customers’ credit card numbers, social security numbers, health plan beneficiary numbers, or biometric identifiers to impersonate them to commit fraud or gain financial benefits.
- Social engineering attacks: Data breaches could uncover your customers’ PII, especially sensitive data, such as name, address, contact details, date of birth and so on, that could end up on the Dark Web. Cybercriminals might use this data to launch social engineering attacks on your customers. The attackers may then psychologically manipulate or trick customers into sharing their confidential details.
- Blackmail campaigns: Data breaches could result in sensitive medical information, such as psychotherapy reports or blood test reports, being leaked online. Cybercriminals could then use this type of information to run blackmail campaigns against your customers.
How to Secure PII
With the insider threat landscape constantly evolving, businesses need to step up and secure PII and other sensitive data more effectively. By failing to do so, you could end up putting the future of your customers, employees, and company in grave danger. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Use behavioral analytics to set up unique behavioral profiles for all insiders and detect insiders accessing data not associated with their job functions.
- Implement access and permission controls to review, revise and restrict unnecessary user access privileges, permissions, and rights.
- Review the PII data you have already collected, where it is stored, who has access to it, and then securely delete what is not necessary for the business to operate.
- Set up an acceptable PII usage policy that defines how PII data should be classified, stored, accessed, and protected.
- Make sure your PII policy is compliant with different privacy and data regulations that apply to your business.
- Upgrade your storage holdings to ensure the data lives in a SOC2-protected data center.
- Cut down on inadvertent insiders by implementing mandatory cybersecurity and data security training programs.
- Make use of software that will help you protect PII, such as third-party risk management solutions, data loss prevention tools, Dark Web monitoring applications, and secure documentation solutions, among others.
Taking adequate measures to secure PII can significantly strengthen your cybersecurity posture against insider threats.
Unsure about how you can protect Personally Identifiable Information? Get in touch with us today!