In our data-driven world, PII (personally identifiable information) is a prized target for cyberattackers everywhere. In the wrong hands, this data can be used to steal your identity or hack into your private accounts, creating complete chaos and resulting in financial damage.
But with tech standards and hacking methods changing constantly, how can we keep up to date with the latest measures to protect our personal information?
From asking whether the IP address constitutes personally identifiable information to knowing whether you should use unsecured public wifi to access your bank account, our PII protection guide will get you up to speed.
What is PII (personally identifiable information)?
PII is sensitive personal information that can be used by individuals and companies to build up a profile of a person. It can also be used by hackers to steal money or more data, either by setting up new accounts or accessing existing accounts online.
Although financial institutions have increasingly complex and sophisticated online authentication measures in place, cybercriminals are learning fast as well.
Hackers are also very motivated and always ready to stay ahead of the game, which means that huge numbers of fake accounts are set up every year – and equally vast sums of money are stolen via identity theft.
Damage could also be done where cybercriminals set up fake social media profiles and use them to wreak reputational havoc.
The variety and volume of data breaches is only growing, so make sure you don’t find yourself an unwitting victim. Here are some quick and easy steps that you can follow to protect yourself.
15 tips to protect your PII (personally identifiable information)
Here are our 15 top tips to help you safeguard your PII and outwit the hackers.
1. Change your passwords regularly
It’s obvious, but that’s where many of us fail because we’re worried about losing track of our latest password – or (wrongly) assume it’s safe and fine to use.
Don’t take the risk that your current password will grow stale and don’t use anything obvious. Yes, person who uses “P*ssw8rd” – we mean you!
2. Check through your social media account settings
It’s important to keep your social media accounts locked down. Make sure to review your privacy settings so that you’re clear on what you’re sharing and with whom. Hackers can easily access private data about you and use it to set up fake online accounts or attempt to carry out a phishing attack.
Don’t share your private data online, use two-factor authentication (2FA), and minimize the information you provide on your social media profile page.
3. Use public wifi with caution
Public wifi is great when you’re on the go, but it is very easy for cybercriminals to set up fake “free wifi” networks to steal your data. Verify the wifi network details with the staff at the coffee shop, hotel, train station, or business service that’s purporting to offer it.
A VPN is a good way to protect your personal information (PII) because your online traffic is encrypted and rerouted through a safe tunnel on a secure server.
4. Make your security questions really tricky
We don’t recommend you choose easy to answer questions like the town of your birth. Choose options that relate to things that only you would know.
For example, the name of your first pet or kindergarten best friend are easy questions for you, but they’re far more difficult for a cybercriminal.
5. Use a random password generator
Password generators use randomization to create a password that a cybercriminal could never guess. Take advantage of these security features that boost your password complexity to the next level.
6. Use private browsing
Although the private browsing feature won’t make your activity on the web 100% anonymous, it can give you a semblance of protection – especially if your device isn’t private. With this setting, your browser will automatically delete temporary internet files, cookies, and your browser history once you close your window.
7. Hide your IP address
So, is your IP address personally identifiable information? Yes, although legally not everywhere. Therefore, consider using a VPN to reroute your online traffic through safe servers before it hits its intended destination.
8. Choose your device carefully
When logging in to a private account of any kind, make sure you use your own device. Conversely, don’t use public access computers to access bank accounts or social media. They may be infected with malware that can steal your login info or PII.
9. Think twice before giving out your NI (National Insurance) number
There are always occasions when you’re asked to provide your NI number. But think carefully before you do so, and avoid sharing it unless a trusted financial services organization, NHS service, employer, or other “legitimate” entity is requesting them.
For most types of identity theft to be successful, the NI number must be present. The more organizations have your NI number, the less secure it becomes.
10. Make your browser always use HTTPS
Use an extension to make your browser to always opt for the HTTPS protocol instead of HTTP. Try the HTTPS Everywhere addon or google other similar services to find one that you like.
11. Sign out!
When you’ve accessed an account of any kind on the web, remember to sign out when you’e finished using it. If you’ve been using a wifi network that isn’t your own, select “forget this network” on your device once you’ve finished what you’re doing.
12. Beware of phishing scams
These days, phishing attempts are often very sophisticated, and many people cannot identify these fake messages because they will often look like they’ve come from a trusted brand. Look out for spelling errors, needless attachments, strange salutations, blurry logos, subjects that aren’t familiar to you and noticeably vague content. Most importantly, preview the URLs before clicking on any links or buttons.
Embedded links are a red flag in general – a bank will never ask you to click through an email to access your account. If you’re not sure, check by calling the company directly.
13. Read the fine print
It’s far too easy to skim past Terms and Conditions when you’re in a rush. Take time to read this document and know precisely how a company is planning to handle your PII. There’s been a lot of controversy over the way tech giants are dealing with sensitive personal information, so make sure you do what you can to not end up a victim.
14. Use antivirus tools
Make sure you have the latest version of your antivirus software. This will help you avoid spyware, trojans, viruses, and other malicious programs successfully attacking your device. There are both free and paid versions, as well as good options for Mac and PC platforms.
Incidentally, don’t believe that you’re less likely to get hacked if you’re an Apple user – this might have been the case many years ago, but certainly not anymore!
15. Use a VPN
We’ve touched on it above, but a VPN is a good service to use if you want to remain anonymous and safe online. There are a number of providers on the market, each of which has something slightly different to offer, from security features to server numbers.
What they have in common, though, is the ability to give you peace of mind when operating in the digital space.