PII is any data that can identify an individual, such as name, address, Social Security number (SSN), driver’s license number, passport numbers, addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.
We focus on the dangers posed by PII exposure and the potential consequences. We also detail the different types of PII and how to protect yourself against modern threats. External Data Privacy (EDP) is discussed as a potential solution for those concerned with PII. In this context, EDP involves the 24/7 scanning, removal, and monitoring of PII.
To protect against PII exposure, individuals must be aware of the risks and take proactive steps to mitigate them. Understanding what PII exposure is and being aware of its associated risks is essential for protecting personal data.
What is PII Exposure?
PII exposure refers to the unauthorized sharing or access of Personal Identifiable Information (PII). Cyber attacks, data breaches, human error, and unauthorized access and sharing by Data Brokers and People Search sites can all result in PII exposure.
Most of us have some form of PII available on the internet. The prolific number of entities that collect our PII only exacerbates the problem. Additionally, most of us must be aware of the myriad sources that collect and sell our PII. These sources include:
- Credit bureaus: All three credit bureaus are Data Brokers, companies that collect, package, and sell PII without your consent. Unsurprisingly, all three bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and Transunion— have been hack victims.
- Data Brokers: A $250 billion industry whose sole purpose is collecting, aggregating, and selling personal information. Data brokers often scrape across billions of web pages to gather this data, which gives us another reason to be careful about which information to share.
- People Search sites: People search sites collect and sell PII to third-party companies for marketing purposes. They also sell this information to other parties, including debt collectors, employers, and landlords.
- Social media platforms: While most of us know that social media companies gather data about us, it may be surprising to know that they often sell this data to Data Brokers. Additionally, social media companies sell highly personal data, including information about our behaviors, interests, and location.
Thousands of companies are hoarding data about you. Find out if you have any data leaks with a free scan.
Sensitive and non-sensitive PII
PII can be broken down into two categories: sensitive and non-sensitive. What’s important to remember is that both are potentially compromising, and the latter can be used to acquire the former.
Sensitive PII is more confidential and potentially financially damaging to the individual in the event of exposure. Examples of sensitive PII include:
- Account numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Driver’s license numbers
- Social Security number (SSN)
Non-sensitive PII is less confidential and includes data that, in isolation, may not pose an immediate risk if exposed. We say “may” because even this “non-sensitive” PII is personal and can be
- Date of birth
- E-mail address
Acquiring sensitive PII with non-sensitive PII
Non-sensitive PII can be used to obtain sensitive PII through social engineering tactics. For example, attackers may use a person’s name, address, and phone number to contact them and ask for additional information, such as SSN or account information.
In other words, while PII may not pose an immediate risk to an individual, attackers can still use it for malicious activities or to gain access to more sensitive PII.
Three common social engineering tactics used to obtain sensitive PII are:
- Phishing: A method of social engineering wherein the attacker crafts an authentic-looking e-mail or website that appears to be from a trusted source.
- Impersonation/Pretexting: A method of social engineering wherein the attacker pretends to be someone from a legit organization to gain access to sensitive information.
- Quid pro quo attack: The attacker offers a seemingly desirable reward, such as a free trial or product sample, in exchange for sensitive information like personal or financial details.
It is critical for individuals to be aware of these tactics and to take proactive actions to mitigate these risks.
Digital and physical threats
Exposed PII can increase the odds of:
- Cyberattacks: PII exposure can lead to cyberattacks, as criminals and other threat actors can use this information to launch spear phishing attacks and other cybercrimes that threaten individual privacy and safety.
- Identity theft: Exposed PII can be used to commit identity theft, as criminals may use the information to open accounts in another person’s name or access their financial information.
- Financial fraud: Exposed PII can be used to commit fraud, such as making unauthorized purchases, opening lines of credit (e.g., a credit card or loan), or transferring or withdrawing money from your financial accounts.
Physical threats of exposed PII include:
- Stalking: Criminals can use exposed PII to track an individual’s movements and activities.
- Harassment: Exposed PII can be used to harass or threaten an individual, either online or in person.
- Extortion: Criminals may use exposed PII to extort money from the victim by threatening to release sensitive information.
Digital and physical risks
Known risks of these digital and physical threats include:
- Reputational damage: Exposed PII can be used to create false identities or spread malicious rumors about an individual.
- Cyberbullying: Exposed PII may be used to embarrass, harass, or threaten a person.
- Physical harm: Criminals may use exposed PII to locate and target individuals for physical attacks.
- Stalking: Exposed PII may be used to stalk an individual
We highly recommend a free data privacy scan. You will also receive your Privacy Risk Score and 24/7 monitoring of your PII.
Mitigating PII exposure risk with External Data Privacy
External Data Privacy (EDP) is the scanning, deleting, and monitoring of PII across Data Brokers and People Search sites. EDP integrates a framework called Proactive Risk Mitigation (PRM) that prioritizes dynamic, wide-ranging action using technical and non-technical means to reduce risk.
Cybersecurity solutions, like antivirus, anti-malware software, and firewalls, are not enough in the fight against PII exposure because they are mostly reactive, not proactive.
EDP provides a proactive approach to data privacy and security by scanning for PII across Data Brokers and People Search sites, deleting any exposed information, and monitoring for any new threats.
As Data Brokers and People Search sites are perhaps the most notorious hoarders of PII, EDP can significantly reduce an individual’s threat surface. Consequently, EDP mitigates the risks of identity theft, financial loss, reputation damage, physical threats, and other risks associated with PII exposure.
Privacy Bee’s EDP solution scans over 350 of the most infamous Data Brokers and People Search sites. We also provide more free EDP resources to individuals than any other EDP provider.
We highly recommend a free data privacy scan. You will also receive your Privacy Risk Score and 24/7 monitoring.