A potential barrier to cloud adoption among highly regulated businesses, such as healthcare, insurance, and finance, is securing confidential or personally identifiable information (PII). SASE, or Secure Access Service Edge, has been witnessing a significant adoption, which is touted to grow 40% by 2024 according to Gartner. Cybersecurity applications are attracting an increasing number of organizations for securing PII.

Every organization utilizes and stores PII, related either to their customers or employees. While doing so, they are also responsible for safeguarding these sensitive data. Data breaches occur at every level of an organization’s infrastructure, however, impacts on their business are often the same – cost-intensive, time-intensive, and causing downtime.

The Impacts of PII Breaches

The average cost of a stolen personally identifiable information is close to US$ 150. In case the attacks are malicious, the cost rises to US$ 175 per stolen PII. A combination of methods must be employed for protecting the PII, including risk-based security controls, operational safeguards, and privacy norms, according to the NIST. Remediation costs, legal liabilities, and loss of customers’ trust are potential damages faced by organizations due to PII breaches.

Key best practices  that can be taken by organizations for preventing these damages include

  • Identifying all personally identifiable information in their cloud environment.
  • Minimizing the retention, collection, and utilization of PII, aligning them to their business objectives.
  • Classifying the PII based on the confidentiality impact levels.
  • Applying accurate security controls, such as creating policies, enforcing access, implementing access control, and de-identifying PII.
  • Developing an incident response plan for handling PII breaches.

Ways for Securing Personally Identifiable Information on the Cloud

It is particularly important for organizations to secure personally identifiable information, as it often brings greater consequences when compromised. Organizations can be held liable and mandated to pay hefty fines when they lose any PII, as it is increasingly regulated in most industries. Following are some of the key ways for securing PII on the cloud.

Encryption

One of the viable methods for PII security is compliance with specific needs of PII data encryption associated with customers’ technical frameworks. Encrypting the PII and data facilitates protection of the business as well as customers from cyberattacks, making it challenging for even the sophisticated attackers to decipher PII. Every data – in use, in motion, or at rest – is bound to a lifecycle. This implies the importance of data encryption at all stages.

Strong, Unique Passwords

Unique passwords with good strength are critical for the safety of sensitive information. Such passwords contain a minimum of eight characters, including upper case letters, lowercase letters, and special characters. It is recommended that users must avoid phrases or personal information in their passwords. Organizations must have policies in place for their employees to update their passwords immediately when suspicious activities are identified. A mandatory rule here is that users must never use the same password again.

Data Disposal

Data elimination or disposal is a basic method for protecting any sensitive information. When personally identifiable information is no longer essential, it must be eliminated for preventing unnecessarily exposure to risk of theft or being compromised. Many industries have different regulations in place for minimum data retention times or elimination. Organizations must ensure working with their customers for creating bespoke policies and eliminate their data whenever it has served its purpose and is no longer required. Establishing well-documented policies and ensuring that technicians completely understand the data elimination process will help organizations in secure elimination of PII.

Tokenization of PII Data

Tokenization plots and substitutes confidential data elements, such as account numbers, credit card numbers, and email addresses, with a value or token that cannot be exploited to extract original data. It is essential that the data structure or format is preserved. In these cases, one can only access the original data by getting the respective information from the authorized tokenization manager, wherein the original mapping is available.

Organizations are already beginning to understand the benefits of tokenization. A tokenized data loses all value when it is lost or gets breached, thereby relieving organizations from its liability. The scope of confidential or sensitive data is reduced with tokenization, in turn cutting the cost and efforts needed for protecting the data. This is one of the major reasons why PII is recommended to be tokenized as soon as possible in its lifecycle. This ensures organizations to prevent chances of data exposure to risks of breaches. The risks with encrypted data alone is high, which is why tokenization is considered to be an effective adjuvant that takes data security to be in line with compliance requirements.

Using The Right Tool

There are numerous tools in the market, designed for maximizing organizations’ PII security against the increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks. The right tools include antivirus software, firewalls, antimalware software, etc. During the process of protecting personally identifiable information of customers, using the right tools, for example – Cloudlytics and Azure Information Protection,   along with right technologies makes a huge difference in providing effective services.

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