- Personally Identifiable Information (PII) exposure can lead to severe consequences, including financial and legal repercussions, damage to reputation, loss of customer trust, and loss of assets for organizations.
- Threat actors can use non-sensitive PII, such as an employee’s name, phone number, or email address, to acquire sensitive PII through social engineering attacks.
- PII exposure can result in attacks such as spear phishing, Business email compromise (BEC), and physical threats such as employee harm, property theft, and executive attacks.
- Compliance issues, loss of assets, and legal and financial consequences are some of the risks and consequences of PII exposure.
- Proactive solutions such as External Data Privacy (EDP) can help address the threat of exposed PII by scanning, removing, and monitoring employees’ external PII.
What is PII Exposure?
Personally Identifiable Information (PII) exposure is the accidental or unauthorized release of PII. PII is any information attackers can use to identify a person, such as their name, address, phone number, Social Security number, driver’s license number, etc.
PII exposure occurs in various ways. For example, when personal data is accidentally disclosed, accessed without permission, or stolen through cyber attacks such as hacking, phishing, or malware attacks.
The exposure of employee PII carries potentially severe consequences for both the individual and their employer. These include financial and legal consequences, damage to reputation, loss of customer trust, and loss of assets.
Using Non-Sensitive to Procure Sensitive PII
Threat actors can leverage non-sensitive PII, such as an employee’s name, phone number, or email address, to launch a social engineering attack and acquire sensitive PII.
|Type of PII||Definition||Examples|
|Non-sensitive PII||Personal info that is not considered harmful or invasive to an individual’s privacy on its own, but can still pose a risk when combined with other pieces of information.||Name, address, phone number, email address, job title, educational qualifications|
|Sensitive PII||Personal information that, if disclosed, could result in harm, embarrassment, or discrimination to an individual. This type of information requires higher levels of protection and may be subject to legal or regulatory requirements.||Social Security Number, driver’s license number, passport number, financial account numbers, medical history, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs|
Social engineering tactics often used to acquire sensitive PII using non-sensitive PII include:
- Business email compromise (BEC): Attackers use employee PII such as name, employer name, employer address, or job title in creating a false identity and impersonating a legit entity, such as another employee, company representative, partner, or some other person. Threat actors often acquire login credentials using BEC.
- Phishing: Attackers may send a fake email or text message that appears to come from a trusted source, such as a bank or government agency. The message often includes a link or attachment that either (a) installs malware onto the employee’s device when clicked or (b) directs the victim to a phony website, which prompts them to enter sensitive information.
Digital and Physical Threats
First, we must state that today’s security solutions do not typically address the threats below. Most CIOs and CISOs have already used traditional security protocols (e.g., robust firewalls, MFA, data encryption, and others).
Consequently, today’s leaders must look to another solution.
Digital threats include:
- Spear phishing attack: Attackers use exposed PII to craft a high-personalized attack that bypasses security controls.
- Business email compromise (BEC): Attackers hijack or mimic another’s email account to steal money or sensitive data.
- Data Breach: PII exposure can lead to a breach, as attackers may use sensitive information to access proprietary data. Attackers may also use non-sensitive information to phish an employee and acquire the credentials needed to access said information.
Some of the physical threats include:
- Physical harm to employees: While less common, PII can be used to locate an employee and attempt to inflict harm.
- Property theft: PII may be used to create fake employee creds, such as a badge, to access restricted locations. If successful, the criminal could steal valuable assets.
- Executive attacks: Executives are more likely to be targets of attacks due to their access to valuable data and systems. Moreover, while physical harm to executives is less common, it is a concern and does occur.
Risks and Consequences of PII Exposure
Organizations must apply and enforce strong data protection measures to mitigate the risks of PII exposure.
There are several potential risks and consequences of PII exposure, including:
- Reputation damage: PII exposure can lead to negative publicity, loss of customer trust, and damage to reputation.
- Loss of assets: PII exposure can result in the theft of physical or digital assets, such as money, property, or sensitive business information.
- Financial losses: PII exposure can result in financial losses, such as fines, legal fees, or compensation to affected individuals.
- Business downtime: PII exposure can cause business disruptions, such as system downtime, loss of productivity, or increased staffing needs for damage control.
Additionally, exposure of employee PII can impact morale, productivity, and the bottom line. It is, therefore, critical to have adequate safeguards to protect employee PII.
Mitigating Digital and Physical Threats with External Data Privacy
External Data Privacy (EDP) is the process of scanning, deleting, and monitoring employees’ personal information (PII) across Data Brokers and People Search Sites. EDP leverages a security framework called Proactive Risk Mitigation (PRM) which emphasizes continuous monitoring and deletion of sensitive data. PRM uses both technical and non-technical measures to reduce the threat surface effectively.
PRM is necessary because the modern cyber threat scene has changed. In the past, the main concern was individual identity theft and crimes whose scope was limited to the individual. These concerns have expanded to include individuals, organizations, and their employees and customers.
More than cybersecurity solutions are needed for the simple reason that they don’t address external PII exposure at the source. The source is the proliferation, dissemination, and publication/sale of PII.
Indeed, a mistake some organizations make is believing that cybersecurity is the answer to all their problems. Such a security posture discounts the most popular attack threat tactic: social engineering.
The proliferation, dissemination, and publication/sale of PII fuels social engineering and thus fuels the most common method of attack.
Strengthening your Security Posture with External Data Privacy
Supplementing traditional cybersecurity solutions with EDP strengthens an organization’s security posture by reducing its threat surface.
EDP should be considered a significant part of a larger security strategy against the problem of exposed PII. Organizations should continue using various technical and non-technical measures to address the full range of risks. Incorporating EDP into a cybersecurity infrastructure provides additional protection to help organizations stay ahead of evolving threats.
Privacy Bee’s EDP solution scans over 350 of the most notorious Data Brokers and People Search Sites. Moreover, we provide more free enterprise EDP resources than any other company in the industry.
 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report. (2022). Retrieved February 9, 2023, from Verizon Business website: https://www.verizon.com/business/resources/reports/dbir/