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Why is masking personally identifiable information so important?

The masking of personally identifiable information is a way to protect the sensitive data of an individual, company, or organization. It can also be seen as a functional method to replace or directly delete actual data when they are not needed.

It is a method widely used by companies due to their need to share data when carrying out their daily business activities, such as the analysis of customer behavior or the development and simulations of applications and products. It is also used in scientific, educational, and financial fields, as well as others.

Thus, it is highly relevant to know in detail why masking personally identifiable information is so important and vital.


What is the masking of personally identifiable information?

When we speak of Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, we refer to data that serve as direct or indirect identifiers for an individual to discover his or her identity or access his or her personal information records.
PII includes, for example, names, home or work addresses, telephone, credit card, or social security numbers, etc.

The masking of personally identifiable information is a process in which, by means of the encryption, replacement, or masking of PII data, a new data structure is created, very similar to the original, but not authentic.

The masking of PII ensures that, when modifying, replacing, or encrypting sensitive or confidential data values, it is impossible to discover the actual value of the data or reverse the procedure.


What is the masking of personally identifiable information used for?

The major purpose of masking personally identifiable information is data protection, but it is also used to protect sensitive data that may pose a risk for companies and classified or confidential information of Public Administration Institutions.

Currently, this PII can be collected by companies through different means or instruments such as medical records, work records, Public Administration databases, bank records, etc.

Moreover, the use of technology always produces a record of the PII. For example, registering for almost all applications, surveys, forms, and subscriptions on websites usually requires an e-mail address or debit card number.

The operation of these organizations or companies makes it necessary for them to share personally identifiable data with professionals such as market analysts, for medical evaluation purposes, or for the publication of research.

To prevent sensitive data from being exposed and to prevent customers, patients, or employees from being tracked and extorted or their information being used to commit fraud or other illegal actions, it is essential to apply masking of personally identifiable information.

In this way, with PII masking, companies can offer individuals protection and security for their personally identifiable data. It is also a way for companies to comply with the regulations governing the matter, maintain their competitiveness, and convey trustworthiness to their customers.


Types of PII

As stated above, PII is data that can be used to trace and identify, directly or indirectly, an individual. Therefore, there are two types of PII:

  • Direct personally identifiable data: They are those that allow a person to be directly identified, such as:

    -An individual’s passport number, full name, physical address, etc.

  • Indirect personally identifiable data: This type of information only allows the identity of the individual to be discovered through a successful combination with other elements or sets of data.

    -For example, a person’s type of employment or profession, by itself, would not be sufficient to identify a person, but if combined with part of their home address (street or building name), identification would be possible.


How is PII regulated?

Among the main data protection regulations are those of Europe and the United States. These regulations require companies to ensure the security of the PII they record and process during the course of their activities.
The most well-known legislative frameworks for the security of personally identifiable data are:

  • The European Community’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which prevents the exposure of personally identifiable data and other sensitive data without proper authorization. Protects European citizens from companies outside or inside Europe.

  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), in the U.S., which offers customers data protection and privacy.

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), in the U.S., which establishes the protection of PII and other sensitive information related to medical records and care.

  • The PCI DSS, the payment card industry’s data security standard, which offers data protection for card users.




Methods for masking personally identifiable information

There are various methods for masking personally identifiable information:

  • Replacement: Within a data set, this method replaces some values with others that appear realistic, without affecting the use of the information or meaning of the data.

  • Encryption: In this PII masking method, sensitive data are encrypted, and a specific key is required to decrypt them.

  • Cancellation: This consists of removing sensitive data within a data set, being only visible to users with permissions or credentials. It is widely used for confidential data.

  • K-anonymization: This is a method in which data sets with similar characteristics are combined to avoid individual identification.

  • Data mixing: This is a matter of replacing data randomly, but with other values from the same set. It is similar to shuffling the data.

Pangeanic, experts in dealing with PII data

At Pangeanic, we specialize in natural language processing and in developing technology for processing PII.
We have our Masker anonymization software to help you and your company share information under a proper masking of personally identifiable information and help you comply with the GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA.

Our anonymization service removes both direct identifiers and any information that could serve as an indirect identifier of your customers or employees in a reliable and secure manner.

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