How to Successfully Conduct a PII Data Audit

Data Audit
5 min read
James Mignacca
February 1, 2023
James Mignacca
February 1, 2023
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Why Your Business Needs to Do a Data Audit — And How to Do It
A data audit is a process used to identify and assess the security risks associated with a business’s sensitive data. Explore why data audits are necessary, and how to do them.

There are a vast number of data privacy laws that organizations must comply with, depending on what data they are collecting and where they do business. In fact, research from Gartner suggests that by 2023 more than 60 percent of the world’s population will be covered by some form of personal data protection legislation.

Data privacy regulations aim to protect the consumer’s right to their personal data, which includes information such as Social Security numbers, email addresses, and phone numbers.

To comply with these regulations, each data privacy law has its own standards that dictate how a company should collect, store, process, manage and erase personally identifiable information (PII).

To ensure your organization is complying with the data privacy regulations that are relevant to your business, PII data audits are critical. So, let’s take a look at what a PII data audit is, why it’s an important aspect of your organization’s compliance strategy, along with some tips on how you can conduct one.

What is a PII data audit?

A PII data audit is a process of reviewing and evaluating the collection, storage, use, and protection of personally identifiable information within your organization.

The purpose of a PII data audit is to identify any potential vulnerabilities or risks to PII data and to ensure that the organization is in compliance with relevant data privacy laws and regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Your organization is responsible for protecting any PII that comes its way. While you may think you already have the necessary steps to ensure personally identifiable information is secure, there are many ways in which data can fall through the cracks.

A PII data audit of your company files, emails, cloud and other areas of your IT infrastructure will ensure your business is able to better manage its risk and ensure that data privacy compliance standards are being met.

Why is a PII data audit important?

With the increasing number of privacy regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, and others, it is essential for organizations to ensure that they are in compliance with all relevant PII data regulations. A PII data audit can help organizations identify areas where they need to improve how they manage and protect data to better achieve compliance targets.

Read the blog: What are the Consequences of Non-Compliance With Data Privacy Laws?

In addition, a PII data audit is also a critical step in helping businesses to implement best practices for data protection. By reviewing and updating policies and procedures related to PII data, businesses can assess the risks associated with each one and prioritize which sources of PII data need the most attention.

This can include implementing additional security measures, training employees on PII data protection, and revising policies and procedures.

5 key tips to conduct a successful PII data audit

During a PII data audit, an organization will typically review its data handling practices to identify any areas where PII data is collected, stored, or used, and will assess the measures in place to protect that data. This may include reviewing data collection forms, system logs, and access controls, as well as interviewing staff members to gather information about data handling practices.

A PII data audit may also include testing the organization's security controls to ensure that they are effective. This may include penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and other types of security testing to identify any vulnerabilities or gaps in security that may put PII data at risk.

Once the PII data audit is complete, organizations will typically produce a report outlining any issues that were identified and recommendations for addressing them.

Here are some key tips to help your business conduct a successful PII data audit:

1. Identify and classify data 

Identifying data and classifying data are two separate processes, but they go hand-in-hand to give your organization complete visibility into the data you store across your company’s entire network. The first step is to use data discovery software to establish what PII your business collects, where it is stored and who has access to it.

Once you have visibility into your company’s sensitive data, you can then use automated data classification software to tag that data and organize it into categories based on the type of regulation it is governed by - making compliance goals easier to achieve.

2. Assess your risk

With visibility into the sensitive data that your organization stores and the data privacy regulations that you’re governed by, it’s time to start assessing the risks associated with your assets. This should take into consideration factors such as the type of data, the sensitivity of the data and the likelihood of a data breach.

Modern attack surface assessment software can help your business continuously identify sensitive data across all digital assets, and prioritize data loss prevention, compliance and security initiatives based on risk benchmarking. Your business can then use this information to prioritize which sources of pII data need the most immediate attention.

3. Implement data security tools

Now that your business has visibility into what data it has and its level of risk, it’s time to look at the current methods your organization uses to protect PII data so that you can enhance data protection and ensure you comply with data privacy regulations. This should include the implementation of best practice technologies, such as CAASM, data loss prevention and encryption.

4. Review and update policies and procedures 

With your company’s data in mind, review your organization's existing policies and procedures related to PII data. Update them as necessary to ensure that they align with the latest regulations and best practices. This will ensure that everyone in your organization is in sync when it comes to handling sensitive data.

5. PII data audit should be a regular process

It is important to note that PII audit is not a one-time activity. Data protection regulations, threats and organization's data handling practices change over time, so regular PII data audit should be part of an organization's risk management plan and be conducted periodically.

Overall, a PII data audit is an important tool for organizations to help protect sensitive data and ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations. With the increase of data breaches and cyber threats, regular PII data audits are becoming more and more important for organizations to protect their sensitive data and also to avoid any potential liabilities.

Interested in learning how the Cavelo data protection and attack surface management platform can help your business improve its PII data audits through greater visibility? Book a demo of Cavelo today.

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