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April 9, 2024
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 min read

PII Data Classification: Best Practices

Classifying Personally Identifiable Information (PII) involves sorting data into categories based on its sensitivity and the risk it poses if exposed. This process is crucial for complying with data protection regulations and safeguarding individual privacy.

PII Data Classification: Best Practices
Calendar Icon White
April 9, 2024
Clock Icon
 min read

PII Data Classification: Best Practices

Classifying Personally Identifiable Information (PII) involves sorting data into categories based on its sensitivity and the risk it poses if exposed. This process is crucial for complying with data protection regulations and safeguarding individual privacy.


PII, encompassing any data that could potentially identify an individual, sits at the heart of privacy concerns and regulatory compliance efforts across industries. 

Effective PII classification emerges as a critical practice, enabling organizations to navigate the complexities of data protection by identifying, categorizing, and applying appropriate safeguards to sensitive information. However, achieving an accurate and comprehensive classification of PII presents a challenging landscape fraught with the potential for oversight and error.

Let’s explore the best practices for PII data classification. Understanding the tools and methodologies that can streamline this process is essential for organizations seeking to bolster their data security and maintain compliance with evolving privacy regulations.

Understanding PII Data Classification

PII data classification serves as a foundational element in the architecture of modern data protection strategies. It involves the process of identifying data that qualifies as Personal Identifiable Information and categorizing it based on the level of sensitivity and the associated privacy regulations. This systematic approach to data management helps organize data and apply the necessary security measures to protect individuals' privacy.

At its core, PII data classification is about understanding the nature of the data within an organization's control and making informed decisions on handling it. For instance, a document containing names and addresses would be classified differently from one containing social security numbers or bank account details. The former might be considered less sensitive but still requires protection, while the latter is highly sensitive and subject to stricter security protocols.

The Significance of Accurate PII Classification

The accurate classification of PII is crucial for several reasons:

  • Meeting Compliance Requirements: Various regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States, mandate stringent handling and protection of PII. Accurate classification ensures an organization can adhere to these legal requirements, avoiding potential fines and sanctions.
  • Preventing Data Breaches: By identifying and classifying PII, organizations can implement targeted security measures to protect sensitive information. This reduces the risk of data breaches, which can have significant financial and reputational repercussions. For example, encrypting highly sensitive PII or restricting access helps mitigate the risk of unauthorized disclosure.
  • Enhancing Data Management: Classification streamlines data management practices by making it easier to locate and handle PII according to its classification level. This efficiency supports better data hygiene and governance, contributing to an overall stronger security posture.

Best Practices for PII Data Classification

PII data classification is not just a procedural task; it's a strategic approach to safeguarding privacy, ensuring regulatory compliance, and fortifying an organization's data security framework. Let’s take a look at the best practices you can adopt for PII data classification.

1. Comprehensive Data Discovery

The journey to robust PII protection begins with an exhaustive discovery of data across your digital estate. This includes both structured data in databases and unstructured data in documents and emails. I recall working with a healthcare organization that believed its patient data was fully accounted for, only to discover, through diligent data mapping, sensitive patient information in unexpected places like shared drives and unsecured cloud storage. This revelation underscored the importance of comprehensive data discovery as the foundation for all subsequent data protection efforts.

Sensitive PII data discovery in Gmail by Strac DLP

2. Accurate Data Categorization

Once data is discovered, categorizing it accurately is vital. Implement a classification schema that distinguishes data not just by type but by sensitivity level and applicable compliance requirements. For example, a financial institution might categorize customer names and addresses as confidential, but account numbers and transaction details as strictly confidential. This nuanced approach facilitates the application of appropriate security measures, tailoring data protection to the level of sensitivity.

Classification of sensitive data shared in SaaS

3. Ongoing Monitoring and Updating

The digital landscape is neither static, nor is the data within it. Continuous data classification monitoring and updating ensure that changes in data storage, processing, or regulatory requirements are promptly addressed. Consider the case of a retail company that expanded its online services, inadvertently creating new data flows that included PII. Regular audits and reclassification efforts helped to quickly identify and secure this data, demonstrating the dynamic nature of effective PII management.

Continuous monitoring of sensitive data in Slack and similar SaaS application by Strac DLP

4. Employee Training and Awareness

The human element cannot be overlooked in PII classification and protection. Educating employees about the importance of PII classification and secure data handling practices is paramount. A memorable example involved an employee who, unaware of the sensitivity of certain customer information, shared it insecurely. This incident led to the implementation of a comprehensive training program, significantly reducing the likelihood of similar breaches in the future.

5. Leveraging Technology Solutions

Finally, using advanced data classification tools can significantly enhance the accuracy and efficiency of PII classification efforts. Strac, for instance, offers an exemplary solution with its automated discovery and real-time protection capabilities. By leveraging such technology, organizations can streamline the classification process and ensure that sensitive data is consistently safeguarded against emerging threats.

Incorporating these best practices into your PII data classification strategy can transform how your organization manages and protects sensitive information.

Strac: The Optimal DLP Solution for PII Classification

Strac shines as a comprehensive solution for PII data classification and protection, embodying efficiency, compliance, and user-friendliness. Here's a concise breakdown of its standout features:

Intuitive Discovery and Classification

  • Automated Processes: Automatically scans and classifies PII across digital repositories, ensuring accuracy and comprehensive coverage.
  • Advanced Algorithms: Capable of handling both structured and unstructured data stored either in the cloud or on-premises.
  • Precision in Categorization: Employs sophisticated algorithms for accurate data categorization based on sensitivity levels.
Sensitive data discovery , classification and redaction by in Intercom by Strac DLP

Real-time Protection and Compliance

  • Dynamic Data Protection: Implements real-time safeguards for classified data, effectively preventing unauthorized access and data breaches.
  • Regulatory Adherence: Facilitates compliance with major data protection regulations (GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA), integrating built-in compliance frameworks to mitigate risks of penalties.

Ease of Integration

  • No-code Setup: Offers a seamless integration process that does not require extensive IT knowledge, making it accessible to all organizations.
Integration of Strac DLP with Slack, ChatGPT, Notion, Zendesk and more SaaS applications
Explore all integrations of Strac DLP
  • Versatile Compatibility: Easily connects with a wide range of data sources and platforms, ensuring smooth adoption into existing digital ecosystems.

User Engagement and Training

  • User-friendly Interface: Designed for ease of use, encouraging engagement from all employees, not just IT specialists.
  • Educational Resources: Provides in-platform training modules and resources to enhance employees’ understanding of PII classification and data protection principles.


As organizations navigate the complexities of data privacy and protection, the importance of implementing robust PII classification and protection strategies cannot be overstated. Strac stands at the forefront of this endeavor, offering a comprehensive solution that simplifies and enhances the processes of discovery, classification, and real-time protection of sensitive data. Its intuitive design, powerful compliance capabilities, and ease of integration make Strac indispensable for any organization committed to safeguarding personally identifiable information.

As you consider the next steps for enhancing your organization's data protection posture, we encourage you to explore Strac’s transformative potential. By integrating Strac into your data protection strategy, you will not only secure sensitive information but also build a culture of privacy and compliance that resonates throughout your organization.

Contact Strac to discover how our DLP solution can elevate your data classification and protection efforts, ensuring your organization remains resilient against threats and compliant with evolving data protection regulations. Together, let's set a new standard for data privacy and security.

Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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