Office of Information Security urges Penn Staters to protect their data privacy

January 25, 2019

January 28, 2019 marks national Data Privacy Day, an effort to empower people to protect their online privacy and control their digital footprint. With data breaches routinely making international news headlines, Penn State’s Office of Information Security would like to take this opportunity to remind all Penn Staters that it’s more important than ever to ensure you take steps to keep your valuable information private.

Why is protecting my privacy important?

Cybercrime and identity theft are on the rise globally, and major organizations (including one of the three major credit bureaus) have had data breaches exposing the personal information of hundreds of millions of people. The loss or exposure of your personally identifiable information can result in the loss of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. For example, the average cost per family victimized by identity theft is $12,000. The average cost per exposed record to the breached institution is $250

What is the difference between personal information and personally identifiable information?

Personal information could be anything that helps to identify you as an individual—your age, your address, your mother’s name, etc. This type of information differs from personally identifiable information, or PII. PII is information that is uniquely yours; no other person on earth has it. For example, your name is personal information—but there may be other people who have the same name as you do. However, your driver’s license number is uniquely yours—no two people in the United States have the same exact license number. For that reason, personally identifiable information poses more of a risk when exposed. A criminal, for example, may not be able to open a credit card account with your name and address, but add your social security number to that information and suddenly the likelihood of that criminal succeeding grows much higher.

How do I keep my personal (and personally identifiable) information private?

Taking basic measures to protect your privacy starts with you. Here are three quick tips to protect your online privacy:

  1. Check your Social Settings
    • Most social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, all have privacy settings that can be modified to restrict who views your social persona online. Think about what you post before you post it–is this the type of information you’d feel comfortable sharing with a stranger? What would happen if that information got out publicly?
  2. Monitor Your Credit
    • Identity theft is on the rise nationwide. One of the easiest things you can do to ensure that others aren’t opening accounts in your name is to monitor your credit regularly. You’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, so take advantage. Credit reporting bureaus also offer the option to lock your credit, preventing additional accounts from being opened in your name without first contacting you. Finally, some credit card companies offer free “credit freezing,” meaning that additional charges cannot be made to your account without your authorization.
  3. Don’t Store Private Data on Public Sites
    • Free storage services such as Dropbox and Google Drive offer lots of convenience when it comes to storing your files, but they’re not the best place to store your personal (and especially your personally identifiable) information. If someone would happen to crack your password or compromise your account, they gain access to everything you’ve stored on these services. For something like your fun vacation photos, it might not be a big deal, but if it’s your tax return, the consequences could be catastrophic.

The best strategy to protect your personal information is not to divulge it unless you’re confident that the website you’re visiting will protect it. Reveal only the information that’s absolutely necessary to complete the task you’re doing. Think about the information you provide to websites—what would happen if your name and birthdate got out? Or your children’s names?

For more information on data privacy and how to protect your information, please visit the University Privacy Office at

You can also find more information on Data Privacy Day at:

Last Updated January 25, 2019