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SaaS Privacy and Security: Personally Identifiable Information

Alona Katz January 14, 2021
With more than six years of multi-tenant SaaS operations, Aternity has implemented numerous cloud privacy and security features to protect our customers' data. Here's how we address controlling access to personally identifiable information (PII).

As a product owner for the Aternity Digital Experience Management Platform, I frequently receive customer requests around data privacy and security. After more than six years of multi-tenant SaaS operation, Aternity has addressed many of these, including encrypting personally identifiable information (PII).

My last blog covered how Aternity uses data restriction for Role-based Access Control (RBAC). With this approach to RBAC, Aternity administrators can limit the data that users in their organization can see based on their role, location, or any other attribute that the organization requires. In this blog, I’ll cover how Aternity can encrypt PII data for monitored devices. The challenge is not only to encrypt the data but also able to configure which data you can encrypt, while still providing departments like the Service Desk the information they need to address users’ complaints and troubleshot their devices.

Here’s an overview of how Aternity enables PII encryption to address the requirements of our hundreds of SaaS customers with millions of endpoints under management.

What is personally identifiable information?

As background, personally identifiable information is any data that can be used to distinguish a specific person. Traditionally, names, social security numbers, addresses and phone numbers have been considered PII. In technology, the list of PII also includes users’ device names, IP addresses, and login IDs. But PII categories are not fixed. They may include categories of information that could be used to identify an individual person when combined with other information that may become publicly available. The broader the range of PII data, the more difficult it becomes to comply with requirements around its control, so companies need a flexible approach.

Regulations on controlling access to PII

Regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) specify requirements for controlling access to personally identifiable information, and the penalties for failure to do so. The requirements apply to any worldwide company that processes or stores information on citizens of the EU. GDPR regulations grant rights to citizens about how their PII data is used, both inside their own company and outside of it. Even when it comes to internal use of PII by Service Desk and End User Services teams.

Personally Identifiable Information collected by Aternity

digital experience monitoring, end-user experience monitoring, three streams of data
Aternity correlates together three streams of data: device performance, application performance, and user productivity

As a digital experience management platform used by the IT teams of some of the largest companies in the world, Aternity naturally collects PII. Aternity correlates application and device performance information together with information about the user. IT teams need employee personal data, both for their own jobs, and to deliver excellent service to employees. Service Desk teams use Aternity to proactively identify and resolve end user issues. End-user Services teams use Aternity to provision their employees with the devices and applications they need to work productively. Application teams use Aternity to troubleshoot problems that users are experiencing with business-critical applications.

Aternity collects two types of data:

  • Performance measurements, like wait times, response times, or resource consumption.
  • Non-measurable descriptive attributes, which add context to the performance measurements to help troubleshoot the problem, like a device name, username, location name, application name and so on.

Aternity collects PII data only for troubleshooting purpose and stores it only for a maximum of three months.

Two approaches to PII data encryption

To comply with company policies and regulations like GDPR, IT teams require the ability to encrypt the personally identifiable information collected by Aternity on the employees in their companies. We see two common approaches to PII data encryption:

  1. Account-wide encryption: Customers want to encrypt the PII data of the entire organization’s devices and users.
  2. Selected encryption: Customers want to encrypt the PII data of only specific users’ devices.

Both options are possible with Aternity with either Agent privacy or account level PII configuration.

Encrypting PII for the entire organization

Enabling encryption on the entire account is done at the Aternity server, not on the Aternity agents. Aternity account administrators who also have the rights to view PII data can decide which PII fields to encrypt and which to keep visible.

personally identifiable information, PII, PII encryption
Aternity administrators can select a variety of PII fields to encrypt.

 

Aternity comes with a default predefined encryption key out of the box, but the account administrator can also set the encryption key and determine which users have the privilege to view PII.

Here’s what the Aternity administrator sees when selecting the data fields for global PII encryption.

personally identifiable information, PII, PII encryption

Encrypting PII for selected devices or users

In some cases, customers want to encrypt personally identifiable information only for selected devices or users. For example, it may be important to restrict PII for a company’s senior executive team or for employees who work in a department that handles classified information. In this scenario, encryption of PII is done at the Aternity agent for the selected employees’ devices. Enabling the Aternity agent privacy mode can be done during installation or by updating registry key.

When the Aternity agent reports in the privacy mode, the server encrypts symmetrically (with a consistent key) the PII data from the devices. Therefore, your IT teams can still associate several performance problems with the same hostname or user but would not know the real-world name of the user who has those problems.

Viewing employee experience data with PII encryption

Users with the View PII privilege can view the decrypted data only on the Summary bar (header) of the dashboards. They can also search not by the key, but by the real-world name. This enables Service Desk, End-user Services, or Application teams who need to communicate with the employee complaining of an issue with user experience.

Here’s an example of what the Service Desk teams see when viewing an Aternity dashboard for a user with PII data encryption enabled. Service Desk agents are prevented from seeing encrypted information such as the employee name, username, their department, and their contact information. The device name and IP address are also encrypted.

personally identifiable information, PII, PII encryption
An example of the Aternity Service Desk dashboard with PII data encrypted.

 

When viewing the Device Details dashboard, they get a complete view of the installed software and device attributes that do not contact personally identifiable information.

personally identifiable information, PII, PII encryption
A view of the Device Details dashboard with PII data encrypted.

 

Stay tuned for more on Aternity SaaS cloud security and privacy capabilities

Because Aternity has hundreds of global companies in our customer base, we’re very familiar with the privacy requirements that result from GDPR. Our Aternity Digital Experience Management platform has been certified as GDPR compliant for more than six years. (Visit the Aternity Trust Center to learn more about security and compliance.)

Aternity Free TrialIf you’re not yet an Aternity customer, you can explore how we help you address the IT challenges of a remote workforce. You can get started today by registering for a free trial of Aternity running in your environment. You’ll see how your organization compares to the market with the benchmarking insights from millions of end points monitored in via Aternity SaaS. You’ll see how your Service Desk can drive down costs and improve service with AI-driven automated remediation. And you’ll get a view of employee experience for every app running in your environment – even SaaS and Shadow IT.

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