Storing PII securely

From day 1 we’ll have to store personally identifying information:

  • User identifiers such as email addresses, openids or other authentication tokens, etc.
  • User names and content of user profiles
  • Connection logs
  • Not exactly PII but related: passwords (if we use passwords)

How do we store all of this securely? Note that it’s not just about public relations, it’s also about legal requirements (e.g. GDPR). Where (in which jurisdiction) is it stored? Who has access?

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  • Passwords:
    Salt & hash with industry-standard algorithms. That’s the easy part because passwords only need to be verified, not actually read.
  • User names and content of user profiles:
    Not sure what the concern is here, as that information will, by and large, be publicly accessible.
  • Email addresses, phone #s (if used as backup verification method as many sites do), security questions (if we use them), etc. and any other PII:
    Need to work on this. Should be encrypted, but since the data needs to actually be unencrypted and used, proper programming methods need to be used to minimize the exposure of data.
  • Connection Logs
    In my experience, connection logs (logs in general) are typically not encrypted but are stored as plain text. The most important thing is to store them in a location where they can’t be accessed directly - i.e., out of the web server path.

GDPR may be a big issue. As I understand it (and I really don’t understand it very well), GDPR can be an issue for any web server hosted in the affected area (which is something arguably we should avoid) but also for any relevant data about any users from the affected area, which is something we can’t easily avoid (and don’t want to avoid - we want users from around the world). Anyone with relevant experience with GDPR and similar issues?

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I have some experience with GDPR. It’s not as onerous as folks think it is.

We don’t have to store PII encrypted. We can if we choose to, but it’s not a requirement. We simply have to ensure only authorized people have access to it, which can be achieved simply by controlling access to the deployment server.

As for access - keep it limited. The sysadmin for the deployment server will have access to things, of course. It’d probably be wise to have one or two developers with access, too. Anyone who has access, until we are a legal entity, must be listed with contact details in a public privacy statement. See here for an example.

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This is also under (broader) consideration in this post: