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Researchers crack social security code

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Study predicts progression of social security numbers


A group of researchers have formulated a method to predict a person's social security number with little more than the individual's date and place of birth.

The pair of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University said that their findings could pose serious threats to the use of social security numbers to protect personal data, and could pose new risks for identity theft.

First devised in the 1930s, the Social Security office assigns a nine-digit number to each US citizen. The numbers are often used to verify identity by financial and health institutions.

The researchers suggested that the 70 year old social security number system has become 'obsolete' for use in authentication practices, such as passwords or access codes.

Key to the study was the Social Security administration's public 'death file' database. The database is used to track the social security numbers of the deceased in order to prevent fraud and identity theft from those numbers.

By analyzing the death database along with other statistical information, the researchers were able to construct a method by which an individual's birth date and state of birth could be used to guess the person's social security number with what the researchers term as "great accuracy."

"In a world of wired consumers, it is possible to combine information from multiple sources to infer data that is more personal and sensitive than any single piece of original information alone," said author Alessandro Acquisti,

"Given the inherent vulnerability of Social Security numbers, it is time to stop using them for verifying identities and redirect our efforts toward implementing secure, privacy-preserving authentication methods."

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