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Social Security Numbers Predictable: Experts

July 11, 2009

Identity thieves can easily access anyone’s Social Security number by using information commonly posted by users on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, according to experts.

In a study conducted by Ralph Gross and Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University, Social Security numbers can be easily predicted by using simple formula and knowing basic information about a person.

The two researchers studied 500,000 expired Social Security numbers which can be easily access from the agency’s “death master file” which is published online.

Acquisti said the death master file can be used to conclude patterns and break the Social Security numbers especially of those people who were born in the late 80’s when it became a common practice to issue numbers to newborns.

Acquisti said that by using the death master record, they have found the Social Security numbers of several individuals with nearby dates and who are also living in the same state.

While the researchers declined to give the exact formula they used to prevent identity thieves from stealing sensitive information, they said that breaking the number pattern is easy because this only includes personal details such as the place of birth, the state that issued the number, and the date of birth—information which are commonly posted by online users.

Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration (SSA) dismissed the researchers’ studies, adding that the threat is not serious. However, the agency announced its plan to modify the current system of issuing numbers.

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