Research finds social security numbers can be guessed

Jul 7, 2009 11:11am


By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

An article by Brian Krebs  in today’s Washington Post, reporting on a study by Carnegie Mellon University, raises serious concerns. The study, using publicly available information, showed that with basic information about an individual, it is possible to construct the real social security number of many people. According to the story,

“Records of an individual's state and date of birth can be obtained from a variety of sources, including voter registration lists and commercial databases. What's more, many people now self-publish this information as part of their personal profiles on blogs and social networking sites. Indeed, the researchers tested their method using birthdays and hometowns that CMU students published on social networking sites, with similar results.”

While it may be difficult to prevent other people from publishing or even losing data about you, what you post about yourself is under your control. As we evolve into a digital culture, we must rethink how we value personal information. While our egos may want to announce to the world that this day commemorates the moment we entered it and the world has not been the same since, given the findings of the CMU study you might want to pause before you decide to broadcast your birthday.

To protect ourselves online we need to always have a clear understanding of who is going to see the information we share, what is the value of that information, and why someone else should have it. We also need to take be careful what information we share about others. For example, you post a picture of your child playing with friends since you have decided that you are OK with having your child’s picture on the Internet. Have you checked with your friends to see if they feel the same way? If they called you after they saw it and asked you to take it down would you immediately respect their wishes understanding that sharing that kind of information is a personal decision?

There are new sets of rules and etiquette that need to established in the digital age.

The issues raised by this study also go to the heart of the Internet moving forward. Being able to verify who you are will become increasingly important to conducting business over the Internet. How that gets verified will be an important debate in the months and years ahead.

Do what you can now to protect those vital elements of your personal information.

SSO (stay safe online),

Michael