White House Official, Former NSA Hacker: Social Security Numbers Are Useless

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After the hack of credit agency Equifax exposed the social security numbers of 145.5 million people back in May, the White House is now looking for a more secure and technologically attuned identification system. Using Social Security numbers to confirm personal identity is a "flawed system", and has "outlived" its usefulness, White House cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce said at a conference today sponsored by the Washington Post. "Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk".

Even though the problem is clear, experts say, there is no easy path to phase out Social Security numbers. The breach effectively compromised the national identification number of almost half of the entire country. Now, they are used for medical records, to open a bank account, and to run a credit check.

Joyce has reportedly raised the issue of ditching Social Security numbers with the Trump administration.

Joyce said a federal team is looking at "what the technologies are that could change or replace these identifiers", such as using public key encryption.

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"It's not a great method to authenticate given that these have been stolen from all of us many times", said Michael Sulmeyer, director of the Cyber Security Project at Harvard's Belfer Center.

This may involved "a public and private key" including "something that could be revoked if it has been compromised", Joyce added. That private key must be verified in order to receive or send a message. While the breach at the company that happened on Smith's watch is responsible for the latest push to move away from Social Security numbers, the ousted executive echoed the idea while testifying in front of Congress Tuesday.

"A Social Security number was never meant to be more than an identification credential for government services", said Michael Figueroa, executive director of the Advanced Cyber Security Center in Boston. "I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth, and a name".

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