Keeping one secret just got a little harder

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

EASt TEXAS (KLTV) - These days, some would say it's more important than your finger print - your Social Security Number. But, researchers say they've found a weak spot in the system that generates those all-powerful numbers. We aren't giving away any secrets, but keeping your number a secret just got a little harder.

The Social Security Administration has been around for a while, and so has the SSN.

"Over time it's evolved into a personal identification number which was not Social Security's intent," said Leo Rossler who manages the Tyler Social Security office. "There's always been a base way in which we issue numbers."

The first three digits of the SSN are called its area number. The next two are its group number. The last four are its serial number. The area numbers are assigned based on a specific zip code. The group numbers are then assigned 0-1 through 99 within the area. The last four serial numbers range from 1 to 9999 within each group.

Combining that with the information about an individual's place and date of birth which is easily picked up from social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and with the SSA's death master file, which is also available to the public, researchers were able to predict Social Security Numbers with great accuracy. They even let the public test their research on their website.

"This is a good study," said Rossler. "We're glad to know.

"It's good to have somebody on the outside looking in basically trying to beat your system, saying this is what we're able to do," said Sgt. Rob Bowen. "You need to do to fix it."

Behind the secure doors, investigators with Longview police battle ID theft and other cyber crimes. Sgt. Bowen heads up the department.

"It's the way of the world," said Bowen. "If you're not keeping up with your technology, then we're going to fall behind."

He says the study is impressive, and researchers think so too. Letting visitors go to their website and put their findings to the test, but he says the typical ID thieves are subtle.

"[They] are looking over your shoulder while you fill out an application at a cell phone kiosk," said Bowen.

"Technology changes everyday, and you can't sit back," said Rossler. "You have to be vigilant."

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