It's Your Birthday? We've Got Your Number - NBC Chicago

It's Your Birthday? We've Got Your Number

Research shows that finding SSNs through Facebook is easy as 1-2-3



    It's Your Birthday? We've Got Your Number
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    You may want to think twice about how nice those online happy birthday messages are.

    We know how popular you feel when you get all those “Happy Birthday!” wall posts on Facebook when it's your special day, but new research over privacy may change your opinion about how much you share.

    Researchers claim that with as little information as your birthday and hometown, the technology-savvy can figure out your Social Security number with surprising ease.

    "It's good that we found it before the bad guys," Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh told the Chicago Tribune of the method for predicting the numbers.

    But with an issuance method in place that Acquisti claims is predictable in how it assigns Social Security numbers, the “bad guys” may not be far behind.

    Researchers were able to identify the first five Social Security digits for 44% of individuals born after 1988 – when they started issuing numbers at birth – their very first try. All nine digits were identified for 8.5 percent of post-1988 babies in fewer than 1,000 attempts.

    1988? Um, as if college students aren’t irresponsible enough with their money, let’s throw in some identity theft to destroy their credit even more.

    Acquisti and Ralph Gross reported their findings in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They sent the findings to the Social Security Administration, suggesting they adopt a system that assigns numbers more randomly.

    “There is no foolproof method for predicting a person’s Social Security number,” Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter said. “The suggestion that Mr. Acquisti has cracked a code for predicting an SSN is a dramatic exaggeration.”

    Lassiter did say, however, the agency does plan to develop a new system of assigning SSNs for reasons other than Acquisti’s and Gross’ findings.

    Current SSNs are easily predicted based on patterns that Acquisti noticed after plotting data from people in the SSA’s “Death Master File,” which contains the SSNs of people that have died.

    "I was surprised by the accuracy of certain predictions," Acquisti said.

    And yeah, the smorgasbord of personal information plastered on your Facebook and MySpace don’t really help either.

    So let us boost your ego one final time: happy birthday! – be it now, yesterday or five months away.

    There, you happy? Now take it off your homepage.