Monday, August 3, 2009
Predicting Social Security Numbers
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon's H. John Heinz III College have shown that public information readily gleaned from governmental sources, commercial data bases, or online social networks can be used to routinely predict most — and sometimes all — of an individual’s nine-digit Social Security number.
Project lead Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at Heinz College, and Ralph Gross, a post-doctoral researcher at the College, have found that an individual’s date and state of birth are sufficient to guess his or her Social Security number with great accuracy.
“In a world of wired consumers, it is possible to combine information from multiple sources to infer data that is more personal and sensitive than any single piece of original information alone,” said Acquisti, a researcher in the Carnegie Mellon CyLab. “Information that once was useful to make public may now be too available.”