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Researchers suggest biometrics among technologies that could secure Social Security numbers

The U.S. government should modernize the Social Security number (SSN) by encrypting it with biometrics or other mechanisms in order to ensure its security and effectiveness as an identifier, researchers from McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies have concluded, according to Nextgov.

The researchers produced a report suggesting that most Americans SSNs are no longer secret, after the massive Equifax breach surely increased the number that had been stolen by hackers. That number was already estimated at between 60 and 80 percent in 2015.

SSNs continue to play an important role for the government, so the researchers argue that making it harder to steal and easier to secure in the event of a data breach is the practical course of action.
“This nine-digit number has become the core credential for government and commercial purposes—things for which it was never designed,” the researchers write. “The [Social Security number] faces significant problems as an identifier, and after 80 years, it is time to modernize it.”

They suggest that modernization should take the form of a smart card, which could be embedded with a readable chip to create a proxy number linked to the encrypted SSN, with the proxy number changing if it is compromised. Several methods of linking the encrypted SSN to the proxy are discussed in the report, including biometrics, blockchain, public key infrastructure, and mobile authenticator apps. Whatever new system is decided on will likely involve the design participation of the private sector, the researchers say.

Numerous countries have introduced national ID cards with embedded biometrics, with The Gambia and Azerbaijan among recent examples.

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