The Social Security number (SSN) is a common tool of identity thieves. The use of the SSN is so widespread that it is a de facto national identification number. A key issue is that businesses and government agencies collect the SSN and use it both to identify and then authenticate (i.e. authorize access) individuals. The ubiquity of the number makes it easy to cobble together a new identity using personal information from several sources and because it is a weak authenticator criminals can easily exploit it to gain access to sensitive information such as bank records. Computing compounds this problem by making it easier to collect, exchange, analyze and use personal information without consent or authorization. Pieces of information that were previously hard to connect to an individual are now much easier to link together, re-identifying someone whose information was supposedly ‘anonymized.’ With SSNs used broadly, minimizing its contribution to identity theft will involve policies and procedures that will help preserve the privacy and security of individuals.

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