Will The Government Ditch The SSN For A “Modern Cryptographic Identifier”?

Has the social security number moved so far past its prime that it is time to consider and alternative?

That is increasingly the conclusion of Rob Joyce, White House cybersecurity czar, who thinks it might just be time to thank the social for its service and then place it into retirement — because it is no longer doing what it is supposed to (and does a lot of things it isn’t).

“I believe the social security number has outlived its usefulness,” said Joyce, while speaking at The Washington Post’s Cybersecurity Summit. “Every time we use the social security number, you put it at risk.”

Among the problems with it? The customer is stuck with it no matter what — breached or not, it is not changeable.

“It’s a flawed system that we can’t roll back after a breach,” he said, referring to the massive Equifax hack.

Joyce, according to reports, has “raised the issue” with the Trump administration. Separate news reports in Bloomberg indicated that the Trump administration has asked federal departments and agencies “to look into the vulnerabilities of employing the identifier tied to retirement benefits, as well as how to replace the existing system.”

Joyce said, “It’s really clear there needs to be a change.”

And, notably, Joyce is far from alone in this belief. Equifax’s former CEO Richard Smith made similar comments in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“The concept of a social security number in this environment being private and secure—I think it’s time as a country to think beyond that,” Smith testified. “What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth, and a name.”

Joyce has said that instead of what we know is not working, he would like to see the social supplanted with a “modern cryptographic identifier,” like public and private keys.

“I personally know my social security number has been compromised at least four times in my lifetime. That’s just untenable,” Smith said.

The “White House may be indirectly coming to Equifax’s rescue,” financial services firm Cowen wrote on the move in a research note. “This reduces the risk of business-model-busting legislation such as a requirement that consumers opt-in to a credit bureau collecting their data.”


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