Could Cyber-Crooks Guess Your Social Security Number?


Social networking is all fun and games until someone hijacks your social security number, sells it to the seedy underground world of cyber-crime, and ultimately destroys your credit. But does that really happen?

According to a new study, it very well could. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University showed how social security numbers can be guessed using information found in sites like Facebook, MySpace, and other popular Web portals. And it's not just a freak occurrence, either. Using information culled from such sites, researchers were able to predict, on the first try, the first five digits of a person's social security number 44 percent of the time for 160,000 people born between 1989 and 2003.

"We live in a precarious time, where knowledge of a Social Security number, along with other information about one's name and date of birth, is sometimes sufficient to impersonate another individual," said Alessandro Acquisti, the study's lead author, in an telephone interview with Bloomberg.

Sites like Facebook leave personal information visible by default when creating a profile, and it's the birth data that is particularly telling, as the first three digits are assigned based on where a person lived at the time of obtaining a Social Security card. Using this information, Acquisiti said "the first five digits are easy to predict."

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