DoD still working to tighten SSN controls

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

The Defense Department is continuing its effort to move away from the use of Social Security numbers to identify service members, although full implementation of an alternative system of ID numbers designed to decrease identity theft will not happen until 2012.

Last week, the Navy closed down one potential fraud magnet. Prior to the change, announcements of promotions and other personnel messages posted to a public Navy website as recently as 2008 contained the last four digits of individual members’ Social Security numbers.

The office of the Secretary of Defense ordered in a Nov. 23 memorandum that no part of any social security number be posted on any public-facing website.

A December journal article written by four West Point professors argued that despite the Defense Department’s recent advances in protecting personally identifiable information (PII) such as Social Security number, the military continues to have a “cultural disregard” for PII. It pointed out that using only the last four digits of a Social Security number offers little protection against ID theft, since the first digits can frequently be discovered by a fraudster who can determine the year and location of their victims’ birth.

“For our enemy to be successful now they must find new ways to attack us, and we are giving them an easy attack vector with the current culture of promiscuous PII use and leakage,” the authors wrote. “How effective would a battalion be in which more than half the soldiers and all the key leaders are facing eviction, home foreclosures and automobile repossession because their financial identity is in the hands of terrorists or criminals?”

DoD is in the process of tightening controls on the use of Social Security numbers, partially in response to a 2007 Office of Management and Budget memo that ordered agencies to eliminate all nonessential uses of the numbers. A Nov. 5 Pentagon directive indicated that DoD plans to begin phasing in the use of alternative numbers for personnel identification and benefits administration in 2011.

The Coast Guard in 2000 transitioned to an alternative employee ID number system that it uses for most purposes, although its uniformed members still carry armed services identity cards that bear their full Social Security numbers for Geneva Convention purposes.

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