WASHINGTON (WKOW) -- Researchers say there's a surprisingly easy way for the technology-savvy to figure out the precious nine digits of Americans' Social Security numbers.
"It's good that we found it before the bad guys," Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh said of the method for predicting the numbers.
Acquisti and Ralph Gross report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they were able to make the predictions using data available in public records as well as information such as birth dates cheerfully provided on social networks such as Facebook.
For people born after 1988 - when the government began issuing numbers at birth - the researchers were able to identify, in a single attempt, the first five Social Security digits for 44 percent of individuals. And they got all nine digits for 8.5 percent of those people in fewer than 1,000 attempts.
For smaller states their accuracy was considerably higher than in larger ones.
Acquisti said in a telephone interview that he has sent the findings to the Social Security Administration and other government agencies with a suggestion they adopt a more random system for assigning numbers.
Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter said the public should not be alarmed by the report "because there is no foolproof method for predicting a person's Social Security number."
"The suggestion that Mr. Acquisti has cracked a code for predicting an SSN is a dramatic exaggeration," Lassiter said via e-mail.
However, he added: "For reasons unrelated to this report, the agency has been developing a system to randomly assign SSNs. This system will be in place next year."