Why are we still using Social Security numbers as ID?

The Equifax breach compromised the personal data of as many as 143 million Americans. Among the data exposed: Social Security numbers.

Criminals can use your Social Security number to steal your identity. They can open bank accounts and credit cards or apply for a loan. Hackers can also get ahold of your tax refund or get medical treatment under your name.

In recent years, SSNs were exposed when fraudsters hacked the U.S. Postal Service, a hospital network and Anthem health insurance.

The data breaches beg the question: Why are we still using Social Security numbers to identify ourselves?

Social Security numbers were first issued in 1936 — “for the sole purpose” of tracking the earnings history of workers for benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

Until 1972, the bottom of the card said: “FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES — NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION.”

But Social Security numbers have since become a key method of ID.

“It was the one unique piece of information that would identify every consumer individually,” Neal O’Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council, told CNN Tech.

Related: The biggest data breaches ever

So if not Social Security numbers, what are the alternatives?

A national identification number is one idea that’s been floated. However, this would be a huge undertaking for the U.S. government — and that number could get hacked as well, according to experts.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a new Social Security number or a new national identification system — whatever that identifier is, it’s still going to be the thing that attackers are going after,” said Russel Van Tuyl, managing consultant of security assessments at Sword & Shield Enterprise Security.

Biometric identifiers — such as fingerprints, iris scans, voice and facial recognition — are potential alternatives. The technology has become more mainstream in recent years: We regularly use our fingerprints to unlock our smartphones….

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