two-factor authentication (Inspiring/Shutterstock.com)

Social Security revises two-factor authentication for user accounts

The Social Security Administration is tightening security for users of online services.

Starting June 10, owners of My Social Security accounts must use a one-time code -- sent to an email address or cell phone -- to access their accounts, according to a notification on the agency’s website.

Although SSA already requires an email address to use the services, the secondary authentication code must be entered along with the individual's username and password in order to access an account.

 Such two-factor authentication is increasingly common for commercial online services and can be significantly more secure than a password alone. “Using two ways to identify you when you log on will help better protect your account from unauthorized use and potential identity fraud,” the agency said.

SSA rolled out a policy last summer requiring My Social Security account holders to confirm their identities via a text-enabled mobile device. That plan, however, met with some complaints from lawmakers that it could limit access by retirees who didn’t have a cell phone. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told SSA Commissioner Carolyn Colvin in a letter that studies indicated that just 35 percent of Americans over the age of 65 use text messaging.

The agency relaxed the requirement two weeks later.

Security expert Peter Krebs, in the May 17 issue of his security newsletter, questioned the value of the agency’s revised approach. Allowing users to reset their passwords with the same email account that will receive the one-time code “seems to lessen the value of this requirement as a security measure,” he said.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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