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December 4, 2023
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 min read

Securing SSNs: Best Practices for Enterprise Data Protection

Discover key practices for securely managing Social Security Numbers (SSNs), ensuring data safety and compliance in modern enterprises

 Securing SSNs: Best Practices for Enterprise Data Protection
Calendar Icon White
December 4, 2023
Clock Icon
 min read

Securing SSNs: Best Practices for Enterprise Data Protection

Discover key practices for securely managing Social Security Numbers (SSNs), ensuring data safety and compliance in modern enterprises


  • In the modern digital world, ensuring the security of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) within business environments is vital. 
  • This means encrypting and securely storing SSNs, enforcing strict access controls, and routinely checking for compliance.
  • Regular training for employees on data security and a strong plan for responding to incidents are also important for being prepared in case of a breach. 
  • Furthermore, it's essential to implement Data Loss Prevention (DLP) strategies to monitor and protect SSN data across different platforms, preventing unauthorized access and identity theft.

A nine-digit code holds the key to unlocking your most private information. Yes, that's the significance of a Social Security Number (SSN) in the United States. It's not just a string of numbers but a crucial weapon that grants access to someone's financial history, credit details, and personal identity. 

While a person's name remains the most frequently exposed individual credential in breaches in the first half of 2023, a Social Security Number has surpassed the date of birth as the second most frequently exposed individual credential. Social Security numbers were compromised in 69% of breaches, up from 60% the previous year. 

Protecting these numbers is not just about privacy; it's about shielding ourselves from potential risks that can disrupt our lives. As we navigate through the complexities of digital data, understanding SSN security is the gateway to safeguarding our modern identities and protecting our financial and personal stories.

Understanding Social Security Numbers(SSN)

The SSN, a nine-digit number, is given to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary working residents. Initially designed for social security tracking, it has evolved into a crucial identifier in many aspects of American life.

In everyday life, your Social Security Number (SSN) plays a key role in various situations. For instance, you'll need it when setting up a bank account, seeking a loan, getting health insurance, filing taxes, and accessing certain educational resources. In the professional world, employers use SSNs to report wages to the IRS and track an employee's earnings history for Social Security benefits. SSNs are more than just numbers – they're essential for the smooth operation of numerous financial and governmental systems.

Legal and ethical responsibilities in handling SSNs

Laws and ethical considerations create a complex framework for managing SSNs, acknowledging their sensitivity and significance.

Privacy laws, such as the Social Security Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, set clear guidelines for collecting, sharing, and using Social Security Numbers. Breaking these rules can result in serious legal consequences.

However, treating SSNs ethically goes beyond just following the law. It's about valuing people's privacy and security. This includes

  • being mindful about collecting SSNs, 
  • only asking for them when truly needed, and 
  • ensuring individuals understand how their SSNs will be safeguarded and used. 

Further, organizations that gather social security numbers should establish strong security protocols, such as secure storage, limited access, and policies to prevent unauthorized sharing.

Organizations should openly communicate their policies regarding using Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and take responsibility in case of mishandling or breaches. This includes clearly informing individuals about why their SSN is being collected and the measures to protect it.

As the data security environment is always evolving, it is crucial to consistently update security protocols and compliance measures to safeguard SSNs from new risks.


Encryption of SSNs

Protecting sensitive information such as Social Security Numbers (SSNs) is crucial and encryption is a key player in this defense strategy.

Data Encryption involves converting data or information into a code, making it inaccessible to unauthorized users. This process involves using an algorithm and a key to transform readable data (plaintext) into an unreadable format (ciphertext). This ensures that even if the data is intercepted or accessed without permission, it remains incomprehensible and secure. 

The security of SSNs hinges on encryption due to their widespread use across various sectors, such as finance and healthcare. Encrypting these numbers greatly enhances their security during transmission and storage, reducing the risk of compromise or misuse.

Types of Encryption:

  • Symmetric encryption relies on a single key for encrypting and decrypting data, requiring strict secrecy and sharing only among authorized individuals. When applied to SSN security, symmetric encryption proves to be swift and effective for safeguarding extensive data sets like SSN databases. 
  • Public-key cryptography, also called asymmetric encryption, employs a set of keys - a public key for encoding and a private key for decoding. The public key can be distributed openly, while the private key must remain confidential. When safeguarding SSNs during transmission over networks like the Internet, asymmetric encryption is crucial. It enables the sender to encode the SSN using the recipient's public key, guaranteeing that only the recipient can decode it with their private key. 

8 Best Practices for Secure Storage of SSNs

With the rise of data breaches, ensuring the secure handling of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) is more important than ever to safeguard individuals from identity theft and shield organizations from reputational harm. The following are comprehensive strategies for effectively managing SSNs to ensure their security.

1. Secure databases and storage solutions

Encrypt SSNs in databases to protect them from unauthorized access or theft. Encryption converts data into a secure code that can only be decoded with a specific decryption key. Use industry-standard protocols like AES-256 to encrypt SSNs when they're stored. This way, the information will stay unreadable without the right decryption key, even if there's a data breach.

Implement physical security protocols to safeguard servers containing SSNs, such as controlling access to server rooms and utilizing highly secure data centers equipped with comprehensive surveillance and alarm systems. 

Benefits: This approach guarantees the protection and confidentiality of SSNs, making them inaccessible to unauthorized parties even in the event of a data breach. For instance, employing AES-256 encryption, recognized as one of the most robust encryption techniques, ensures the continued security of SSNs in the face of potential breaches.

2. Access controls and authentication mechanisms

Utilize Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) to restrict access to SSNs only to authorized employees, reducing the potential for internal misuse. Additionally, implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for systems that handle SSNs, requiring users to provide multiple verification factors and enhancing security against unauthorized access.

Benefits: This powerful combination drastically lowers the chances of unauthorized entry, shielding against outside dangers and potential internal abuse. For instance, only authorized medical personnel and billing experts can view patient SSNs within a medical environment. Access mandates a password and a secondary verification, such as a biometric scan, guaranteeing top-notch security.

3. Regular audits and compliance checks

Regularly conduct internal and external audits to evaluate the security infrastructure. External audits offer an impartial assessment of security measures. Keep security practices up to date to comply with regulations such as HIPAA or GDPR, ensuring that legal standards for SSN protection are upheld.

Benefits: Regular audits uncover possible security vulnerabilities and verify that the procedures for handling Social Security Numbers (SSNs) align with the most up-to-date legal and security requirements. For instance, consider an annual third-party audit conducted for a university responsible for managing student SSNs, specifically adhering to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) regulations and maintaining robust data security practices.

Related -  Top Enterprise Data Security Best Practices

4. Secure communication channels

When sending social security numbers, employ secure communication methods such as encrypted email platforms and secure file transfer protocols to safeguard the data during transit. 

Employ endpoint encryption for sending social security numbers electronically. Technologies like TLS (Transport Layer Security) should be a standard practice for email and file transfers. Use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) for secure access to internal networks, guaranteeing that any transmission of social security numbers is safely encrypted.

Benefits: Secure transmission protects data during electronic communication by preventing unauthorized parties from intercepting SSNs. A tax preparation business, for example, uses a secure, encrypted email platform to exchange documents containing SSNs from clients, assuring the security of sensitive information.

5. Policies for sharing SSNs

Organizations should have well-defined rules about how Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are shared. These rules should outline the specific circumstances and methods for sharing SSNs within the organization and with outside parties. 

Internally, strict guidelines should be set for sharing SSNs, restricting it to necessary situations and ensuring that all transmissions are secure. 

Externally, clear protocols need to be established for sharing SSNs with third parties, including contractual agreements that require adherence to data protection standards.

Benefits: These policies are designed to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to SSNs and guarantee that they are only shared in a secure and controlled manner. For instance, a company policy may dictate that SSNs are only disclosed when necessary and must be transmitted using secure methods like encrypted email or VPN-secured networks when shared externally.

6. Regular updates and training on data security and privacy

It's crucial to keep staff well-versed in SSN security and up-to-date on emerging cybersecurity threats through regular training sessions. Make sure to educate employees about the importance of following security protocols. Stay informed about new cyber threats and data protection technologies to maintain a high level of vigilance.

Benefits: Ongoing learning ensures that employees stay knowledgeable and alert, minimizing the risk of accidental data exposure or security breaches caused by lack of knowledge or carelessness. Conduct data security workshops twice yearly to educate its staff on protecting customer information, such as SSNs, and recognizing phishing attempts.

7. Incident response and recovery

  • Preparing for potential data breaches: Having a clear strategy that describes urgent steps to be followed in the case of a breach, such as isolating affected systems and establishing the degree of the breach.
  • Responding to SSN exposure or theft: Organizations should act swiftly in the event of SSN exposure or theft. This involves informing those affected, contacting the appropriate authorities, and possibly enlisting the expertise of a cyber forensics team.
  • Recovery processes and notification procedures: Implementing recovery plans into action, such as resetting access controls and informing credit bureaus, to minimize the consequences of a security breach.

Benefits: A proactive strategy ensures a rapid and efficient response to security breaches, reducing harm and facilitating speedy recovery. A thorough breach response protocol involves promptly isolating affected systems, conducting a comprehensive investigation to assess the scope of the breach, and quickly informing affected customers and regulatory authorities. 

8. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) strategies

  • Sensitive data identification and classification: SSNs are always treated with the utmost security standards, thanks to DLP solutions' automatic identification and classification.
  • Monitoring and controlling data transfer: DLP solutions can monitor and control data transfer by tracking the movement of SSNs within the network and notifying administrators of any illegal transfer attempts.
  • Endpoint protection: Endpoint protection restricts SSNs from being copied to external devices or communicated outside the network.
  • Integration of DLP with other security measures: Combining DLP with additional security measures, such as intrusion detection systems, establishes a multi-layered defense mechanism that prevents potential attacks.

Benefits: DLP tools improve the general security stance by offering targeted safeguarding for SSNs, preventing accidental or intentional exposure. For instance, a financial institution employs DLP technology that promptly identifies any effort to send SSNs via email beyond the company's network, preventing potential data breaches.

How to securely store and share SSN in Cloud and SaaS ?

Strac is an advanced DLP solution designed to meet the high standards of modern businesses in protecting sensitive data such as Social Security Numbers (SSNs). Our platform integrates cutting-edge technology with a user-friendly interface to ensure strong security for SSNs and facilitate compliance with strict data protection laws.

Book a demo today!

Key features of Strac

  • Experience the seamless and intuitive Strac, designed to simplify the deployment and management of our advanced DLP solution. With its user-friendly approach, your organization can swiftly harness the full extent of our data protection capabilities.
  • Strac's robust solution safeguards SSNs across all endpoints, network connections, and cloud environments. This holistic approach ensures that private information is consistently well-protected, no matter where it resides in your enterprise system.
  • Using advanced machine learning and behavioral analytics, Strac swiftly detects potential threats as they arise. This proactive approach adds extra protection, defending your most critical data from both inside and outside risks. 
  • Gain a deep understanding of user interactions with SSNs. This capability is essential for identifying potential internal threats and ensuring your organization's responsible use of SSNs.
  • Easily establish and protect your company's unique data protection guidelines with Strac. Our automated system prevents breaches, guaranteeing that sensitive information is always handled securely. 
  • Strac effortlessly integrates with popular SaaS platforms such as Zendesk, Slack, Gmail, and Office 365, making it the perfect fit for businesses of all sizes. 
  • Rest assured that by opting for Strac, your organization's SSNs are safeguarded. Our powerful DLP solution protects sensitive data and boosts operational efficiency.

Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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