In the wake of the last month’s Equifax data breach, which exposed the personal information of millions of Americans, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce said that the Social Security number has “outlived its usefulness” as a national identity method.
“It’s a flawed system,” Joyce said on Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post’s national security reporter Ellen Nakashima. “If you think about it, every time we use the Social Security number you put it at risk. By interacting with it, you’ve given a key piece of information out publicly.”
Joyce, a special assistant to the president and a top voice on cybersecurity in the administration, said he has asked departments and agencies within the government to begin discussing ideas for moving away from Social Security numbers and toward a more “modern cryptographic identifier.”
Speaking at The Post’s seventh annual Cybersecurity Summit, Joyce said “there needs to be and should be a government role” in heading off and responding to data breaches like Equifax.
“I think it’s really clear there needs to be a change,” he said.
The Equifax breach has spurred some government officials to call for more stringent regulations on credit reporting agencies. However, Joyce urged caution.
“We need to be careful about balkanizing the regulations,” Joyce said. “It’s really hard on companies today with state regulators, local regulators, maybe multiple federal regulators, federal law, international law.”
Joyce said cybercrimes against the U.S. government, including Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, should be met with stronger penalties.
“Whether it’s diplomatic tools, whether it’s judicial tools, subpoenas and arrests. The idea that we can use sanctions, that’s a very powerful tool for the U.S. government,” Joyce said. “And then there’s even military options when things are really egregious threats.”