Confirmed and Unacceptable: Social Security Administration Cutting Off Users Who Can’t Receive Text Messages

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UPDATE (14 August 2016): I’m told that SSA has removed the mandatory cell phone text messaging access requirement that was strongly criticized in the original posting below. I appreciate that SSA has now done the right thing in this case. Perhaps in the future they’ll think these things through better ahead of time!

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If you don’t have a cell phone, or some other means to receive SMS text messages (and have them enabled, and know how to deal with them), you won’t be able to access your Social Security Administration “My Social Security” online account starting next month.

The SSA is currently sending out emails announcing that SSA online users MUST receive an SMS text message with a two-factor authentication code to access their accounts starting in August.

UPDATE (29 July 2016): Here is the official SSA announcement.
UPDATE (14 August 2016): SSA has now deleted this referenced announcement page since they have removed the mandatory cell phone text messaging login requirement, as noted in the update at the start of this posting.

According to Congressional testimony in May, SSA “expects” to make other two-factor methods available at some point in the future.

While the “expectation” of additional two-factor options at some unspecified time down the line is interesting, the move to now block users who do not have cell phones, or text message capable cell phones, or do not have text messaging enabled, or do not know how to access and read text messages — IS UNACCEPTABLE, especially on such short notice to SSA users.

Two-factor authentication systems are very important, but keep in mind that SSA by definition is dealing mostly with older users who may have only recently become comfortable with online services, and may not make any use of text messaging. Many do not have cell phones or somebody to receive text messages for them. There are also many people living in rural areas where cell phone service simply is not available at all!

Additionally — and ironically — text messaging is considered to be a substandard means of receiving two-factor authentications. And — get this boys and girls — NIST (the USA’s National Institute of Standards and Technology) — just a few days ago officially declared that text messaging based two-factor should no longer be used at all — it’s simply not safe and secure. The possibility of crooks leveraging this SSA text messaging system with fake messages targeting this particularly vulnerable user population is also very real.

It appears that SSA has really mucked this one up. This isn’t secure two-factor, it’s a three-ring circus. And it’s going to leave many SSA users out in the cold.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.