SSN Discovery for Staff and Faculty

If you have stored restricted data like SSNs on your personal computer, take a moment to review your files and delete or redact any information that is no longer needed. This guide is meant to help staff and faculty find and remove SSNs in support of this initiative.
  • Where to Look

    The first task is to determine where to look. Where do you store documents or spreadsheets? What kind of files might have SSNs? Do you have any network folders or web sites that might contain SSNs? Even if you are fairly sure your documents do not contain SSNs, it's important to check. Here are some example places, but think about any places personal to you that may not be listed:

    Types of Files

    • Word documents
    • Spreadsheets
    • Grade rolls
    • Student exams, papers, homework, etc.
    • Tax and financial forms
    • Archived e-mail
    • Database backup files
    • Website backup files

    Locations to Search

    • MyDocuments folder
    • Backup or storage folders
    • Network drives or storage folders
    • Emails or listservs
    • Any websites, especially old versions, or files no longer in use.
    • Old CD backups of past works
  • How to Find SSNs

    Start by looking in the places or files most likely to contain SSNs. As you find them, either keep a list to deal with later or deal with them on the spot.
    Use the regular search tool that comes with Windows or Mac to help find more SSNs. Be sure to search files "Containing Text" and not just files named what you are searching. Also, to save time make sure the location where you are searching is limited to the places you listed in the above step. Unfortunately, Windows and Mac search cannot find SSNs that do not include the search terms you use. Below are some search terms to try:

    • Social Security
    • SSN
    • last four

    For an advanced approach, you can search for all of these at once by typing the following: (If using OR or AND, they must be all capital letters to work right in Windows.)

    "Social Security" OR SSN OR "last four"

  • Options for Dealing with SSNs

    There are four options for dealing with SSNs, including:

    • Removing: If you do not need the file, delete or shred it.
    • Redacting: If the file is necessary, but the SSN is not, redact it out by replacing it with Xs or using a black marker on paper documents.
    • Replacing:
      • If the SSN serves as an identifier
      • Identifier: A unique name or number used in a business processes to ensure a specific person is linked with a file or document. Examples include using a Student ID on exams or projects, or including a SSN on financial documents or tax forms, replace it with another appropriate identifier.
      • If the SSN serves as an authenticator.
      • Authenticator: A password paired with a user ID to grant access to a service. Authenticators are intended to prevent unauthorized visitors from accessing specific resources. use a different authenticator.
    • Retaining: Where the SSN must be kept, additional security measures must be taken to ensure the SSN cannot be easily compromised. Refer to the Data Protection and Security Policy and Data Classification Rule for more information.
  • Further Questions?

    If you have any questions, first ask for advice from the IT staff in your department. If you or they still have questions, please feel free to contact the AskIT help desk.