Earlier today (2016-July-29), I received an email from the Social Security Administration (aka SSA) noting that anyone using the online resources of the Social Security Web Site will be required to have SMS capabilities. So, you will have to enter your UID, and Password – then you will have to receive a code which you will enter into the web site. If your phone service does not support SMS, or if your phone number provider does not work with Social Security’s system for whatever the reason, you will not be allowed to login to the web site. Considering that many of Social Security Administration’s users are elderly, I could see this as a mess.
Let us first identify the biggest problem. SSA will require that any user of their web site will have to have a cellular phone with SMS services. If you are a person on a very fixed income, you may not have unlimited SMS messages. Also, if you are on a fixed income, you may not have a cellular phone. People such as myself may use services such as Google Voice to consolidate telephone numbers and make things simpler may not support their services. SSA claims it is a new security policy, but they are doing it incorrectly.
I can understand the reason for Two Factor Authentication, especially since SSA deals with financial resources, and the Social Security Number is completely broken, but they should offer a means of authenticating certain devices to allow access without having to enter a unique code every time. While SMS is somewhat reliable, there is no required standards of guarantee. Just ask your cellular provider if they guarantee SMS delivery, and they will tell you no. Even if they do, such a delivery process could take an hour or longer due to network traffic. This could mean the code will be invalid.
Alternatives to using the web site will be to call or visit the office, but the web site is a good option for acquiring verification documents that could otherwise take hours or days to acquire. And for those uncomfortable with SMS, this will be a nightmare. I only hope this is a hiccup, and that SSA will find a better method of assisting the people that need them the most.