Messin’ with Texas Deriving Mother’s Maiden Names Using Public Records

  • Virgil Griffith
  • Markus Jakobsson
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 3531)


We have developed techniques to automatically infer mother’s maiden names from public records. We demonstrate our techniques using publicly available records from the state of Texas, and reduce the entropy of a mother’s maiden name from an average of close to 13 bits down to below 6.9 bits for more than a quarter of the people targeted, and down to a zero entropy (i.e., certainty of their mothers maiden name) for a large number of targeted individuals. This poses a significant risk not only to individuals whose mothers maiden name can easily be guessed, but highlights the vulnerability of the system as such, given the traditional reliance of authentication by mother maiden names for financial services. While our techniques and approach are novel, it is important to note that these techniques – once understood – do not require any insider information or particular skills to implement. This emphasizes the need to move away from mothers maiden names as an authenticator. Using the techniques described, during testing we were able to deduce the mother’s maiden name for approximately 4,105,111 Texans.


Vital Statistics Public Record Birth Record Death Record Social Security Death Index 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1. 21-June-2001: Bureau of Vital Statistics General and Summary Birth Indexes,
  2. 2. 20-November-2001: Bureau of Vital Statistics, General and Summary Birth Indexes,
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
  5. 5.
  6. 6.
  7. 7.
    Google Phonebook Search for “Smith” in zipcode 75201 (Dallas,TX),
  8. 8.
    Sweeney, L., Malin, B.: How (not) to protect genomic data privacy in a distributed network: using trail re-identification to evaluate and design anonymity protection systems. Journal of Biomedical Informatics 37(3), 179–192 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    National Voter Act of (1993),
  10. 10.
    Texas State Property Records,
  11. 11. FTP server with complete copies of both the marriage and death indexes,
  12. 12. Home Page,
  13. 13. listing of Texas Counties’ online public record offerings,,
  14. 14.
    Social Security Death Index,
  15. 15.
    Texas State Property Records,
  16. 16.
    Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Indexes,
  17. 17.
    Texas Department of Health, Divorce Trends in Texas, 1970 to 1999,
  18. 18.
    Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Divorce Indexes,
  19. 19.
    Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, General and Summary Death Indexes,
  20. 20.
    TX Secretary of State Voter Information,

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Virgil Griffith
    • 1
  • Markus Jakobsson
    • 1
  1. 1.School of InformaticsIndiana University BloomingtonBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations