It wasn't meant to be an all-access pass to your life.

The 10-digit string has been following you for a long time. It's almost certain that you've handed it out to every person, restaurant, social media platform, or online store that's asked. There is a problem. For someone with the right motivation, that number is a thread that can ruin your whole digital life, crashing down your privacy, bank account, or even your very identity.

It does not have to be.

Getting and maintaining a second phone number is a way to mitigate the risks of treating your phone number like a public identification and a key that protects all your secrets.

The process isn't that complicated if you're careful. Jon Callas is the director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

A bandage is a good place to begin healing wounds.

Your security

A phone number in someone else's hand can be dangerous.

It is more than likely that your cellphone number is tied to any of the modern online services. In the case of forgotten passwords, phone numbers are often used to reset them.

The account holder's phone number is the real key to an online account.

We have seen how this can be used. If you call and convince a mobile phone carrier to port a target's phone number to a sim card for you, you can steal all their currency. It's easy to gain access to someone's voicemail, and all their online accounts are yours.

With the help of Whitepages Premium, a troublemaker can learn all kinds of presumably non-public details about your personal life, like where you used to live and the names of your family members. Password recovery questions may be answered by some of those details.

In order for a hacker to target you for this kind of attack, they need to know your phone number. It's easy for bad actors to figure out your number with hacks and data breeches.

When it comes to phone numbers, the fact that they are old will not matter.

When you were young enough to pay your own phone bill, your area code indicates where you were, according to a joke. The "We don't want to change our phone number" aspect is what changes phone numbers into privacy and security.

A secret phone number can be used here.

If you keep a separate phone line that only links to your most important accounts, you can greatly reduce the chance of phone-based hacking attacks.

Your privacy

How many times have you changed your phone number? It's probably been a long time since you've been around. That can affect your privacy.

Many companies buy, share, or otherwise gain access to people's phone numbers as a matter of course. There is a good chance that those companies would recognize your name. Data brokers scatter those phone numbers even further away, with the phone numbers adding more and more associated data about their owners.

It's a huge pain to change them.

"Having to change your phone number is a genuinely Herculean task."

It's difficult to change your phone number because it goes to so many places for just being a human being.

Callas is talking about places like your doctor's office or bank, but that's not the only place where your number ends up.

Did you give your phone number to the store for the card? In exchange for a place on the vegan restaurant's waiting list, how about buying a piece of military equipment? The data points that are being bought and sold by scores of invisible companies form an incomplete picture of your life that could haunt you.

"Advertising industry databases and profiles that they build up, and they use things like phone numbers, and they use things like location, and they will combine the two of them."

The practice allows marketers to draw accurate inferences, which people often mistake for a different type of monitoring.

If you don't realize it, you may be giving out your phone number to someone.

One way to combat this is to use a second phone number in a way that is different from what is described in the preceding section of this article.

Your second number isn't tied to your real name in this privacy focused scenario. It's like a secondary email address that you use to sign up for all those random memberships. It doesn't matter who has it or the company that sells it if you have this second number.

You can get needed texts or calls if you have a real number. It's a junk number and you can change it at any time.

Getting a second line

How do you get another phone number?

The bad news is that it is likely to cost you. There isn't a 100 percent free way to get a second mobile phone number that can make and receive calls and send text messages. It is easy and the good news.

If you're in the U.S. you don't need to show ID when buying a sim card. You can buy a pre-paid sim card with cash if you want to go back in time. It's important to keep a minimum balance on that account at all times. You can either put it in your phone or keep it in an old phone.

There are many apps that can help you go a little more high tech. PCMag did a rundown of many of these just a year ago.

Line2 is an app owned by Ziff Davis that allows you to control multiple phone numbers. It's intended for businesses looking for a VoIP product and would work well as a secret number for password resets. The basic plan gives you a local phone number, call forwarding, and unlimited calls and text messages.

"There is no good solution to this real problem. The system is broken."

The second line strategy is an admission that most people won't go to the trouble of getting a new phone number every six months. It turns out that compartmentalization is a more realistic approach.

The underlying problem of a system that ties phone numbers to identity is not solved by a second phone number.

Until that one is out, it works.

He said that the real issue was the system at large.

There is no solution to this problem. The system isn't working

Get a second phone number, slap a bandage on the broken system, and know that you are taking an active measure to protect your own privacy and security.

The post was first published in June 2021.