Why Disconnecting from the Web Doesn't Make You Any Safer

NEW YORK (Credit.com) — A funny thing happened on my way from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. this week. I found myself on a flight without Wi-Fi. The prospect of being unplugged for more than four hours on a flying machine without the ability to communicate with (or distract) colleagues, with zero information from the outside world — let's just say I almost lost it.

I had two newspapers and a book by my favorite fiction writer, but I wasn’t connected. And somehow, the thought of being alone (even though I was on a full flight) for a large chunk of time was daunting. And, let's face it, the fact that we've all become so co-dependent — with freaking machines — is kind of pathetic. But here we are.

The irony is that it's only when you are suddenly disconnected that you realize how pervasive digital connectivity really is. So I tried to think of the true impact. There were so many implications to being offline and relatively isolated at 37,000 feet, and they all centered around the security of the no-tech environment.

  1. No shopping. It's never a great idea when flying because some clever soul sitting a few seats away could be soaking up your information, or even setting up your computer to be his or her own personal information transmitter.
  2. No online banking (again, not a smart idea at 37,000 feet — see above). No logging into my accounts, no chance of them getting hacked by lack of security on my end.
  3. No email greatly reduces the risk of being phished or spear-phished — exposing my contact list to hijacking or subjecting my computer to compromise and turning me into yet another component of a botnet or a spaminator.
  4. Keeping my cellphone turned off — and in my pocket — meant I wasn't leaving it in the back of a taxi, on the top of a toilet-paper dispenser in a bathroom stall or anywhere else someone might grab it and crack my (very crackable) code — gaining access to my most meaningful contacts or garnering some tasty tidbit of my Personal Identifying Information, possibly the missing link in my life puzzle needed to convince someone at a bank or car dealership that an identity impostor was me.
  5. Since I am using my laptop as I write this, an identity thief's field of dreams turns less cheery, because it is (a) in my possession and thus (b) not lying about tantalizingly unattended in the back of my car or on an airport terminal lounge seat screaming "Please steal me!" Obviously, and most importantly, my Wi-Fi receiver is turned off.
  6. I've got my wallet. I can take it out to check that the limited number of credit and debit cards I carry with me are all there. Incidentally, there is no Social Security card in there. I know my number, and no one else should have such an easy way to get that vital piece of information. (This lack of card is to protect me from waving it around the plane like that Lifelock guy — daring my fellow passengers to "make my day" by trying — and presumably failing — to steal my identity.)
  7. I don't need a document shredder. All my personal documents that contain sensitive information are either at my office or at home under strict security protocols. Yes, I am — as the chairman of a company in the privacy business — completely paranoid.
  8. No Facebook. I'm not a fanatic (sorry, Zuck), but if I were, it would be impossible to alert any lurking "frenemies" to the fact that I am away from home.

That said, before I declare victory regarding the fortresslike nature of my identity management skills, I must take a moment to reflect upon my various exposures.

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