Meet Sam. Sam is in his early twenties and grew up in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 2012. He is currently on vacation in Athens, Greece, with his girlfriend Sara. They managed to find an amazing deal on American Airlines from Minneapolis to Athens for $200 for the both of them, but with taxes and fees that ballooned up to nearly $850.
I have a copy of Sam’s resume, his Gmail address and his phone number. I know how long he’ll be gone and what seats they will be sitting in on their return. In fact, I know a lot more about Sam and Sara (Facebook and its ilk are ubiquitous) but I’m a little uncomfortable revealing as much as I have, so I’ll stop.
It is all because of this:
With all the focus recently on the security of devices like those that make up the Internet of Things, what is often forgotten is that traditional paper has huge security issues in today’s connected world.
Airlines still insist on printing first and last names along with record locater codes on boarding passes. That is often all that is required to access a particular reservation. From there you can get information such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
This reminds me of when credit cards first came out and to use one the merchant would take an actual imprint of the card on carbon copy paper. Since that included the shopper’s name, complete card number and expiration date, it became easy for thieves to steal this information. At least now almost all receipts include, at most, the last for digits of the card (in case you were wondering, Sam used a Mastercard ending in 3286).
The genesis of this post arose from a more malicious reason. I fly a lot and over the years commercial air travel (which is the only air travel I can afford) has become less of a special occasion and more like taking a bad bus trip. People use the “seat back pocket” as their personal trash can, to the point that I almost never use it myself, even when I get upgraded to first class. Nasty. On this trip, the duration from when the last person got off the inbound plane until we started boarding our flight was less than ten minutes, so trust me when I say little was cleaned between flights.
I don’t blame the airlines. Consumers have spoken, and what they want is cheap airfare, so it is up to us to be respectful of our fellow passengers.
Anyway, when I see folks like Sam leave information like this as trash, I am so tempted to do things like reassign his seat to one in the middle next to the lavatory (it’s an 11 hour flight), or to cancel his flight completely. Lucky for him I believe in karma, and I just can’t bring myself to do it.
The basics of security involve two things: something you have and something you know. We need to apply this to everything that needs to be secure. I get so frustrated with systems in the United States, such as the new “chip” cards being used for credit and debit. Introduced a decade ago in Europe, their systems use “chip and PIN” – something you have, your card, and something you know, your PIN. In the US we are moving to “chip and signature” – something you have, your card, and something anyone can fake in a heartbeat, your signature.
This is especially touchy since two summers ago my spouse had her purse stolen. We immediately canceled and closed all of the accounts, but they were still able to get over $2000 out of our checking account. They used a paper check from another theft and then they cashed it at the bank using her ID. The bank forgot the “something you know” part of security even though they were quite aware that our account had been compromised and the account number changed. Only after the fact did they offer to “flag” transactions on our account for extra scrutiny, and now neither of us carries paper checks, although thieves could probably guess our bank from our ATM debit cards (we did get our money back from the bank).
So be careful. Buy a good shredder. If you need to dispose of paper when traveling, tear it into tiny bits and drop it in the nastiest trash can you can find … and not in the seat back pocket.