I'm starting to wonder about this myself. I played a game of single player and it didn't require me to enter the serial number it gave me when I bought the game, nor did it ask me to, and I wouldn't have since I was only interested in playing single player.
When I went to play it a second time, someone tried to join my game. I changed the settings the first time to not advertise on the internet etc., but apparently these settings don't save. I didn't think it mattered since I didn't input the serial number anywhere and therefore should not have access to multiplayer, so I didn't bother to change the settings again. So was I surprised to see someone else connect.
I backed out to the main menu, and noticed at the bottom of the screen it said "Authentication Status Accepted." I quit the game and started it up again, and noticed it now said "Authentication Status Unknown" for a couple of seconds before it changed to Accepted. If I start the game with internet access disabled, it does not change to Accepted, so it does appear to be connecting to the authentication servers upon startup.
Single player still works if it can't connect to the auth. server, but it has previously done so, so I'm not sure what would've happened if I had never allowed it internet access.