Travel Smart: Protecting Your Family’s Smartphones While On Vacation

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Online Privacy

Families are hitting the road again. And it’s absolutely no surprise that they’re taking their smartphones with them. Perhaps what is surprising is that so many of them may be hitting the road without any digital or mobile protection. 

Our recent research shows that 68% of people in the U.S. said that they’re planning to travel for leisure this year, slightly higher than the international average of 64%.1 However, our research also discovered that nearly half of them don’t use mobile security software to protect themselves or their smartphones.  

That lack of protection is a concern, particularly as our April 2021 Threats Report detected a more than 100% increase in attacks aimed at mobile devices. It makes sense that such is the case, as the pandemic led to increased adoption of online activities like banking, shopping, and even doctor visits via telemedicine—often straight from our smartphones.  

However, our smartphones can be as vulnerable as any other device (like our computers). Accordingly, with the volumes of valuable data that those activities create on our smartphones, cyber crooks were sure to follow.  

The good news is that you can indeed enjoy all of that mobile convenience without worry, even on vacation. No doubt many travelers will do some online banking or even some online food ordering while they’re out and about. Likewise, their kids will be online for stretches of that time too, whether it’s on chat apps like Snapchat, social media like Instagram and TikTok, games like Fortnite and Among Us, or streaming videos. Go ahead, do it all. Just make sure you’re protected before you hit the road.  

With that, add mobile protection to your packing list. I’ve put together a shortlist of straightforward things you can do that will help you and your kids stay safe online while on the road this summer.  

Quickly protect your smartphone 

  1. Protect your devices: Just as we’ve learned to protect our computers and laptops from threats, the same holds true for our smartphones and tablets. Whether you protect yours through a mobile security app or as part of the multi-device coverage that comes with your comprehensive security software, mobile protection can alert you of threats and unsecured networks while also adding in the protection of a VPN. 
  1. Use a VPN: A virtual private network (VPN) protects you in two ways. It increases security on public connections, and it increases the protection of your private information while you’re online—particularly important when you shop and bank. Strong VPN protection is a must when you connect to public Wi-Fi while traveling like at airports, hotels, and other vacation rentals where your online activity could be subject to prying eyes. 
  1. Lock up your devices: We talk a great deal about digital security, yet there’s also the physical security of your devices to consider too. After all, devices can get lost or stolen. Take steps to protect your devices by ensuring they’re locked with a PIN or other protection like facial recognition. For your apps, use two-factor authentication wherever possible for extra protection should your device end up in someone else’s hands. 
  1. Enable device tracking: Whether you do this through your phone’s operating system or through a mobile security app, this will help you quickly locate the device’s whereabouts. Additionally, enabling tracking can also give you the power to erase a phone’s data should you have reason to fear that it has really fallen into the wrong hands. 

Special travel advice for the kiddos 

While the tips above are great for the  whole family, the following additional steps are what you can take to protect your children even further:

Online Privacy

Review the location settings on the phone 

Tracking your child’s smartphone not only allows you to find it easily if it’s lost or stolen but can also put you at ease by knowing where your child is.  Yet it’s important to use location tracking selectively. Not every app needs location tracking to work as intended, even though many apps ask for permission to enable it. Go into the phone’s settings and disable the location features on an app-by-app basis.  For example, a weather app doesn’t need your child’s second-by-second location information to work properly, nor should a gaming app need it at all. Likewise, photos taken on a phone can embed location information that can be easily read when shared, revealing plenty about when and where it was taken. In all, enable the location services for only the most necessary of apps like maps. 

Use travel as a time to reset

Recent research shows that tweens spend nearly five hours on their screens each day, while teenagers push that up to more than seven hours a day. Some staycation time is a good time to pare back those hours and enjoy the local scenery, even if for a short stretch. You can use your travel time as well to re-establish your phone rules. That way, vacation stays entertaining but doesn’t affect the habits you set into effect back home. 

Keep tuned in 

Above and beyond security settings and software, there’s you. Get in the habit of talking with your child for a sense of what they’re doing online. As a mom, I like to ask them about their favorite games, share some funny TikTok clips or cute photos with them, and generally make it a point to be a part of their digital lives. It’s great, because it gives you peace of mind knowing what types of things they are doing or interactions they are having online. 

For those of you hitting the road in the coming weeks, enjoy your travels, wherever they take you! 

Stay Updated

To stay updated on all things McAfee and on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, subscribe to our newsletter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.  

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