Don’t Hop On Any Open Wi-Fi — and Other Tech Travel Tips

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Winter and youth hockey go hand-in-hand for Natasha Colonero, a Shrewsbury mom of two boys who both play the sport. During a trip to New Hampshire to compete in a hockey tournament over winter break, one of her sons lost his iPhone.

“I wasn’t worried about privacy as much as I was worried about having to replace the device itself,” Colonero said. “I had the choice of wiping the phone out remotely, but it was several hours before we noticed it was missing.”

Once she realized the device was gone, Colonero launched into action, contacting Apple and the police, who were limited in what they could do to help recover the phone. Using the phone’s location tracking, ultimately it was found in the backseat of a friend’s car, so the phone wasn’t stolen, just missing. She offered one bit of advice for phone owners who may someday find their device gone, something that would have made her search for the phone easier at the outset: “I would suggest writing down your device’s serial number since that is not something you can view on your online account. You can view it in the settings of your phone.”

In an increasingly-connected culture, kids are using devices more each year. And taking them on the road is almost inevitable for many families. But device loss is just one of the multiple risks facing those who use technology outside the home today. How can parents ensure their kids are safely using technology during travel?

“If parents are using filters on their home networks, they won’t hold up outside of the home,” said Katie Greer, a former intelligence analyst with the Massachusetts State Police and former director of Internet safety with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. “In general, parental controls need to continue to be in place at home and away.”

Greer, who now lectures about Internet safety around the country, said in the absence of tools to filter content on the road, rules are needed. And the same rules should apply for connectivity at home and on the road.

“Consistency, like any other aspect of parenting, is key,” she said. “Setting rules early, discussing them often and being consistent — at home and away — are key to promoting a positive experience online.”

One best practice Greer suggests enforcing for traveling with technology is using Wi-Fi wisely — hopping on any free network can be dangerous.

“It’s not secure to hop onto any free Wi-Fi that pops up,” she noted. “Looking for known networks, ones that coffee shops, airports and/or hotels have specifically set up, is key, as it’s easy for hackers to set up random networks to troll your information.”

“When people are connecting their devices to public Wi-Fi, there are a number of potential risks,” added Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher with Woburn-based Kaspersky Lab.

Chief among those risks is the leak of sensitive personal data, which is why Greer and Baumgartner recommend researching the tools a mobile device might have — or that can be installed — to keep Web browsing and other online activity private (see sidebar for suggestions).

“When using free Wi-Fi that’s available in airports, hotels, and restaurants, it’s possible — and fairly simple — for other users on that shared network to utilize apps and tools designed to steal your information,” Greer said. “A great way to combat this is to look for secure sites with the lock symbol. There are tools you can enable on your devices that will force sites to be secure. Also, once you select a Wi-Fi network to use, a good habit is deleting or ‘forgetting’ that network once you’ve left your destination.”

And to avoid a situation like the Coloneros dealt with this winter, there are some rules for the physical security of the device, too, Baumgartner said.

“Generally, families need to keep an eye on their devices when their kids are playing with them, and not leave them behind,” he said. “When going out to eat, do not just leave your mobile phones sitting out on the table. When leaving for the pool, at least keep your devices nearby and out of sight, or hidden away in your luggage in your locked room.”

Cell Phone Security Best Practices

There are many ways to make your mobile device more secure, features you can find right in your settings. For example, on an iPhone, you can turn on the Find my iPhone feature so the device is easily tracked if it goes missing. Location tracking is also available on Android devices using the Android Device Manager through your Google account.

When it comes to privacy, turn off third-party access to private information, such as contacts, email, calendar, and photos. Head over to Settings > Privacy and swipe on or off per app.

Other settings you can employ to make your device more secure include turning off “Share my location” in your privacy settings, as well as turning on Touch ID (in newer models of iPhones) and one-touch fingerprint sensors, which are available on some Android models.

If you’re concerned about possible unauthorized purchases your kids might make on devices, make sure you have your settings configured to require password verification for every purchase, and make it a password that only a parent knows. This is an important tip because without this safeguard, many devices will allow unlimited purchases for up to an hour after the initial password is entered, which can turn into an expensive oversight.

There are also many, many apps available for download that aim to make mobile devices more secure. They include anti-virus software, password managers, and anti-theft offerings. Search Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store to research options and read ratings and reviews.

– Joan Goodchild