Everybody knows it, everybody admits it, and everybody seems to accept it. We’re addicted to our mobile phones. While over-attachment to smartphones sometimes makes us miss out on immediate experiences, it can also pose a security problem — especially on summer trips when we’re unable, or unwilling, to unplug.
We at Intel Security wanted to better understand the struggle to unplug before vacation season goes into full swing. We asked almost 14,000 people globally, from the ages of twenty-one to fifty-four, about how they go about unplugging from their devices. The results: 55 percent of people who wanted to disconnect from digital devices while traveling reported being unsuccessful—while 65 percent of those who did said it helped them enjoy their vacation more.
This isn’t so shocking. How many conversations have you had with friends about being addicted to your phone? It’s an innocuous joke that reveals a deep truth. A difference exists between being in the moment and communicating about the moment. When we take a photo of a scene for social media, message a friend about where we are, or flip through the news instead of observing our surroundings, we’re often denying ourselves the opportunity to fully absorb the moment. As a result, the refreshing and stimulating effect of vacations can become diminished.
At some level, these findings shouldn’t be surprising to us. We live in a culture where cell-phone rehab is a very real thing. But from a cybersecurity perspective, there’s even more to the story: these mobile habits can wear down our security posture.
For example, pickpockets and thieves tend to congregate near groups of travelers and big crowds; having your phone out could make you a target. The data we share on our whereabouts in a foreign country, too, could give crooks opportunities to pull off their ploys while we’re away. And it’s not just threats to our physical security. Cybercriminals are more active in some countries than others, specifically preying on tourists to steal data—think phony Wi-Fi networks and ATM skimmers.
These risks are compounded by the fact that, according to our study, 57 percent of people aren’t willing to leave their smartphone at home when going on vacation.
But why? If traveling is supposed to give us a temporary break from our day-to-day routines, staying connected could seem counter-intuitive. Our research found that there are many reasons why people rely on their phones, including planning, entertainment, and communication. The overall top five reasons were: being reachable by family, navigation and trip planning, playing music, finding it impossible to disconnect, and using social media.
While many of these reasons are understandable, they’re not all necessary. And even if phones are helpful while away, they can still be overused. In the words of Pico Iyer, “we travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” We can only have that experience when we’re attentive and safe with our tech on vacation—should you struggle to unplug at all.
Having difficulty with those hard-to-break habits? Here are some tips to get started:
- Try to use your mobile only when necessary. The more often you use your phone, the greater the risk to your cybersecurity. Aside from your information becoming publicly available on social media, other cybercriminal methods, like fake Wi-Fi networks luring in tourists, lurk about. Reducing usage is the best way to decrease risks, and enjoy the trip.
- Use stringent password, PIN, and biometric locks. If you must stay connected on vacation, be sure your device is locked down. Have a strong password and PIN. Add an extra layer of security with biometric authentication, such as a fingerprint. For sensitive applications like mobile banking, you can often set additional security parameters in the apps themselves.
- Backup your data. Having crucial documents, photos, and other sensitive information in another place is important, especially if you’re accessing them away from your home network. Use a cloud-based service, or use an additional device or external hard drive for backup. These are the documents that allow you to recover and take care of crucial errands if your phone should be stolen or compromised.
- Install a phone-locating app. These applications use a smartphone’s GPS to allow you to identify where it is. While traveling, language and other constraints can make phone recovery difficult. If you know its location, everything becomes easier.