7 ways you’re exposing yourself to dangerous malware

For the security conscious, 2019 has been a mess of a year. Countless data breaches and high-profile hacks have left consumers, and our information, more exposed than ever.

And hackers aren’t just targeting the rich and powerful. Everyday people are targets, too, and the results can be terrifying. Tap or click to see what happens when hackers get their hands on your security system.

Sloppy online habits can also lead to even more of those annoying robocalls, phishing attempts and spam that overloads your inbox. Tap or click to find out how robocall relief could finally be on the way.

Avoiding cybercriminals feels like a feat sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. A few simple habit changes can keep you and your data safe. Let’s start with one of the most basic: antivirus software.

1. Leaving your computer exposed

Using anti-virus software is the foundation from which all your other online safety habits are built. If you have chosen not to bother with antivirus software, it’s only a matter of time before you encounter issues.

Curious as to how harmful a computer virus or malware can be to your computer? Once infected, your system and data are compromised and can be destroyed in mere seconds.

In addition to scanning your system frequently, it’s crucial you update regularly to ensure your antivirus program is ready to defend against the latest threats.

RELATED: You don’t need to rely on customer support for every little problem. Step one: Restart your computer. If that doesn’t do the job, tap or click for 7 DIY fixes for common Microsoft Windows issues.

2. Thinking free means safe

You’re on the go and need to get online, so you quickly connect to a public Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, taking advantage of “free” Wi-Fi may cost you. Public networks are unsecured and easy to hack. Tap or click for an alternative to shady public Wi-Fi.

Since this type of network is open for use by anyone, there’s a high risk of exposing your system to malware and having the information you send or receive (including passwords) viewed and collected by criminals.

For those occasions when you need to access the internet and are away from a secure wireless network, consider using a virtual private network (VPN), which uses an encrypted connection from your device to a network. The encryption safeguards against snoops who want to see what you’re up to online.

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3. “Remind me later”

Are you notorious for rescheduling software updates but never actually installing them? If you often hit the “Remind me later” button, you’re asking for trouble. Don’t prevent your system from receiving the latest tools and security patches needed to fight off attackers and viruses.

While you may consider updating as inconvenient and time-consuming, keep in mind you can schedule it to process during periods you are not at your computer. Just schedule for a time you know you’ll be otherwise engaged and walk away. The computer will take care of the rest.

4. Clicking before you investigate

More than half of all email is spam. Hackers have become quite adept at crafting legitimate-looking emails — so much so your email program can’t always tell legitimate from illegitimate. Tap or click for a few simple ways to cut down on spam.

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of a phishing scheme, or infecting your computer with malware, ransomware or other threats, never click on attachments or documents inside an email unless you’ve verified the sender is legit.

5. Going with the lazy option

This habit may be hard to break, but it is necessary. Sure it’s easy to come up with a password you can remember and use it over and over again for every application or website; however, this practice can have severe consequences for you and your data.

RELATED: Are you using one of the worst passwords of 2019? Tap or click to see if yours is on the list.

With little effort, a criminal can decode your password and gain access to all your other accounts. Not only does this scenario leave your system vulnerable to malware, but it also exposes your information to attackers.

What’s the fix? Create unique passwords for each account. To help you remember your variety of newly minted passwords, try a password manager. That’s much more secure than writing them down or creating an unsecured spreadsheet.

You should also lock down your accounts with two-factor authentication, or 2FA, which requires you to enter a secondary form of identification before you are permitted access to your account. Tap or click here to learn how to set it up.

6. Forgetting about your online presence

It’s common to have a ton of online accounts. Over time, you may forget about a few of the ones you rarely use or have stopped using entirely. That means if your account is compromised, you may not even notice.

Jot down all the accounts you’ve created and routinely go through and delete those you no longer use. Tap or click here for an easy way to delete your unused accounts. When the inevitable data breach is announced from a site you used to use, you’ll be glad you did.

7. Accepting terms you never read

Just like everyone else on the planet, you skip right through the terms of use, or End User License Agreement, when installing software or an app. This means you give companies permission to collect private data you might not really want them to have.

Sadly, because you didn’t bother to read the fine print, an unknown amount of your information has been collected and stored in an unsecured database, just waiting to be breached. Always read or inquire about a company’s data-collecting policies before installing any software or app.

By no means does this list cover all of the many measures you can take to help ensure the security of your system and data. But if you transform a few bad habits into good proactive routines, the results will bring you a long way toward complete protection against viruses and other cybercrime.

BONUS TIP FOR EXTRA KNOW-HOW: Smart plugs vs. smart switches - what should you buy?

Smart this, smart that. Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything is connected. Many household items such as TVs, appliances, home security locks and even shower heads once required our attention to operate. But not anymore!

Today, these and many other everyday objects are controllable with just the sounds of our voices. Once deemed futuristic, this ecosystem of interrelated tech has become commonplace. Still, many find the list of smart devices a bit overwhelming, and even believe the transition to be cost-prohibitive.

The process doesn’t have to be either. To help pave your way through the IoT, start small with smart plugs and switches. Learn what might work best for your soon-to-be-smart home.

Tap or click to make your home smarter the right way.

What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.

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Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.