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8 bad online habits that expose you to viruses

Jumping through hoops, vaulting hurdles and avoiding pitfalls — while these skills make for great Olympic moments, they’re surprisingly reminiscent of those computer users employ every day in the hopes of staying safe online.

It’s discouraging to know it requires such great effort to avoid cybercriminals, but it doesn’t have to be that exhausting. A few simple habit changes will keep you and your data protected.

Although no amount of groundwork guarantees a win against cybercrime, with a bit of diligence and determination, you can at least set up a protective barrier. Remember, it’s essential to eliminate the following bad online habits.

1. Leaving your gadgets unprotected

Using anti-virus software is the foundation from which all your other online safety habits are built. If you have chosen not to bother anti-virus software, it is 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.

The good news is if you have a Windows desktop, you already have one of the best anti-virus programs already built-in: Windows Defender. In addition to scanning your system frequently, it is crucial you keep current with system updates to ensure your anti-virus program is ready to defend against the latest malware.

Related: 7 DIY tools for fixing Microsoft Windows

2. Only relying on anti-virus software

While experts work diligently to develop software that protects against viruses, criminals are always upping their game. This constant cat-and-mouse race leaves even the best anti-virus program shy of being able to protect your system 100%.

Because no single security solution is perfect, it’s essential you practice good online habits as well as stay up to date with the latest version of your anti-virus software.

3. Public Wi-Fi isn’t your friend

We are all guilty of this bad habit at one point or another. You are 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.

Since this type of network is open for use by anyone, there is a high risk of exposing your system to malware and having the information you send or receive, including passwords, viewed and collected by criminals. Refraining from using public Wi-Fi is highly recommended.

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 unauthorized persons accessing your data. Our sponsor, ExpressVPN, supplies the security you need when going online and can be used across all of your devices.

4. Never ignore updates

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.

5. Emails from unknown senders could cost you

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 illigitimate.

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.

6. Reusing passwords

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.

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.

One resolution is to implement two-factor authentication, or 2FA, which requires you to enter a secondary form of identification before you are permitted access to your account.

Another method to increase security is to create unique passwords for each account. To help you remember your variety of newly minted passwords, try making a list or spreadsheet to store them — or use a password manager like RoboForm.

If you’re looking for a great password manager, try our sponsor RoboForm Everywhere. Receive 50% off your RoboForm Everywhere subscription, exclusively for Kim Komando listeners!

7. Forget to clean up online accounts

It’s common to have a ton of online accounts. Unfortunately, over time, you may forget about a few of the ones you rarely use or have stopped using entirely.

To help prevent your information from being compromised, jot down all the accounts you have created and routinely go through and delete those you no longer utilize. When the inevitable data breach is announced from a site you used to use, you’ll be glad you did.

8. Not reading the terms of use

Just like everyone else on the planet, you skip right through the terms of use, or End User License Agreement (EULA), when installing software or an app. The problem with this habit is you often give companies permission to collect private data from your products.

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.

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