When it comes to internet security, we all suffer from a condition known as optimism bias. It’s the simple idea that we, individually, won’t be affected negatively by an externality compared to others. The same mental distortion happens in the digital world. We read a lot about cybercrime and assume the consequences of those attacks won’t reach or affect us. The problem is, that’s optimism bias at work — and it is what fuels a cybercriminal’s success.

No one expects to lose control over their digital lives, but it does happen, and it can happen to you. And securing your information after a cyberattack is becoming less tenable. In fact, the total number of malware samples has grown almost 34%, more than 774 million, over the past four quarters according to the latest McAfee Labs Threats Report, hitting all-time highs in the second quarter of 2018. Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take to secure yourself from the most active cyberattack methods.

Phishing Attacks

Cybercriminals use phishing attacks try to and trick you into clicking on a malicious link or download a malicious file. And they have pretty good odds of succeeding if they’re persistent. That’s because phishing attacks try to come across as trustworthy, appearing from a source a victim knows or trusts, like authoritative organization. It’s a common and powerful technique.

A few simple steps can protect you. Examine an email’s sending address if you suspect anything. If you don’t know the sender, or the email’s content doesn’t seem familiar, remain wary and avoid interacting with the message. If you’re unsure, simply reach out to the apparent sender through a different channel, like a phone call or a different email account, that you found through your own research.

Unpatched Software

Unpatched, un-updated, and old software is one the most exploited attack avenues by far. That’s because new software vulnerabilities or bugs are found all of the time, and cybercriminals can use them to compromise a device. The longer software goes without an update, the long cybercriminals have to find these vulnerabilities and exploit them.

The best way to stay a step ahead of active cybercriminals is to update your device’s software as often as possible. Updates often contain security patches blocking newly discovered attack avenues. Getting into a good update habit, too, is becoming increasingly critical as more and more devices connect to the internet. Speaking of which…

The Internet of Things

With the Internet of Things, or IoT, and we’re not just talking about internet-connected refrigerators or television sets. IoT devices encompass toys and cars to watches and even clothing. All this available computing means cybercriminals have more opportunities than ever before to find and exploit vulnerabilities in everyday objects.

But, again, there are reliable, proactive defenses. First, make sure that, if your smart device or service requires an account, you use a complex and unique password. This means using numbers, symbols and upper and lower case letters. A password manager can help you create strong and unique passwords. Second, typically, if there’s software, there’s an update. Make sure you’re aware of any and all updates to your IoT devices and apply them as soon as you can. If you have an IoT device where updating is difficult, such as a thermostat, you’ll need a more holistic approach. Look for security services designed for a home connected through a protected router that’s enhanced with advanced security analytics.

Finally, and this is a good rule in general, use a comprehensive security solution to protect your technology landscape. It’s a lot bigger than you think and growing every day with each new user account, IoT device or computer you use.