Ransomware, phishing and malware, oh my God! Fighting 2021’s Scariest Security Threats

We’re at the end of 2021, so I’d like to take some time to reflect on some of the important security stories from the past year.

In 2021, we learned a lot about the SolarWinds attacks, which were detected in December 2020. The suspected Russian hackers behind the attack have targeted several government agencies, thousands of private companies and other organizations who have used SolarWinds Orion software.

Earlier this year, Microsoft warned that the hacking group, known as Nobelium or Cozy Bear, is back. This time around, Microsoft says the group was trying to disrupt the global IT supply chain by attacking resellers and vendors of technology that help customers manage and deploy Microsoft’s cloud services.

Ransomware was a problem for US government agencies and businesses in various industries, from US water systems to payroll companies. At the end of the year, Microsoft even warned that an exploit paved the way for state-sponsored hackers from China, Iran, North Korea and Turkey to launch ransomware attacks.

Phishing was another headache for security personnel. With many employees working from home, the environment was right for people to click malicious links in emails and spread malware.

To avoid falling victim to phishing, hacking, and other attacks, we recommend that you use one of our top picks among antivirus solutions. Some of you objected quite strongly to the use of third-party antivirus in the comments to this article, going so far as to accuse me of taking bribes from Norton. I can assure you that is not the case. Our tests have shown that the built-in Microsoft Defender Antivirus does not offer the full protection found with many third-party options, even the most free.

The best antivirus offers excellent protection against phishing. PCMag Chief Security Analyst Neil J. Rubenking noted that Defender received poor scores for phishing protection, but also noted that Defender was an adequate fallback.

Whatever you choose to do regarding virus protection, be sure to stay alert. Having great virus protection doesn’t give you free rein to click links in emails residing in your spam folder or visit unsafe websites. Common sense is also a form of virus protection.

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4 safety tips for shopping after the holidays

Cybercriminals don’t take time off on vacation. Peak online shopping season is like catnip for hackers, who are happy to steal your money and information while you browse the post-holiday sales.

Here are some tips to stay safe in the New Year:

Recommended by our editors

Use credit cards. Debit cards are the same as cash, which means that when someone steals your money, it’s probably gone for good. Credit card users are better protected against fraud than debit card users.

Visit secure sites. Make sure that any sites you use your credit card on are legitimate. A telltale sign is a locked padlock icon in the address bar. If you don’t see this, the site is not secure.

Use a password manager. Use strong, unique passwords anywhere on the web and make it easy for yourself by using a password manager. Most password managers are encrypted safes that store not only usernames and passwords, but also other sensitive information that you use online, such as credit card numbers.

Receive fraud alerts. Sign up through your bank or credit card processor to receive alerts of suspected fraud. Your institution may allow you to configure your account to block charges or to receive emails or texts for charges exceeding a certain amount.

What else is going on in the security world right now?

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