The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has reported a surge in pandemic-related cyber attacks, with more than a quarter of all known incidents related to COVID-19.
It handled 723 incidents between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020 – up from 658 reported in the previous 12 months.
The increase in cases reflects ongoing NCSC efforts to “proactively identify and mitigate threats” using information the centre receives from a wide network of partners and reports from victims of such attacks.
Of the 723 reported incidents, 194 were COVID-related. One example was in July when Russian hackers targeted UK companies and universities working on a potential vaccine.
To improve cybersecurity for the UK’s health care sector, the NCSC scanned more than a million NHS IP addresses to check for weaknesses and found 51,000 Indicators of Compromise. The centre also launched Active Cyber Defence (ACD) services to 235 front-line health care sector organisations.
In April, the NCSC launched a Suspicious Email Reporting Service so that the public could report incidents of phishing. This prompted one million scam email reports in just two months and 2.3 million reports after four months.
The NCSC’s Chief Executive, Lindy Cameron, said the centre had helped deal with a remarkable amount of cybersecurity issues in the past year, largely against a backdrop of the shared global crisis of the coronavirus.
She said: “From handling hundreds of incidents to protecting our democratic institutions and keeping people safe while working remotely, our expertise has delivered across multiple frontiers. This has all been achieved with the fantastic support of government, businesses and citizens and I would urge them to continue contributing to our collective cybersecurity.”
Gary Jowett, from Computer & Network Consultants in Brighton, said: “Clearly, it’s important for all companies to follow the NSCS’s advice when dealing with all cybersecurity-related matters. There are no doubt hackers will always use current issues such as the pandemic to exploit weaknesses in cyber defences. But this is just the latest lesson in how everyone has to use online services such as social media with a degree of caution. Having an effective security infrastructure relies upon the behaviour of individuals within your organisation. When the pandemic becomes less of a threat, other events or subjects will be used as the weapons of choice for cybercriminals.”