The UK has seen a significant spike in phishing attacks, malspams and ransomware attacks – many COVID-19 related. Attackers are using COVID-19 as bait to impersonate brands, misleading employees, and customers across the UK.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has also confirmed the spike. The latest report from the NCSC has revealed that more than a quarter of the incidents reported to by the organisation between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020 were COVID-19 related.
National Cyber Security Centre 2020 review
The NCSC review, which covers the period from September 2019 to August 2020, reveals that there have been 723 incidents of all kinds, marking close to a 10% rise on the previous period. More than 200 were COVID-19-related.
The report states:
“Much of the NCSC’s work this year revolved around the coronavirus outbreak, which required a government-wide response. The NCSC’s multi-faceted role included giving advice to an increasingly digitally active and dependent public, fixing vulnerabilities, and responding to threats emanating from the pandemic.”
The organisation also disclosed that it had taken down 15,354 campaigns which used coronavirus themes in the “lure”. The report revealed the kind of attacks it encountered from September 2019 to August 2020:
8,800 were Advance Fee Fraud (419 scams)
1,156 were associated with fake shops selling bogus PPE, coronavirus products, test kits (and even vaccines)
251 phishing campaigns
2,984 mail servers distributing malware
Some of the incidents related to countering nation-state attacks, but most were criminal in nature, the GCHQ division reported.
Protecting the NHS
Protecting the NHS during the pandemic has been a priority for the NCSC.
The organisation has scanned more than one million NHS IP (internet protocol) addresses to look for vulnerabilities and had shared 51,000 indicators of compromise.
NCSC “threat hunting” has also taken place to look for security risks on connected devices, and worked on the security of the NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app.
The report states:
“Expertise from across the NCSC has been surged to assist the UK’s response to the pandemic. More than 200 of the 723 incidents the NCSC handled this year related to coronavirus and we have deployed experts to support the health sector, including NHS Trusts, through cyber incidents they have faced.”
The main fear among NHS professionals is that another cyber attack would cause similarly widespread disruption to that suffered by the NHS in 2017 due to the WannaCry attack when 19,000 appointments were cancelled. This is not a situation the NHS can afford in its current fragile state.
Speaking to the Independent, Neil Bennett, acting Chief Information Security Officer at NHS Digital, said:
“This is a time of unprecedented stress on the NHS, not least for the cyber security and IT teams who are continuing to work hard in all NHS organisations to keep patient data and systems secure, to continue to deliver safe patient care.”
“Working closely with partner organisations such as the National Cyber Security Centre and NHSX, we have created a new programme of work to help tackle the challenges that Covid-19 has presented the health and care sector.”
With one of the UK’s biggest organisations at risk, this shows that cyber threats are viable at almost any level.
Hackers tend to take advantage of the most basic cyber security flaws and use ransomware to infect computers operating Microsoft Windows. This can cause many files to be ‘held hostage’, with a Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency ransom demanded for their return – which can cause major disruption throughout any organisation.
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