NCSC forced to ramp up response to escalating cyber attacks during pandemic

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has defended the UK from more than 700 cyber attacks in the last year alone, according to figures given in its annual review.

The UK has been beset by cyber attacks since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March and the NCSC has been focusing its resources on the pandemic response.

The security experts handled 723 incidents between September 2019 and August 2020, with around 200 related to the coronavirus. In the previous three years, since launching, the NCSC has supported an average of 602 incidents annually (590 in 2017; 557 in 2018; 658 in 2019).

In its review, the NCSC – a branch of GCHQ – said it had ramped up support for the healthcare sector, including scanning more than one million NHS IP addresses for vulnerabilities, which led to the detection of 51,000 “indicators of compromise”. It also worked with international allies to raise awareness of the threat of vaccine research targeting.

Ransomware in particular has been rising with more than three times as many incidents compared to last year. Criminals were found to be changing their approach during such attacks to increasingly threaten to leak information publicly unless payment is made.

Elsewhere, the NCSC’s ‘Suspicious Email Reporting Service’ – launched this year in conjunction with the City of London Police – has now received more than 2.3 million reports from the public, resulting in thousands of malicious websites being taken down.

Jeremy Fleming, GCHQ director, said: “The world changed in 2020 and so did the balance of threats we are seeing. The years ahead are likely to be just as challenging, but I am confident that in the NCSC we have developed the capabilities, relationships and approaches to keep the UK at the forefront of global cyber security.”

Penny Mordaunt MP, the paymaster general, said: “This review shows how the NCSC has taken decisive action against malicious actors in the UK and abroad who saw our digital lifelines as vectors for espionage, fraud and ransom attacks.

“It is vital that cyber security remains a priority for government, industry and the public in building UK resilience to a spectrum of risks.”

Last year, the Federation of Small Businesses found that UK SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) are subjected to almost 10,000 cyber-attacks every day.