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NCSC defends UK from 700-plus cyber attacks while supporting national pandemic response

11 November 2020

THE NATIONAL Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has defended the UK from an average of 60 online attacks per month during a year which saw its resources proactively focused on the Coronavirus response, the organisation’s latest Annual Review has revealed.

The NCSC, which itself is a part of GCHQ, handled 723 incidents between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020, with around 200 related to the Coronavirus. In the previous three years since launching, the organisation supported an average of 602 incidents annually (specifically 590 in 2017, 557 in 2018 and 658 in 2019).

The growth this year reflects ongoing NCSC efforts designed to proactively identify and mitigate threats, tips the organisation receives from its extensive network of partners and also detailed reports from victims themselves.

In a year heavily influenced by the pandemic, the Annual Review highlights the NCSC’s support for the healthcare sector, such as scanning more than 1 million NHS IP addresses for vulnerabilities – subsequently leading to the detection of 51,000 indicators of compromise – and working with international allies to raise awareness of the threat of vaccine research targeting.

With cyber criminals looking to exploit public fear over the pandemic with Coronavirus-related online scams, the NCSC and the City of London Police also launched the Suspicious e-Mail Reporting Service which received 2.3 million reports from the public in its first four months, duly resulting in thousands of malicious websites being taken down.

Technical assurances

The NCSC also provided the technical assurances during the creation of the Virtual Parliament, as well as producing a wide range of advice for businesses and individuals switching to home working as a result of the pandemic.

A new remote working scenario was added to the NCSC’s ‘Exercise in a Box’ programme. The initiative, which allows people to test their cyber defences against realistic scenarios, has been used by people in 125 countries this year.

Lindy Cameron, CEO of the NCSC, said: “This Annual Review outlines the breadth of remarkable work delivered by the NCSC in the past year, largely against a backdrop of the shared global crisis of the Coronavirus. From handling hundreds of incidents through 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.”

Balance of threats

Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, stated: “The world changed in 2020 and so did the balance of threats we’re seeing. As this Annual Review shows, the expertise of the NCSC has been invaluable in keeping the country safe, enabling us to defend our democracy, counter high levels of malicious state and criminal activity and protect against those who have tried to exploit the pandemic.”

Further, Fleming observed: “The years ahead are likely to be just as challenging, but I’m fully confident that, in the NCSC, we’ve developed the capabilities, relationships and approaches needed to keep the UK at the forefront of global cyber security.”

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt commented: “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect how we live and work. In a year of complex challenges, the NCSC has continued to react in tackling cyber threats that have evolved on a swift basis. This Annual 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’s vital that cyber security remains a priority for Government, industry and the public in building UK resilience to a spectrum of risks.”