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National Cyber Security Centre launches campaign to combat Coronavirus threat

23 April 2020

CYBER EXPERTS have launched measures designed to protect the UK from online harm as the country continues to rely more on technology while much of the population stays at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has launched the cross-Government ‘Cyber Aware’ campaign, which itself offers actionable advice for people to protect passwords, accounts and devices. In addition to the broader campaign, the organisation has published specific advice for the personal and professional use of video conferencing services, with top tips on setting up accounts, arranging chat and protecting devices.

The NCSC has also launched the pioneering ‘Suspicious E-Mail Reporting Service’, which will make it easy for people to forward suspicious e-mails to the NCSC, including those claiming to offer services related to the Coronavirus.

This determined action from the NCSC will build on the organisation’s existing takedown services, which have already removed more than 2,000 online scams related to Coronavirus in the last month, including 471 fake online shops selling fraudulent Coronavirus-related items, 555 malware distribution sites set up to cause significant damage to any visitors, 200 phishing sites seeking personal information such as passwords or credit card details and 832 advance fee frauds where a large sum of money is promised in return for a set-up payment.

Ciaran Martin (pictured), CEO at the NCSC, said: “Technology is helping us to cope with the Coronavirus crisis and will play a role in helping us out of it, but that means cyber security is more important than ever. With greater use of technology, there are different ways in which attackers can harm all of us. Everyone can help to stop them by following the guidance campaign. Even with the best security in place, some attacks will still get through. That’s why we've created a new national reporting service for suspicious e-mails. If they link to malicious content, it will be taken down or blocked. By forward messages to us, people will be protecting the UK from e-mail scams and cyber crime.”

James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, added: “Criminals are seeking to exploit our greater use of e-mails, video conferencing and other technologies for their advantage. It’s despicable that they're using the Coronavirus outbreak as cover to try to scam and steal from people in their homes. We all have a part to play in seeing to it that they don’t succeed. I encourage everyone to follow the ‘Cyber Aware’ advice and to use the Suspicious E-Mail Reporting Service. They provide important new ways in which we can protect ourselves as well as our families and businesses.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman observed: "Technology is helping us to work remotely, connect with family and friends and access medical advice online so that we can stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, but cyber criminals are also exploiting this crisis to target people and organisations. I urge everyone to remain vigilant online, follow the National Cyber Security Centre's guidance on passwords and account security and report any suspected Coronavirus-related scams as soon as possible."

Focus on video conferencing

The NCSC’s new ‘Cyber Aware’ guidance on the secure use of video conferencing services builds on a raft of advice published on www.ncsc.gov.uk since the Coronavirus outbreak started.

With many people in the UK trying video conferencing for the first time, the advice includes top tips on securely installing apps, creating a strong password and tracking who's joining the chat. The NCSC also recommends that meetings are not made public. End users should connect only to people through their contacts or address book and must never post the link or password publicly.

The ‘Cyber Aware’ campaign will be delivered by the NCSC working alongside the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and aims to help individuals and organisations alike protect themselves online. It urges people to protect their data passwords, the accounts they protect and the devices they use to access them.

The campaign encourages people to ‘Stay home. Stay Connected. Stay Cyber Aware’. Its top tips for staying secure online are to turn on two-factor authentication for important accounts, protect important accounts using a password of three random words, create a separate password that's only used for the e-mail account, update software and apps regularly (ideally set them to ‘automatically update’), save passwords in the browser and enact protection from being held to ransom by dint of backing up all important data.

Suspicious E-Mail Reporting Service

This Suspicious E-Mail Reporting Service has been co-developed with the City of London Police. By people forwarding any dubious e-mails – including those claiming to offer support related to COVID-19 – to report@phishing.gov.uk, the NCSC’s automated programme will immediately test the validity of the site. Any sites found to be phishing scams will be removed immediately.

As well as taking down malicious sites, it will support the police by providing live time analysis of reports and identifying new patterns in online offending, thereby helping them to stop even more offenders in their tracks.

The raft of measures announced by the NCSC to protect the UK during the Coronavirus outbreak have been supported by a wide range of organisations.

Commander Karen Baxter, national lead for fraud at the City of London Police, told Security Matters: “As we all stay indoors and spend more time online, there's more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money. Law enforcement is working closely with Government to ensure the public, and businesses, are as well-equipped as possible to fight online harms. This process will be greatly assisted by the Suspicious E-Mail Reporting Service which empowers the public and enhances police capabilities to step up their response to fraud. Officers have already executed a number of warrants across the country to target and disrupt criminals sending e-mails and texts designed to steal money.”

Dame Gillian Guy, CEO of Citizens Advice, explained: "Unfortunately, scammers see these uncertain and worrying times as an opportunity to prey on people. We’re encouraging the public to report any suspicious e-mails to the NCSC's new takedown service. Through our own Scams Action service, which is made up of a dedicated helpline and special tool which offer advice for people affected by online scams, we see first-hand the devastating impact these terrible crimes can have. This initiative will help take down even more harmful sites, which means fewer victims.”

Kevin Brown, managing director of BT Security, concluded: “As we adjust to the current situation and online services become even more critical, it’s vital that we are all aware of and follow security Best Practice. With ‘Cyber Aware’, the NCSC has provided a fantastic set of guidance and resources for the UK’s citizens and businesses, and we’re delighted to be working with the organisation to keep the UK safe in the online world.”