The National Cyber Security Centre defended the UK from an average of 60 attacks per month during a year which saw its resources proactively focused on the coronavirus response, the organisation’s latest Annual Review revealed today.
The NCSC, which is a part of GCHQ, handled 723 incidents between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020, with around 200 related to coronavirus. In the previous three years since launching, they supported an average of 602 incidents annually (590 in 2017, 557 in 2018 and 658 in 2019).
The growth this year reflects ongoing NCSC efforts to proactively identify and mitigate threats, tips the organisation receives from its extensive network of partners and reports from victims themselves.
In a year heavily influenced by the pandemic, the review highlights the NCSC’s support for the healthcare sector, such as scanning more than 1 million NHS IP addresses for vulnerabilities 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 Email Reporting Service, which received 2.3 million reports from the public in its first four months – resulting in thousands of malicious websites being taken down.
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 was used by people in 125 countries this year.
Lindy Cameron, Chief Executive of the NCSC, said: “This 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 coronavirus.
“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 cyber security.”
Jeremy Fleming, Director of GCHQ, said: “The world changed in 2020 and so did the balance of threats we are seeing.
“As this Review shows, the expertise of the NCSC, as part of GCHQ, 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.
“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.”
The Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP, the Paymaster General, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect how we live and work. In a year of complex challenges, the NCSC has continued to react to swiftly-evolving cyber threats.
“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.