U.K. Spies Help NHS Fight Pandemic-Fueled Cyber Crime Attacks


A state security agency has stepped in to help Britain’s National Health Service repel a surge in cyber crime linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 723 online incidents required the direct intervention of the National Cyber Security Centre in the 12 months to Aug. 31, a 10% increase from the same period ending in August 2019, the agency said in its annual report published Tuesday. About 200 of the attacks were related to the coronavirus.

U.K. Spies Help NHS Fight Pandemic-Fueled Cyber Crime Attacks

The NCSC’s response included an assessment of the state-run health service’s vulnerabilities. This uncovered a weaknesses including about 35 internet domains that could be exposed to malicious activity.

Covid-19 forced millions to work from home and fueled anxieties about the virus, presenting a tempting target for cyber criminals. A division of GCHQ, Britain’s signals intelligence agency, the NCSC said that since March it had taken down 15,354 campaigns using coronavirus to lure people into clicking links which could have led to phishing and malware. Many of the 22,000 malicious web addresses it tackled hosted scams playing on Covid-19 fears like pretending to sell personal protection equipment.

Parts of the NHS were crippled in 2017 by the global WannaCry ransom-ware attack. But the U.K. is far from alone facing such troubles: The FBI and other U.S. federal agencies last week warned American hospitals about “an increased and imminent cyber crime threat to U.S. hospitals and health-care providers.”

The NCSC’s pandemic response also included flagging suspected attempts by Russian intelligence to steal private information from researchers racing to develop a Covid-19 vaccine - a charge Russia denied.

Covid has forced some U.K. officials’ post-Brexit trade negotiations online, ahead of the Dec. 31 end of the transition period. The NCSC said it advised them how to avoid potentially disastrous cyber breaches, and also contributed to the security of systems that will monitor the flow of goods at the border.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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