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NCSC overwhelmed by response to coronavirus campaign

The UK’s NCSC has taken down more than 80 malicious web campaigns and received 5,000 reports of suspicious emails within 24 hours of launching reporting service

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has taken down 83 malicious web-based scams exploiting the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in barely 24 hours after launching a reporting service on 21 April 2020.

The Suspicious Email Reporting Service was set up to empower people to help in the fight against coronavirus-related cyber crime by simply forwarding any suspicious emails to the NCSC’s reporting inbox at report@phishing.gov.uk.

The NCSC said that as of 12:00pm on 22 April, it had already received 5,151 reports of phishing emails using coronavirus as a lure to trick people into online harm.

“The immediate take-up of our new national reporting service shows that the UK is united in its defence against callous attempts to trick people online,” said NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin.

While we have not seen a rise in email scams in the past month, coronavirus is the top lure currently used to conduct cyber crime, exploiting public unease and fear of the pandemic.

“We hope the success of the Suspicious Email Reporting Service deters criminals from such scams, but if you do receive something that doesn’t look right, forward the message to us – you will be helping to protect the UK from email scams and cyber crime.”

Forwarding dubious-looking emails of any stripe – not just coronavirus-related – to the reporting inbox will trigger an automated process that tests the validity of the contents and linked site. Any found to be phishing scams can then be quickly dealt with.

The service was developed alongside the City of London Police and was launched alongside a cross-governmental Cyber Aware campaign, which contains advice and guidance on how to stay as secure as possible online, as well as information on how to use consumer video-conferencing services safely.

Beyond taking out malicious websites, the service is also intended to support UK policing by offering reporting analysis in real-time, and helping identify patterns in online offending behaviour. Commander Karen Baxter of the City of London Police, said: “Technology is helping us keep connected during coronavirus, but it is sometimes exploited by criminals. The new email reporting service helps to combat this and the results so far show how valuable this tool is.”

The minister for security, James Brokenshire, said: “Criminals are seeking to exploit our greater use of emails, videoconferencing and other technologies for their advantage.

“It’s despicable that they are 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 they don’t succeed.

“I encourage everyone to follow the Cyber Aware advice and to use the Suspicious Email Reporting Service. They provide important new ways in which we can protect ourselves as well as our families and businesses,” he added.

Besides the NCSC’s new services, consumers have a number of other reporting options. Scams specifically relating to HMRC, for example, can also be forwarded to phishing@hmrc.gov.uk. Others who have been unfortunate enough to lose money to cyber criminals should immediately inform their bank and report the crime to Action Fraud. More general guidance for victims is also on hand from Citizens Advice.

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