The National Cyber Security Centre’s Active Cyber Defence programme, which includes its Takedown service as well as the Suspicious Email Reporting Service, succeeded in taking down over 70,000 online scams totalling 1.4 million URLs last year.
Marking the fourth year of its Active Cyber Defence (ACD) programme, the NCSC said the programme achieved unprecedented success against cyber crime in the past year, taking down fifteen times the number of online scams than it did in the previous year. In fact, the number of online scams traced and vanquished was more than in the previous three years combined.
The NCSC’s Active Cyber Defence Programme was launched back in 2017- featuring four new technologies- Web Check, DMARC, Public Sector DNS, and a Takedown service which were offered for free to help public institutions defend against sophisticated phishing attacks and to stop public sector systems veering onto malicious servers.
According to Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director of the NCSC, the ACD programme intends to increase cyber adversaries’ risk and reduces their return on investment to protect the majority of people in the UK from cyber attacks. “The ACD programme is truly a collaborative effort, and it’s thanks to our joint efforts with partners both at home and internationally that we’ve been able to significantly ramp up our efforts to protect the UK.
“This has never been more important than in the last year, where it was vital for us to do everything we could to protect our most critical services and the wider public during the pandemic.
“The bold defensive approach taken by the ACD programme continues to ensure our national resilience and so I urge public bodies, companies and the general public to sign up to the services available to help everyone stay safe online,” he added.
In April last year, NCSC added a new ‘Suspicious Email Reporting Service’ to its ACD kit that allowed Internet users to report suspicious emails, including those claiming to offer services related to coronavirus. The new service was launched with the aim of tracing and shutting down fake online shops offering coronavirus-related items, malware distribution websites, phishing sits seeking personal information such as passwords or credit card details, and sites used to run advance-fee fraud campaigns.
According to figures released by the cyber security watchdog this week, the British public used the Suspicious Email Reporting Service to report nearly 4 million suspicious emails last year, indicating the scale at which email is used as a vector to perpetrate cyber scams. In fact, citizens flagged over 160,000 suspicious emails to the NCSC in the first two weeks after the service was launched.
In all, the ACD programme helped in taking down 700,595 cyber crime campaigns in 2020, up from just 45,603 campaigns in the previous year. The number of seized URLs also rose from 192,256 to 1,448,214 and the number of seized IP addresses shot up from 21,111 in 2019 to 301,938 in 2020.
NCSC said that considering how the COVID-19 pandemic imposed an enormous strain on the NHS, its primary focus was on safeguarding the organisation and NHS workers across the UK from attacks that sought to harvest NHS credentials and potentially compromise critical systems. The number of detected phishing campaigns abusing the NHS branding shot up from a mere 36 in 2019 to 122 in 2020. At the same time, NCS took down 43 fake or unofficial copies of the NHS Test and Trace app which were hosted and available for download outside of the official Apple and Google app stores.
In 2020, NCSC also observed a rise in the number of government-themed phishing campaigns and took down 11,286 such campaigns that involved the use of 59,435 URLs. HMRC, like in previous years, was the most abused government department for use as a phishing lure. NCSC found as many as 22,148 fake and malicious URLs using the HMRC brand, compared to 16,945 URLs that used the generic gov.uk domain.
Commenting on the incredible success achieved by the ACD programme, Mark Crichton, senior director of Security Product Management at OneSpan, told TEISS that while we’ve seen a huge number of Covid related scams over the past year and even as we started to emerge out of the pandemic in the UK, we’re not out of the water yet in terms of fraudulent scams targeting consumers.
“We’ll start to see cybercriminals switch their focus onto new trends like holidays abroad as restrictions begin to lift. Despite this, it’s promising to see that while scams have surged, we’ve increased the number scam takedowns. But inevitably, with the vast number of scams from cybercriminals, some will still slip through the net.
“Consumers need to have absolute certainty that any unsolicited offering is from a trusted brand by checking the senders email address or phone number. If the communication seems suspicious even in the slightest, they should not click on any links or share any sensitive information.
“As for banks, they are the final line of defence against fraud, so as scams like these continue to be widespread online, it is essential that they are investing in dynamic fraud solutions that analyse vast amounts of data with machine learning and advanced risk analytics to identify abnormal user behaviour in real time.
“We also must encourage more use of biometrics. New risk-based multifactor authentication with fingerprint, face, or iris recognition will help free us from the burden of unsecured passwords and enable a safer digital world,” he added.