British businesses have been protected against an average of 60 attacks per month this year, according to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
Statistics published in the NCSC Annual Review last week show the Centre handled 723 cybersecurity incidents between September 2019 and August 2020, marking an increase on the previous three years.
In the three years since the NCSC’s launch, it has supported an average of 602 incidents annually.
Around 200 incidents tackled this year were also coronavirus-related, the review noted. While the increased activity is a cause for concern, the NCSC said the growth reflects its ongoing efforts to ‘proactively identify and mitigate threats’.
In the last year, it has combated more than 15,000 online campaigns aimed at duping web users into opening malicious links or email attachments. Many of these were also coronavirus-related scams, such as promoting PPE products and testing equipment.
Commenting on the NCSC Annual Review, Chief Executive Lindy Cameron 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.”
Ransomware threats continue
Ransomware continues to pose a significant threat to organisations across a range of industries, the report shows. The NCSC said it handled more than three times as many ransomware incidents compared to the year previous.
“The NCSC has seen an increase in the scale and impact of ransomware attacks and a new and growing trend to be more targeted and more aggressive than ever before,” the review states.
In the past year, major ransomware attacks have been carried out on public authorities and academia. Redcar and Cleveland Council, for example, was subjected to a highly aggressive ransomware attack which caused considerable damage and disruption to services.
The way in which cybercriminals operate is also changing, the review suggests. Previously, victims of ransomware attacks were denied access to data until a ransom was paid.
However, new tactics employed by cybercriminals include threatening to leak sensitive information to the public until payments are made.
The impact of Covid-19
Amid the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, cybercriminals have seized the opportunity to prey on vulnerable organisations. Crucially, the NCSC Annual Review highlighted the Centre’s support for the healthcare sector throughout the pandemic, which includes scanning more than one million NHS IP addresses for vulnerabilities.
This subsequently led to the detection of 51,000 compromised addresses, the NCSC revealed.
Similarly, the review also detailed the Centre’s work with international partners to protect vaccine research from state-sponsored cyber threats.
In July, the NCSC revealed that Russian state-sponsored cybercrime groups, including the infamous ‘APT29’ syndicate, were actively targeting vaccine research programmes in the UK and abroad.
In a statement at the time, the NCSC said: “Throughout 2020, APT29 has targeted various organisations involved in Covid-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of Covid-19 vaccines.”
Jude McCorry, CEO of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC), said that 2020 has underlined the importance of cybersecurity for businesses and citizens across the UK.
“It’s not surprising that cybercriminals have exploited so many individuals and businesses at a time when they have been extremely vulnerable,” she said.
“From ransomware to fake shop fronts scamming many unsuspecting individuals, now more than ever it’s absolutely vital that we each take the time to pause and to ensure that we have systems fit for purpose to deal with such attacks – and on the occasion where they might happen, know how to swiftly deal with them.”
As businesses increasingly pivot to operate online and implement long-term remote working practices, raising awareness of cybersecurity threats is more important than ever.
“Resilience on many levels has been a theme which has emerged during 2020, but by no means will we be out of the woods when the clocks chime on 2021,” McCorry said.
“Businesses and individuals must ensure that they are ready to deal with a cyber incident, and if not, then know who to call on for support.”