UK spooks took down more online scams last year than in the previous three years combined as the Covid-19 pandemic fuelled an increase in cyber crime.
Experts oversaw a huge 15-fold increase in the number of scams removed from the internet, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said today.
It comes as unscrupulous hackers tried to take advantage of the pandemic to fleece unsuspecting victims.
In the last year more than 700,000 online scams totalling 1.4m URLs were removed, according to the organisation’s fourth annual report.
There was a sharp increase in efforts to scam people using NHS branding, with the number of phishing campaigns more than tripling.
Spies also blocked 43 fake NHS Test and Trace mobile apps, while criminals also attempted to use the vaccine rollout to dupe victims.
“Whether it has been protecting vital research into the vaccine or helping people work from home securely, the NCSC has worked with partners to protect the digital homeland during this unprecedented period,” said NCSC chief executive Lindy Cameron.
While coronavirus-linked scams drove up total numbers, HM Revenue & Customs remains the most targeted brand for phishing campaigns.
Attempts to clone part of the gov.uk website remained high, while TV Licensing was also targeted following the scrapping of blanket free TV licences for over-75s.
The increase in scams comes after the NCSC, which is part of GCHQ, last year launched a suspicious email reporting service to help members of the public report potential crimes.
The spy body has also worked to expose cyber crime by hostile states, such as Russian attacks on Covid-19 vaccine development.