COVID-19 is changing the map of cyber-crime activity, says British spy agency

GCHQ - IA

THE CYBER-SECURITY BRANCH of Britain’s signals intelligence agency has said in a new report that the coronavirus pandemic is changing the map of cyber-crime by illicit actors, including state-sponsored hackers. The unclassified report was released on Tuesday by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is the cyber-security branch of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Founded over a century ago, the GCHQ is responsible for, among other things, securing the communications systems of the British government and the country’s armed forces.

In its latest Annual Review, the NCSC warns that “criminals and hostile states” are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic in order to challenge the national security of Britain and its allies. In an introductory note included in the report, NCSC director Jeremy Fleming says that the balance of cyber-threats has changed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. According to the report, British cyber-security agencies saw a 10% rise in serious cyber-threat incidents in 2020. More than a third of these incidents were related to COVID-19, and many targeted Britain’s healthcare sector.

The report suggests that attacks against the British National Healthcare Service and vaccine research facilities constitute a rapidly emerging cyber-espionage risk. The majority of these attacks were carried out by state-sponsored actors, including Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) 29, which is also known as “Cozy Bear” and “The Dukes”. According to Western intelligence services, APT29 is a Russian state-sponsored cyber-espionage outfit, which has been known to target facilities involved in the development of coronavirus-related vaccines.

Other cyber-threat actors have no connections to foreign governments, but are instead motivated by profit. The NCSC said it had managed to disrupt over 15,000 campaigns by cyber-criminals to use coronavirus as a bait in order to trick unsuspecting Internet users into downloading malicious software or providing personal information online. Some cyber-criminal networks contacted clinics and other businesses who were in desperate need of personal protective equipment, coronavirus testing kits, and even purported cures against the virus, said the NCSC. Some of these unsuspecting victims were offered fictitious quantities of coronavirus-related equipment, which were never delivered.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 05 November 2020 | Permalink

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