UK cyber spies took down 15-times more scams during pandemic

British cyber security agency reports that cybercrime shot up 15-fold compared to 2020, as hackers took advantage of pandemic and Brexit panic. — AFP

Criminals launched more websites to trick people into giving up data, downloading malware and sending them money during 2020, taking advantage of pandemic lockdown by pretending to be celebrities, shops and government agencies, according to the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.

The NCSC took down 700,595 malicious campaigns last year, 15-times more than a year earlier as the number of scams increased and the service began targeting new types of activity, the agency said in a report published on Monday. Attacks were also active for longer on average, the agency said.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a surge in malicious hacking and phishing attempts globally as fraudsters took advantage of more people working from home, which led to weaknesses in corporate security, and fears about the virus that made some more vulnerable to clicking on links that purported to have information about the disease.

A popular tactic for defrauding people during lockdowns was to impersonate the UK government, with pages pretending to be tax or health authorities to exploit people searching for information amid upheavals including Brexit and emergency coronavirus measures. US domain host NameCheap hosted almost a third of this category, according to the report.

"By mid-year, the median take-down times were consistently in excess of 60 hours,” the NCSC said regarding the campaigns hosted by the company. "This undoubtedly made NameCheap an attractive proposition to host phishing and may explain the rise in monthly hosted campaigns that followed.”

Some 46.4% of schemes impersonating celebrity endorsements from the likes of billionaire Richard Branson came from servers owned by the Seattle-based tech giant Inc., which is a dominant player in the hosting market. They were taken down in a median of 19 hours following requests from the British cyber security agency, giving Amazon one of the fastest response times for this type of scam.

One such scam relied on a fake news article which fabricated Branson quotes extolling the benefits of an alleged crypto-currency platform, while another spoofed a Bitcoin trading platform endorsement by British financial expert Martin Lewis, with made-up quotes such as,"Brits are using this to make an average of 450 pounds a day and quitting their jobs!”

A representative for Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours. A representative for NameCheap didn’t have an immediate comment. – Bloomberg

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