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11 December 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 11:26am

How to live and work safely online

The Minister of State for Security outlines the government’s cyber security strategy against the backdrop of Covid-19

By James Brokenshire

It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we go about our daily lives. We are spending more time at home and are more reliant on the internet for work and services such as food shopping and banking.

Today’s technology has helped keep us connected and maintain contact with friends and family. However, it is a sad reality that scammers, fraudsters and hackers will seek to exploit any opportunity to steal money or data from businesses and individuals. The pandemic has been no exception, with cyber criminals attempting to capitalise on people’s anxieties.

But those behind this despicable opportunism are firmly in our sights. Across government and law enforcement, we are determined to ensure they have no safe spaces to operate in. It is critical that our citizens and businesses can operate safely and securely online. Central to that effort is the world-leading National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is working around the clock to help keep our country safe.

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Figures released recently underline the shift in the threat. Between September 2019 and August 2020, the NCSC dealt with a total of 723 cyber incidents. Almost 200 of these – more than a quarter – were Covid-19 related. With the rapid increase in home-working, the NCSC has published guidance to help people and organisations large and small stay secure online. While the pandemic has undoubtedly brought fresh scrutiny of these threats, tackling cybercrime has been a priority for the government for a number of years.

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Alongside the NCSC, the National Crime Agency has been making an important contribution in the fight against cybercrime. For example, in December last year, a multi-year investigation from the National Crime Agency and US partners in the FBI led to the indictment of the suspected leaders of a Moscow-based cybercrime group known as “Evil Corp”, who had allegedly stolen at least £75m through malware attacks. We have been working closely with law enforcement partners to develop an effective, coordinated response at both a local and national level.

Our five-year National Cyber Security Strategy, backed by £1.9bn of investment, was launched in 2016. It brings together the best from government and industry to strengthen our defences and fight criminals. At a local level, we have funded dedicated crime units in each of the UK’s 43 police forces, to ensure that all local businesses can access advice and support on how to guard themselves online.

As well as ruthlessly pursuing the criminals behind cyber attacks, we have created dedicated Regional Cyber Resilience Centres. These bring together police, academia and local businesses to provide help to small and medium enterprises that fall victim to attacks and guide them through recovery. We know that businesses need the right support to protect themselves. The NCSC provides high-quality security advice to ensure all UK businesses, from sole trades to large, global organisations and critical national infrastructure, are fully equipped and secure. All advice is informed by the latest information on the current cyber threat.

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There is no doubt, however, that the pandemic has brought the threat of cybercrime into sharp focus. For example, there has been an increase in coronavirus themes in “phishing emails”, emails that lure users into disclosing sensitive information or downloading malware.

So we have provided funding for the NCSC Suspicious Email Reporting Service, which allows people to forward any emails that cause concern to mailto:report@phishing.gov.uk so they can be properly investigated, and malicious content can be taken down. The latest statistics show that this service has led to the removal of 18,071 scams and the taking down of 39,313 URLs.

It is also important to emphasise there are some simple but effective steps that everyone can take to help protect themselves. They include: creating a strong password to your email that is different to all your others, as personal email accounts often contain useful information to hackers; making sure you create a strong password using three random words; using the same passwords for all your accounts makes you vulnerable; saving these in your browser saves you having to remember them all; and turning on two-factor authentication, a free security feature that gives you extra online protection and stops cyber criminals getting into your accounts, even if they have your password.

While we are taking concerted action to tackle the threat of cybercrime, we are not complacent. We are working on the next National Cyber Security Strategy and hope to set out more detail on this next year. We remain committed to making the UK the safest place to live and work online. But that collective mission extends beyond government and law enforcement – and everyone can play a role by remaining alert and ensuring they protect themselves during this unprecedented time.

This article originally appeared in the Spotlight policy report on cyber security. To download the full report click here.