Plague of coronavirus web scammers


Families face an unprecedented threat from cyber criminals seeking to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, a spy chief warns today.

Jeremy Fleming, the director of GCHQ, urged the public to be more vigilant than ever about online fraud at a time when we are spending more and more hours on our computers and devices.

Launching a campaign for us all to become more ‘Cyber Aware’, he called on Britons to join the fight against online crime by taking simple steps to improve our security, such as updating passwords and reporting any suspicious emails.

The threats from online scammers are ‘constantly evolving’ as millions of us switch to working from home and turn to the internet to support our family, friends and neighbours.

Jeremy Fleming, the director of GCHQ, urged the public to be more vigilant than ever about online fraud at a time when we are spending more and more hours on our computers and devices

Conmen are preying on fears about the virus by setting up bogus online stores selling items such as face masks and hand sanitiser and sending scam emails claiming to offer medical updates.

Every week, more than 500 malicious sites related to coronavirus are being taken down by GCHQ’s cyber-security arm. 

Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Fleming said: ‘There is no doubt this crisis is changing the world very fast, and the same goes for the online world. The speed and scale of activity among opportunistic cyber criminals seeking to profit from the virus should concern us all.’

In rare public comments, he said Britons needed to play their role in protecting the nation online, adding: ‘Now, more than ever, we need your help.’ 

It came as:

  • The UK death toll rose by 449, the lowest daily total since April 6;
  • Nurses in some hospitals were forced to wear cagoules instead of their normal protective equipment amid farcical wrangling over a shipment of vital supplies from Turkey;
  • Downing Street has set a target for schools to reopen partially at the start of June amid warnings that easing the lockdown too early could cause a ‘second peak’ of infections;
  • Britain languished near the bottom of an international league table of the proportion of the population tested for the virus;
  • Some 140,000 companies applied for government financial assistance to pay the wages of more than a million workers as the official furlough scheme was launched;
  • The UK’s budget deficit will hit £300billion this year, driven by huge spending to deal with the crisis, a think-tank warned;
  • The Duke of Edinburgh, 98, issued a rare statement in which he praised scientists and medical staff tackling the pandemic, and the workers keeping essential services running;
  • Oil prices crashed into negative territory for the first time ever, with US crude falling below $0 a barrel, meaning producers were paying buyers to take it off their hands.

GCHQ (Government Communication Headquarters), the UK’s eavesdropping intelligence agency, launches a new cyber-awareness campaign today.

In an article for the Mail, Mr Fleming warned: ‘Life has fundamentally changed and with it the balance of threats we are seeing. The threats faced by the UK are constantly evolving. To protect ourselves and our livelihoods from cyber attacks, fraud and theft we all need to improve our security online.’

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is part of GCHQ, today publishes six top tips to stay ‘Cyber Aware’.

They include turning on two-factor authentication for important accounts – which uses a second step such as a text to a mobile phone to allow users access – choosing random words as passwords, keeping email passwords different to others, saving passwords in your web browser, updating software and apps regularly, and backing up data.

He called on Britons to join the fight against online crime by taking simple steps to improve our security, such as updating passwords and reporting any suspicious emails (Pictured: GCHQ in Cheltenham)

He called on Britons to join the fight against online crime by taking simple steps to improve our security, such as updating passwords and reporting any suspicious emails (Pictured: GCHQ in Cheltenham)

NCSC has also launched a service for the public to report suspicious emails. Its chief executive Ciaran Martin said cyber security was ‘more important than ever’.

Many of those being targeted are elderly people who are less familiar with the internet but now need it to order shopping and keep in contact. A number of consumer organisations and agencies have warned of an increase in cyber criminals looking to take advantage of fears around Covid-19. A recent survey by TSB suggested 42 per cent believe they have been targeted by a bogus email since the outbreak began.

Britain is the most heavily targeted country, with research by cyber-security firm Trend Micro finding 20.8 per cent of global malicious coronavirus spam is sent to UK email addresses. 

Security Minister James Brokenshire said: ‘It’s despicable that criminals are using the coronavirus outbreak as cover to try to scam and steal from people in their homes. We all have a part to play in seeing they don’t succeed.’

  • Latest coronavirus video news, views and expert advice at mailplus.co.uk/coronavirus

Don’t let web thieves cash in on coronavirus, writes GCHQ director JEREMY FLEMING  

For the past 100 years we here at GCHQ have used cutting-edge technology to disrupt security threats posed to the UK.

We are used to working in secret to help keep the country safe. The intelligence we collect and analyse has been used to shorten wars, thwart terrorist attacks and apprehend serious criminals. But now, more than ever, we need your help.

The restrictions on us all mean that many of you will be spending more time in front of a computer.

Whether that’s running your business from home, helping your children learn or assisting vulnerable relatives to order food and essential services, you’ll be using more digital services to support family, colleagues and friends in the current climate.

For the past 100 years we here at GCHQ have used cutting-edge technology to disrupt security threats posed to the UK, writes Jeremy Fleming

For the past 100 years we here at GCHQ have used cutting-edge technology to disrupt security threats posed to the UK, writes Jeremy Fleming

A part of GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is charged with making the UK the safest place online to live and do business.

We can’t do this alone. The threats faced by the UK are constantly evolving. To protect ourselves and our livelihoods from cyber attacks, fraud and theft we all need to improve our security online.

This is particularly true now during this coronavirus crisis. Life has fundamentally changed and with it the balance of threats we are seeing.

Technology is playing a vital role in bringing people together virtually and offering everyday services online. It is part of the way through this crisis, so long as we use it securely.

The good news is that the UK has become a global cyber power. This is in part because of our ability to protect our citizens, businesses and institutions online. For us to retain this position and to continue to be a prominent force for good in the world, we all need to step up to improve our collective cyber security.

Most common scams – and how to avoid them 

DOORSTEP SCAMS

Fraudsters are gaining access to homes by offering to take residents’ temperatures or selling anti-virus tests, face masks and hand sanitiser.

Criminals are also posing as charity workers volunteering to do vulnerable people’s shopping. National Trading Standards says you should always ask for identification.

ONLINE SCAMS

Action Fraud has seen emails mimicking official health bodies which trick recipients into downloading viruses or giving away passwords. Holidaymakers are also being told to be wary of fake sites offering refunds on cancelled trips.

INVESTMENT SCAMS

Savers have been urged to avoid making rash pension decisions as criminals look to exploit fears over market turmoil, especially if an offer was in an email. Financial scams often come in the form of mass phishing emails. Many claim to offer sky-high returns – which should set alarm bells ringing.

BUSINESS SCAMS

Criminals are targeting cash-strapped businesses applying for emergency funds by sending out fake emails claiming to be from HMRC. 

Fraudsters are also posing as police and issuing fines via email to businesses they claim are ‘trading unlawfully’ during lockdown.

The NCSC is doing a great job stopping attacks getting through – in the past month we have taken down over 2,000 malicious sites designed to trick people looking for coronavirus-related services, including hundreds of fake online shops.

But to protect the digital homeland, especially at this time of national challenge, everybody has a role to play.

That’s why I’m proud that the NCSC is today launching the cross-governmental Cyber Aware campaign to encourage everyone – yes, including you – to take simple steps to protect your own (and the nation’s) online security.

This advice will protect you from the vast majority of cyber threats. More details on how to do this are available at www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberaware.

You can also help by using our new Suspicious Email Reporting Service, which allows people to forward potential scam emails to report@phishing.gov.uk.

If they are found to be fraudulent messages, the linked malicious websites can be blocked or taken down quickly, protecting everyone else. Those who flag suspicious emails will be helping in the fight against cyber criminals. This reporting service has been created in partnership with the police, who will be able to investigate those identified.

For GCHQ, dealing with threats like these – whether from states intending to harm the UK or from criminals – is all part of our usual remit. But there is no doubt this crisis is changing the world very fast, and the same goes for the online world.

Although overall levels of cyber crime look stable, the speed and scale of activity among opportunistic cyber criminals seeking to profit from the virus should concern us all. We have seen a sharp increase in malware with coronavirus themes. These include reports of emails sent with malicious links claiming to offer personalised medical updates.

If you report your suspicious emails, you can help protect others from becoming victims, making it safer for us all to be online. Like many of you, I’ve been joining in with my neighbours to clap for carers on a Thursday evening. The applause ringing out across the country in support of our NHS and other key workers is a wonderful expression of unity. 

It gives us all a chance to gain strength from feeling part of the wider community. The health and social care sectors deserve our protection and admiration at this critical time. Behind the scenes, we and many others in the public and private sectors have been helping to keep vital IT systems safe from cyber attack.

Our aim is to maximise the benefits technology can bring us. But at this time of national challenge, we need to be more vigilant than ever against cyber criminals who seek to exploit human or security vulnerabilities in order to steal passwords, data or money.

At GCHQ, through our NCSC we’ll keep working to make the UK the safest place in the world to live and do business online, even in these extraordinary times. But we cannot hope to achieve the highest standard of cyber safety for the country on our own. We need you, too.

It might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Become Cyber Aware. Take a few minutes to follow the six steps the next time you use your devices, and play your part in keeping the country safe.

  • Jeremy Fleming is the director of GCHQ, the UK’s world-leading intelligence, cyber and security agency with a mission to keep the country safe.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk