A record number of scams have been removed from the internet as part of a scheme to help protect people from fraud and cybercrime.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) says it removed a total of 2.7 million scams, illicit domains and phishing services during 2021, nearly four times more than during 2020.
The rise in take downs comes after the NCSC – the cyber arm of intelligence agency GCHQ – expanded operations designed to remove malicious online content. These include fake celebrity endorsement scams, bogus extortion emails, missed delivery scam text messages, and a wide range of fraudulent and malicious websites.
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One scam email even involved cyber criminals claiming to be NCSC CEO Lindy Cameron, telling the potential victim that the NCSC had recently stopped £5 million being stolen from them and to reply with personal information in order to get the funds back. The scam was taken down by the NCSC.
"We know that scammers will go to great lengths and indeed my name has been used to try and trick people, but as we continue to expand our defences we can see the tangible impact this is having," Cameron said.
The NCSC also removed more than 1,400 NHS-themed phishing campaigns during the last year, as cyber criminals attempted to trick people with fake messages about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and vaccine passports.
Many of the scam websites and emails are designed to steal key personal data from victims like usernames, passwords, contact details and bank information.
Not only can the cyber criminals exploit this information to directly steal money and information from personal accounts from victims, but they can also use stolen information to commit additional fraud – like taking out loans in someone's name – creating further issues for the victim.
The take downs are part of the NCSC's Active Cyber Defence (ACD) programme, an initiative designed to prevent millions of cyberattacks from reaching citizens, organisations and critical infrastructure. The NCSC says the rise in the number of take downs reflects the expansion of the defence programme, rather than a big rise in scams.
"The latest ACD figures shine a light on how the NCSC has responded to emerging cyber-threat trends and security issues to keep the UK safe at scale," said Cameron.
"We know that scammers will go to great lengths and indeed my name has been used to try to trick people, but – as we continue to expand our defences – we can see the tangible impact this is having," she added.
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In addition to scams being taken down, the NCSC blocked more than 1.2 million domains linked with Android Flubot malware, which commonly spreads via text messages, claiming the reciever has missed a delivery and telling them they need to follow a link to enter their details to organise a redelivery. Any information entered in the fake postal service or delivery firm page is stolen by the attackers.
"The highlights shared today evidence some of the crucial interventions we made last year to take down online threats, deter attackers and improve our collective cyber resilience," said Ian Levy, technical director at the NCSC.
"As ACD continues to grow and innovate, we strongly encourage the private sector to work even more closely with us to enhance the effectiveness of our services to take down and block malicious websites," he added.