Public urged to flag coronavirus scam emails in online security campaign

The UK’s cyber security agency has launched a service which allows people to report suspicious emails to them.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned of criminals increasingly looking to use the coronavirus pandemic as a way to scam people.

In response, the centre has launched a Cyber Aware campaign, offering a range of general online safety advice to UK internet users, including tips on how to protect passwords, accounts and devices.

It also includes new advice on how to securely use video calling apps such as Zoom, following security concerns being raised about the use of such apps.

Alongside it, the NCSC has also launched its Suspicious Email Reporting Service, which will allow people to forward emails they believe to be scams to the centre for analysis and further action.

It has been co-developed with the City of London Police, and users can forward emails to report@phishing.gov.uk, and the NCSC’s automated­ program will immediately test the validity of any linked site.

The centre says it will build on its existing takedown services, which have removed more than 2,000 scams related to coronavirus in the last month, including over 450 fake online shops selling fraudulent Covid-19 related items and other scams.

A number of consumer organisations and agencies have warned of an increase in cyber crime looking to take advantage of fears around the Covid-19 outbreak.

A recent survey by TSB suggested that 42% of people believe they have been targeted by a bogus email since the outbreak began.

NCSC chief executive Ciaran Martin said: “Technology is helping us cope with the coronavirus crisis and will play a role helping us out of it – but that means cyber security is more important than ever.

“With greater use of technology, there are different ways attackers can harm all of us. But everyone can help to stop them by following the guidance campaign we have launched today.

“But even with the best security in place, some attacks will still get through.

“That’s why we have created a new national reporting service for suspicious emails – and if they link to malicious content, it will be taken down or blocked. By forwarding messages to us, you will be protecting the UK from email scams and cyber crime.”

As part of the campaign, the centre has also updated its online database of security information with new guidance on the secure use of video conferencing services.

Video calling platforms have become increasingly popular since lockdown measures were introduced, as millions turned to them communicate with colleagues while working from home, and stay in touch with friends and family.

However, apps such as Zoom have come under scrutiny over security concerns – with some people reporting examples of video calls on the platform being hijacked by strangers.

Zoom has taken a number of steps to improve its security settings in response to concerns and has stopped all new feature development to focus on security.

The new NCSC guidance encourages users to place a strong, unique password on their account and always track who is joining a call.

It also recommends not making meetings public, connecting only to people through your contacts or address book and never posting a call link or password publicly.

Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “Criminals are seeking to exploit our greater use of emails, video conferencing and other technologies for their advantage.

“It’s despicable that they 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.

“I encourage everyone to follow the Cyber Aware advice and to use the Suspicious Email Reporting Service. They provide important new ways in which we can protect ourselves as well as our families and businesses.”

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