Coronavirus: ‘Predatory’ cyber criminals and hostile states targeting UK citizens and institutions, Raab warns

Remarks follow joint warning from cybersecurity agencies in Britain and the US, urging healthcare and medical research to staff to improve security

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 05 May 2020 18:00 BST
Raab: Action is being taken to deter cyber criminals and prevent them from exploiting coronavirus

Dominic Raab has warned that “predatory” cyber criminals and hostile states are seeking to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, saying that UK citizens, businesses and institutions will be targeted for weeks and months ahead.

His remarks follow a joint warning from cybersecurity agencies in Britain and the US, urging healthcare and medical research staff to improve their password security to prevent criminals exploiting the crisis further.

Speaking at the No 10 daily press conference, Mr Raab said that while the vast majority of people and countries had rallied together, “there will always be some who seek to exploit a crisis for their own criminal and hostile ends”.

The foreign secretary said he was aware that cyber criminals and “other malicious groups” are targeting individuals and organisations in the UK by deploying Covid-19 related scams and phishing emails.

“That includes groups that in the cyber security world are known as advanced, persistent threat groups – sophisticated groups of hackers who try to breach computer systems,” he said.

“We have clear evidence now that these criminal gangs are actively targeting national and international organisations which are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, which I have to say makes them particular dangers and venal at this time.”

Mr Raab added the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) published a joint warning on Tuesday about these groups seeking to exploit the crisis.

“Our teams have identified campaigns targeting healthcare bodies, pharmaceutical companies, research organisations and also various different arms of local government,” he said.

“They tend to be designed to steal bulk personal data, intellectual property, and wider information that support those aims and they are often linked with other state actors.

“We expect this kind of predatory, criminal behaviour to continue and to evolve in the coming weeks and months ahead and we’re taking a range of measures to tackle that threat.”

He continued: “We’ll share advice on the nature of those threats to enable businesses, citizens and our international partners to better defend themselves against the full range of cyberattacks from hostile states to criminal gangs.”

Earlier, Paul Chichester, NCSC director of operations, said: “Protecting the healthcare sector is the NCSC’s first and foremost priority at this time, and we’re working closely with the NHS to keep their systems safe.

“By prioritising any requests for support from health organisations and remaining in close contact with industries involved in the coronavirus response, we can inform them of any malicious activity and take the necessary steps to help them defend against it.

“But we can’t do this alone, and we recommend healthcare policymakers and researchers take our actionable steps to defend themselves from password-spraying campaigns.”

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