Organisations working on Covid vaccine research were large targets of cyberattacks dealt with by UK computer security experts last year.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) says it handled a record 777 incidents between August 2020 and September 2021, of which 20% were linked to the health sector and vaccines.
The NCSC's annual review released today, said protecting the health sector became an urgent priority over the period.
The report said in one case, it helped the University of Oxford, where the AstraZeneca vaccine was developed, to protect itself against an incident which had the potential to cause significant disruption to the UK's pandemic response.
Over the past 12 months the NCSC also responded to a rise in ransomware attacks, and a range of services have been provided to businesses over the past year to help protect them from ransomware. These include the Early Warning Service alerting organisations to emerging threats through to cyber security advice for those working in education.
These efforts have come against a backdrop of responding to significant global incidents, including the attack on the SolarWinds IT management platform by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service – one of the most serious cyber intrusions of recent times – and a major ransomware attack on the American software firm Kaseya.
Lindy Cameron, CEO of the NCSC, said: “I’m proud of the way the NCSC has responded to what has been another hugely challenging year for the country as we all continue to navigate our way through the pandemic.
“The support and expertise we have provided for stakeholders from government all the way through to the general public during the pandemic has been vital to keeping the country safe online.
“Undoubtedly there are challenges ahead, but the upcoming National Cyber Strategy combined with the continued engagement from businesses and the public provides a solid foundation for us to continue reducing the impact of online threats.”
In 2020 the NCSC surged its efforts towards protecting healthcare in the wake of the pandemic outbreak, and since then it has channelled further resources towards those involved in the rollout of the vaccine by providing the necessary intelligence and tools to respond to the threats they faced.
This included the extension of the organisation’s Protective Domain Name System (PDNS) service to over 1000 additional organisations within the Health and Social Care sector to support of vaccine development and supply chain organisations.
This extension represented protection of an additional 3 million employees in the sector, from essential workers providing and supporting front line care to those working to develop and deliver vaccines to citizens across the country.