My article for this week's Herald and Post looks at the ever present danger of cyber fraud...
Last month at the CyberUK conference, the Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Dowden, warned companies not to “leave their digital back door open to cyber crooks and hackers.” This was a speech setting out the threat of Russian and Chinese hackers to the UK’s critical infrastructure - transport, energy and telecommunication – a scary but ever-present prospect.
On listening to this speech though, it did make me think about how this translates locally; down to how we manage the security of our own computers and smart devices.
In my previous role as security minister, I sadly saw the financial and emotional fallout of cybercrime on people’s lives. Life savings swept away in an instant because the victim trusted the wrong person.
In 2022 we saw a number of high profile companies targeted by hackers, including Royal Mail. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every day our national cyber experts are thwarting attacks on government networks, hospitals and other crucial services that we all rely on.
Post pandemic, we increasingly spend more and more of our time online. There’s a certain expectation now that the majority of our daily transactions, for instance paying bills, banking, and paying for parking spaces, should all be done online. Sometimes it’s practically impossible to carry out these functions any other way.
The government recently set out its approach to tackling fraud in ‘The Fraud Strategy: Stopping Scams and Protecting the Public’. The fraud strategy was a major focus for me during my time at the Home Office, and it was good to see this come to fruition.
Millions of pounds will now be invested in a new state of the art online reporting system that will give victims real time updates on the progress of their case. And a new National Fraud Squad will be set up with over 400 new specialist investigators to target fraudsters.
There are also a number of steps we can take to protect ourselves. This could be something as simple as avoiding using the same passwords for different accounts to making sure that your anti-virus and anti-malware software is up to date. This is all well and good for the tech-savvy amongst us but what about those individuals who don’t use or have regular access to a computer or smart device, and certainly wouldn’t feel confident using one.
A year ago, ‘Cyber Bobby’ was set up to help plug this gap. Set up by the Blue Lamp Trust, in conjunction with Hampshire police, this is a free local service providing online security help for vulnerable individuals and the over 60s. It also helps those who have already fallen victim to an online scam.
I was lucky enough to meet some of the Cyber Bobby volunteers at the recent Dementia Friendly Festival in Petersfield. And it really is a fantastic service.
All volunteers working for Cyber Bobby are police checked and will visit you in your own home to give you advice about how to spot a scam email, how to enhance your privacy settings and how to report suspicious activity. Cyber Bobby has so far helped almost 100 Hampshire residents, with nearly 90 per cent of these aged 60 and over. They have also organised talks to local community groups. Do visit their website – www.bluelamptrust.org.uk – to see how they can help.
Strengthening our online defences and being alert to the risks is the only way we will stop these invisible and uninvited guests from destroying lives.
For more information about staying safe online, visit the government’s online safety portal: www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberaware/home