Criminals will target Britons desperate for a vaccine by sending scam emails promoting 'VIP tickets' to get to the front of the queue for a jab, security experts warned last night.
Dr Ian Levy, of the National Cyber Security Centre, said it was braced for a surge in hackers trying to exploit the vaccine roll-out in the coming weeks.
He added: 'I would expect to see vaccine-related scams saying things like, 'If you want to get ahead of the queue, click here for the £100 special VIP ticket for your local vaccination rollout.'
Dr Levy also warned of phishing emails related to fake Christmas websites, adding: 'People throw out huge numbers of phishing emails linking to fake coronavirus testing sites, fake PPE sites, fake Christmas sites – buy your Ugg boots here.'
Criminals will target Britons desperate for a vaccine by sending scam emails promoting 'VIP tickets' to get to the front of the queue for a jab, security experts warned last night
The NCSC told consumers to pay close attention to cyber safety when shopping in the run-up to Christmas, adding that criminals swindled an average of £775 from each victim over Christmas last year.
There were 17,405 reports of online shopping fraud between November 1, 2019, and January 31, resulting in a loss of £13.5 million.
Meanwhile, a major US tech giant issued an alert yesterday warning that a cyber-espionage campaign had targeted companies vital to vaccine distribution.
The alert, posted on a research blog published by IBM, said the hacking campaign started in September.
Organisations such as those in government and across the energy and IT sectors that were associated with the coronavirus 'cold supply' chain were targeted.
The 'cold supply' chain refers to the essential part of distributing vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, which were approved in the UK this week.
The vaccine needs to be stored at -70C (-94F) as it travels from manufacturers to doctors.
It was not immediately clear if the sophisticated phishing emails were successful.
IBM warned that campaign bore 'the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft' rather than an attack by cyber criminals.
Dr Ian Levy, of the National Cyber Security Centre (pictured), said it was braced for a surge in hackers trying to exploit the vaccine roll-out in the coming weeks
Global policing agency Interpol also warned organised criminal gangs could be targeting the real Covid-19 vaccines in a bit to create and sell fake shots.
Dr Levy said the NCSC had already seen scams saying 'click here for your £75 covid test' or 'click here for your PPE'.
He said he now expected criminals to go further to get money, and urged people to report any scams.
He said: 'I would expect to see vaccine related scams saying things like 'if you want to get ahead of the queue, click here for the £100 special VIP ticket for your local vaccination rollout.'
Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt said: 'This year we have spent more time online than ever before.
'Whether it be working or shopping online, criminals and others often see the internet as another means to cause harm.
'As we approach the Christmas season, we should all be on our guard and take the practical Cyber Aware actions to keep us safe as we work, shop and socialise online.'
A new NCSC website and television advertising campaign will remind people it is important to use a strong and separate password for their email.
They advise users to create strong passwords using three random words and to save passwords in their browser.
It is also recommends that two-factor authentication (2FA) be switched on, devices and apps are kept up to date, and data is backed up.
The campaign is backed by organisations including Microsoft, Vodafone, BT, ASOS, Barclays and Citizens Advice.
MCSC chief executive Lindy Cameron said: 'Technology will play an essential role over the festive period, with more people shopping online than ever before.
'Scammers stole millions from internet shoppers last Christmas - but, by following our advice, you can protect yourself from the majority of their crimes.
'We hope the Cyber Aware campaign helps people to shop confidently online and enjoy their Christmas.'