The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of GCHQ, said the scam had used a fake gov.uk email address to target 200,000 email addresses and was one of more than 140,000 phishing attacks prevented in 2018.
The fake airport email scam was automatically detected by the NCSC’s Active Cyber Defence (ACD) System and prevented from reaching the intended recipients’ inboxes, the organisation said.
Phishing scams involve tricking recipients into paying fees or submitting personal financial information to criminals via emails designed to look as though they are from official bodies or businesses.
In its latest report on UK cyber security, Active Cyber Defence – The Second Year, NCSC revealed it had taken down more than 190,000 fraudulent websites in 2018 – 64% of which were removed within 24 hours.
NCSC said its ACD system had also helped locate and take down the real email account used by the criminals in the airport email scheme and had also helped to reduce the criminal use of bodies linked to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
It said campaigns where criminals attempted to pose as the tax authority to defraud the public were down 46%.
Dr Ian Levy, NCSC’s technical director and author of the report said both were important parts of the country’s cyber security plan.
“These are just two examples of the value of ACD – they protected thousands of UK citizens and further reduced the criminal utility of UK brands. Concerted effort can dissuade criminals and protect UK citizens,” he said.
“While this and other successes are encouraging, we know there is more to do, and we would welcome partnerships with people and organisations who wish to contribute to the ACD ecosystem so that together we can further protect UK citizens.
“This second comprehensive analysis we have undertaken of the programme shows that this bold approach to preventing cyber attacks is continuing to deliver for the British public.”
The ACD system was introduced in 2016 and includes a number of programs designed to prevent cyber attacks from happening, including tools which refuse to connect users with websites that have previously been flagged as linked to illegal activity, as well as a takedown service to remove malicious sites.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said: “The UK is safer since the launch of our cyber strategy in 2016. Over the last three years, and backed by a £1.9 billion investment, we have revolutionised the UK’s fight against cyber threats as part of an ambitious programme of action.
“The statistics and examples in this report speak for themselves. They outline the tangible impact that Active Cyber Defence is having, and how it is a key building block in improving cyber security in the UK now, and in the future.”