The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) handled 723 cyber incidents in the year to August, the highest figure since its formation in 2016, as coronavirus scammers targeted healthcare systems in the United Kingdom

The NCSC, a government body that provides security support to public bodies and private companies, revealed it helped 1,200 victims in the year to August 31.

The figures represent a 10% rise in the number of incidents handled by the sector and a 33% rise in the number of victims affected. The centre also handled three times as many ransomware incidents this year compared to last.

In its annual review published today the NCSC said that more than a quarter of the incidents it handled were directly related to the coronavirus.

It said: “More than 200 of the 723 incidents related to coronavirus and we have deployed experts to support the health sector, including NHS Trusts, through cyber incidents they have faced.”

It said its new ”suspicious email reporting service” led to more than 2.3million reports of malicious emails being flagged by the public and to 22,000 malicious URLs being taken down which were linked to coronavirus scams, such as pretending to sell PPE equipment to hide an attack.

The NCSC said that protecting healthcare has become its “top priority” during the pandemic and that it introduced measures including a new back up service, pioneering discovery tradecraft and deploying analysts to look at NHS threat data. It was given consent to check the security of NHS IT systems.

“More than one million NHS IP addresses were supported, over 160 high-risk and critical vulnerabilities were identified and shared, and threat hunting performed on 1.4 million endpoints,” it said.

The NCSC review also said it had earlier in the year published guidance on how organisations can reduce threats from remote working and had helped the government ensure civil servants could access official IT systems remotely.