The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) blocked more than 28,000 attempted visits from 36 different countries to the Universal Credit online service in the last three months.
According to the government’s latest update to its cyber security strategy, the department has been working with GCHQ to counter fraud in the provision of its digital services.
However, a spokesperson for the department told Computerworld UK that the attempts to access Universal Credit were merely a result of international interest in DWP’s flagship welfare reform project.
"Interest in Universal Credit from overseas is inevitable due to the high profile nature of this reform and the global nature of the internet. We don't believe that the visits from overseas represent fraudulent attempts to access the site, but we have the necessary counter fraud measures in place to keep the site secure - which we are continually improving,” she said.
“The UC site has so far proved resilient to cyber based threats, but we're not complacent and work tirelessly to make it as robust as possible against attacks."
Work and pensions secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) has previously said that there has been no fraud or error in the phased introduction of Universal Credit, but the project is still in its early stages with only a few thousand people claiming.
Universal Credit aims to merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit and working credit. The IT system supporting it will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
DWP plans to spend £2.4 billion to implement Universal Credit up to April 2023 and has spent £425 million up to April 2013. Most spending so far (£303 million) has been on contracts for designing and developing IT systems. However, to date there have been a number of suspected problems with delivery.
Duncan Smith recently told MPs on a select committee that he is in control of the project and that there is “no debacle”. However, he admitted that the department has had to write off, or ‘impair’, £40.1 million worth of IT assets to date – nearly a fifth more than the £34 million figure revealed to the National Audit Office earlier this year.
Moreover, this figure could increase: "If anything goes wrong going forward, that [figure] might be different," said Duncan Smith.
Universal Credit consists of £152 million worth of intangible assets, with £34 million of this to be used as software code in the final digital version.
The remaining IT assets will now also be written off over a five-year period, as opposed to the 15-year period that the department had originally planned.