Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
September 23, 2020

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Contact tracing and COVID-19 director’s briefing

Cyber security

Cyber threats disrupt return of education

As if the return of the academic year for universities, colleges and schools wasn’t already disrupted enough from the COVID-19 pandemic, reports indicate that a number of UK institutions have also been subject to several cyber-attacks during the summer.

UniversitySecurity-20According to one report from TopLine Comms, around a third of universities (out of 105 respondents) have admitted to having faced a cyber-attack in the past 10 years – another 43 refused to answer, based on concerns that this may encourage additional attacks.

Clearly then, this isn’t a new phenomenon. However, the cyber threat is ever more prevalent due to the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with resources already stretched and under pressure. The National Cyber Security Centre has already issued an alert following the recent spike, saying that it has been “investigating an increased number of ransomware attacks affecting education establishments in the UK” since the beginning of August.

The alert recommends that institutions should look to follow the NCSC guidance on mitigating against malware and ransomware attacks. The attacks often block access to computer systems, and can sometimes take weeks, or even months, to be put right. Universities often hold valuable data and information that could be commercially, politically or personally sensitive.

Those targeted include Newcastle University and Northumbria, while several further education colleges in Yorkshire and Lancashire faced threats in August.

Paul Chichester, Director of Operations for the NCSC says: “The criminal targeting of the education sector, particularly at such a challenging time, is utterly reprehensible. I would strongly urge all academic institutions to take heed of our alert.”

Chris Boyd, Lead Malware Analyst at Malwarebytes has also commented: “One major problem faced by universities is that while they can bolster their own defences, it could be a bridge too far to secure all of their students studying remotely. If attackers find campus networks too difficult to breach, they’ll likely turn attention to students who could still end up providing another route past security protocols. We’d urge all students to keep up to date with the latest best practice guidance issued by their university and help to keep everyone secure.”

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