Students’ return to universities has coincided with a spate of attacks against academic institutions across the North of England, prompting the National Cyber Security Centre to issue a warning: prepare for disruption as the term starts.
Academia has a unique security profile due to the sector’s open, collaborative nature, making user-based vulnerabilities a particular challenge. Universities’ involvement in critical research, most notably vaccines for Covid-19, has encouraged hackers to target them with ransomware in combination with phishing, credential harvesting and brute force attacks.
Bill Conner, CEO of SonicWall and advisor to GCHQ and the UK Government, warns:
“That hackers are targeting universities during this especially delicate time will come as no surprise to any business leader. It is known that bad actors, nation-state backed or independent, are setting their sights on the most valuable assets they can get their hands on, whether corporate secrets or intellectual property — and they will take advantage of fraught circumstances to do so.
UK universities spearhead research critical to national interests. Hackers are vying for control over it, whether for geopolitical dominance or to use the information for their own malicious interests. The most recent example is this summer’s attempt to steal the coronavirus vaccine.
One thing is certain: as the new term starts, university cybersecurity remains a boundless issue. Students and staff need to be protected not only within the university walls, but in their homes and off-campus locations as well. Crucial research should be granted all possible safeguards in a layered manner, and universities should take steps today to ensure they have a strong security posture to withstand hackers’ future attempts.”