Universities in the Spotlight for Increased Cyber-Attacks

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A recent Times investigation shows that UK Universities are increasingly being targeted by cyber criminals. In early September, the newspaper reported that a Freedom of Information Request had revealed 1,152 breaches over the 2016–17 period, more than double the number of attacks that occurred the previous year. Networks at some of the country’s top universities have been compromised. Oxford University reported 515 instances of ‘unauthorised access’ and University College London had 57 ‘successful attacks’. Meanwhile, the Queen Mary University of London allegedly blocked more than 38.75 million attempts.

Who’s Behind the Attacks?

In the shadowy world of cyber-crime, it’s hard to know who’s responsible. The majority of the attacks can be traced to Russia, China and other countries in Southeast Asia; while it’s possible one or more foreign powers may be behind the increase, experts believe it’s more likely the work of cyber gangs looking to steal information they can sell for profit. Research on military and defence technology, medicine, fuel, and engineering advances have all been targeted.

Carsten Maple, director of cyber security research at Warwick University, points out that: “Intellectual Property takes years of know-how and costs a lot.” Hackers have a high incentive to invest resources in obtaining valuable data that will be interesting to a nation state. However once they’ve breached a network, they are likely to take anything they can get their hands on, including personal information and financial details from students and staff.

Universities Need Better Security

According to security expert Dr Anton Grashion, universities have some of the most challenging networks to manage, making them tempting and easily accessible. Meanwhile, slim budgets don’t always provide enough resources towards digital protection. Almost everyone agrees universities need to do more to safeguard valuable research and keep sensitive personal data secure.

Following the Times report, the Information Commissioner’s Office has pledged to investigate further. A spokesperson for the ICO pointed out that the new General Data Protection Regulation, which will go into effect next May, will mean costly fines for universities and other organisations that fail to adequately protect user data after a cyber-attack has occurred.

Meanwhile, the National Cyber Security Centre is looking into ways it can assist with improving university security. According to a NCSC spokesperson, their Active Cyber Defence measures already help local authorities block malicious cyber activity and this protection may be extendable to universities as well.

Reputations at Risk

Universities face significant reputation damage as students and parents lose confidence in their ability to keep information secure. Numerous cyber-attacks will hurt smaller institutions’ ability to attract talented applicants. Meanwhile, students who’ve had their research stolen or their bank account compromised may find themselves struggling for years to get their life back on track and regain a positive reputation.

At Reputation Defender, we help individuals rebuild their reputation and maintain adequate privacy and security measures on their personal accounts. As a student, it’s never too early to start managing your reputation and create an online image that will last a lifetime.

We also assist universities and other organisations that are trying to rebuild a positive brand name. If your organisation has suffered a damaging cyber-attack, our experts can help pinpoint security vulnerabilities and restore consumer confidence. Visit the Reputation Defender website to learn more.

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