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The Times has reported on data taken under Freedom of Information requests, to put across the extent to which universities have been under attack from cyber-attacks.

Why are universities being targeted?

The requests have revealed that, for example; University College London, Warwick and Oxford all had been breached with the aim to steal important research data and files. The attacks apparently source from thieves, who are attempting to steal this data under foreign powers, or ones who are attempting to make a profit and sell it to the highest bidder.

Many universities run open networks, leaving them prone to all kinds of attacks, due to them being easily accessible targets. This, along with the value of the data they store, is what makes them a big target.

Frequency and Types of attacks

The paper also stated that the number of attacks recorded in the UK had doubled in the past two years. Mr Maple, who is the director of cyber-security at one of these affected universities, said that digital defence systems and methods must be improved within higher education institutions.

The information also details that multiple methods and techniques are used to steal this data. This is done through: denial of service attacks, phishing and ransomware.

Dr Anton Grashion, head of security practice at Cylane said that it’s not surprising there is an increase in security breaches at universities.

Example of attack

In just June of this year UCL, as mentioned above, was hit by a ‘ransomware’ attack. This attack likely stemmed from someone browsing to a compromised website, which started the infection.

Luckily this attack was sorted quickly, but with better measures in place, it could have perhaps been prevented completely and not risked all the data within their systems.

It is clear that universities are big targets due to the amount of (commercial) research conducted, and with these recent statistics showing this increase in attacks, more needs to be done at universities around the UK to safeguard themselves.

Further Reading

For more information, please refer to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-41160385 and
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40288548