One in three universities ‘face cyber attacks every hour’
March 17, 2016
Shah Sheikh (1294 articles)

One in three universities ‘face cyber attacks every hour’

One in three universities in the UK face cyber attacks on an hourly basis, with exam and dissertation results targeted alongside personal data and research, a survey of higher education institutions has revealed.

According to the study, nearly half of universities (43 per cent) have had exam results infiltrated, with over four in five saying they believed that attacks were increasing in frequency and sophistication.

The research, which surveyed IT decision makers at some 50 universities across the UK, found that a quarter of institutions also admitted to having highly confidential “critical intellectual property” data infiltrated, which included national defence, social, economic and medical research.

However, far from a distant threat, almost two thirds of universities believed that some of the greatest risks to their cyber security actually lie internally, with 63 per cent claiming students posed a danger to data.

Nearly half of universities (43 per cent) have had exam results infiltratedNearly half of universities (43 per cent) have had exam results infiltrated  Photo: Alamy

The study, carried out by cloud infrastructure provider VMware, analysed the standard of IT security in higher education institutions in the UK.

The report found that 64 per cent of IT professionals at universities didn’t believe that their current security measures would be sufficient to deal with attacks in the next year, as attempted infiltrations become more sophisticated in nature.

And it isn’t just the data at risk. According to the survey, 79 per cent cited reputational damage, 77 per cent highlighted a possible impact on national security, while 74 per cent were forced to halt a research project.

The threats pose a risk to institutions across the world. Just last month the University of California, Berkeley alerted 80,000 students, alumni, and employees to a cyber security breach to a university network holding financial data.

Queen Mary, University of London, came under attack in 2014 from the hacker group Anonymous, who claimed to have stolen students’ personal details, while in December last year the academic computer network known as ‘Janet’ suffered a cyber-attack, leaving students across the UK unable to submit work.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Tim Hearn, director of UK Government and Public Services at VMware warned that “the battle” with cyber security issues was “ongoing”.

“Threats are becoming more sophisticated and can change quite quickly,” he said. “An attack can be modified by a hacker in a matter of hours to be able to change the way it attempts to retrieve information, so it’s a moving target all the time.”

He continued: “It’s a particular challenge for universities because they work in an environment where they want to maximise collaboration and communication and not put any barriers in the way to stop that from happening.

“But there needs to be pragmatic steps in place to protect students and protect the reputational position of the university, so getting the balance right between fostering a collaborative environment, but at the same time protecting data, is quite difficult to get right.

“It’s quite unique to the higher education space,” he added.

Paul Hopkins, director of UK HE-Shared Services, a technology consultant for the higher education sector, said: “This study verifies the growing threats which are infiltrating universities at many different levels.

“They must take a holistic approach to security, striking a balance to ensure critical research data is adequately protected without prohibiting or impeding researchers.”

Source | Telegraph