UK Universities ‘Hit By Hundreds’ Of Cyber-Intrusions In Past Year

The intrusions were aimed at stealing research into technologies including missiles and healthcare on behalf of nation-states or to put on sale

British universities have been hit by hundreds of successful computer intrusions in the past year targeting their research, including scientific, engineering and medical subjects and military technologies such as missiles, according to a report.

The Times said its freedom of information requests found universities including Oxford, Warwick and University College London were affected by 1,152 successful attacks in 2016-17, double the figure for the previous year.

Stealing secrets

The intrusions were intended to steal secrets on behalf of foreign governments or to sell to the highest bidder, experts said.

The report speculated the thieves were looking for research into missiles, fabrics used to camouflage military vehicles and weapons and energy including new fuels and batteries.

University of Oxford
Oxford University was hardest hit by the attacks.

Oxford University was the worst-affected with 515 incidents of unauthorised access to accounts.

“Intellectual property takes years of knowhow and costs a lot,” said University of Warwick director of cyber-security Carsten Maple in the report. “If someone can get that very quickly, that’s good for them.”

He said universities’ security systems needed to be strengthened.

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Ransomware incidents

The paper’s requests found that ransomware, phishing and denial-of-service attacks had all been used against universities, with some organisations hit by more than 1,000 intrusion attempts per month.

In June students and academic staff from University College London (UCL) faced disruption after a ransomware attack encrypted shared and networked files belonging to the university in an incident that apparently occurred through the exploitation of a zero-day flaw.

Last August FoI requests by security firm SentinelOne found that 23 of 58 British universities who replied to FoI requests – or 40 percent – said they had been affected by ransomware attacks in the previous year.

“It is not uncommon for universities to be the target of cybersecurity attacks,” Bournemouth University said at the time.

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