Ransomware Cuts Off 37,000 Students’ Emails

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Harris Federation shuts down email access for 50 London academies after ransomware incident, as wave of cyber-attacks hits UK education sector

Email access for 37,000 students has been cut off by a ransomware attack affecting a London-based group of schools.

The Harris Federation, a not-for-profit charitable trust that operates 50 primary and secondary academies in and around London, said it had disabled students’ emails while it carries out remediation efforts.

The trust said it has also disabled students’ devices as a precaution to prevent the ransomware from spreading.

Landline telephone systems have been disabled as well, with calls being rerouted to mobile phones.

‘Significant impact’

Current coronavirus restrictions allow students to attend classes in person, somewhat mitigating the malware’s impact.

The trust called the incident a “sophisticated attack” that would have a “significant impact” on its academies.

“It will take time to uncover the exact details of what has or has not happened, and to resolve,” the organisation said in a statement on its website.

The federation is keeping its academies open until Wednesday, when they break up for Easter.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a warning last week that hackers are targeting schools.

Schools targeted

“We are at least the fourth multi-academy trust to have been targeted in March,” the Harris Federation stated.

“As a precaution, we have temporarily disabled our email system.”

It said it is working with consultants, the National Crime Agency and the NCSC to resolve the issue.

The NCSC said it has recently alerted schools to the “significant threat” posed by ransomware and urged educational bodies to follow best practices to protect themselves.

The UK education sector was also hit by a wave of ransomware attacks last August and September.

A ransomware incident affecting University College London caused significant disruption in 2017, encrypting shared and networked files belonging to the university.

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