Northumbria University is still reeling from a cyber-attack which forced it to reschedule exams and close its entire campus in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Deputy vice chancellor, Peter Francis, told students on Monday that the “cyber incident” had caused “significant operational disruption” and that work was underway to restore IT systems as quickly as possible.
“For the remainder of this week, there will be no student access to campus whilst we work on restoring our network and connected services,” he continued.
“During the time it will take to restore our key systems, which we hope will be short, you will not have access to the student portal, blackboard and potentially other university platforms which you use in your day-to-day studies. We have temporarily switched these services off as a precautionary measure.”
The university also tweeted last week that exams had to be cancelled and that it was unable to take calls about clearing, a vital part of the academic calendar in which UK universities and colleges seek to fill places they still have on courses.
Although not officially named, the attack bears all the hallmarks of ransomware. Financially motivated cyber-criminals have been increasingly focusing on the education sector of late as institutions are thought to be more exposed to attacks and under tremendous commercial pressure to ensure uptime for staff and students.
Data released last month revealed that a third of UK universities have been attacked with ransomware in the past decade.
Most recently, a ransomware outage and data breach at US IT services company Blackbaud affected countless educational institutions in the UK and elsewhere. It’s not known if the Northumbria University attack also featured data theft.
Webroot senior threat research analyst, Kelvin Murray, argued that the distributed nature of many university networks makes them hard to manage and secure.
“To get to grips with cybersecurity, institutions need to engage cyber-resilience plans to protect their IT infrastructure and data, regardless of the crisis. IT teams must properly audit all machines connected to their networks and the data they hold,” he added.
“Security awareness training should be implemented for staff and students from day one, ensuring that they are vigilant in scrutinizing the emails they receive. This should be underpinned by cybersecurity technology such as email filtering, anti-virus protection, and sensible password policies.”