UK universities increasingly targeted by cyber criminals

Cyber attacks are turning their attention to UK universities, with research being the main prize

The number of cyber attacks on British universities has doubled over the past year as criminals attempt to steal important research.

According to The Times, which carried out a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, there were 1,152 attacks on universities, including Oxford University and the University College London, in 2016/17. Oxford University was the most affected, with 515 cases of unauthorised access to accounts, according to the report.

Advances in medicine, engineering and missile research were reported to be the targets of hackers. This information, which costs a lot of time and money, is attractive to other nation states and therefore to hackers.

Financial services companies are also major targets of cyber criminals, but these organisations have huge IT and cyber security budgets as competency is business critical.

Tracy Andrew, chairman of the defence industry security association and consultant at T&C Consulting, has worked extensively in the NHS. He said the recent WannaCry ransomware attack revealed weak security in the NHS and was a good example of how organisations in different sectors prioritise investment.

“When it comes to universities, they are thinking about academic studies and research and not the protection of the network,” said Andrew.

According to The Times, Carsten Maple, director of cyber security research at Warwick University, called for a tightening of cyber defences at universities.

“Universities drive forward a lot of the research and development in the UK. Intellectual property takes years of know-how and costs a lot – if someone can get that very quickly, that’s good for them. Certainly, somebody might attack a university and then provide that information to a nation state,” he said.

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