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The University of Hertfordshire, UK, has announced that they were hit by a cyberattack that took down their IT systems, which resulted in online classes being cancelled for two days.
The issue represents the latest cyberattack upon the education sector. Taking the UK alone, an investigation revealed there were 177 reports of data breaches across 135 educational institutions across a twelve month period. In terms of the trend, this has been rising since February 2021. This coincided with the period when a number of coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted and establishments prepared to welcome students back to the classroom.
This pattern is being repeated globally. This is to the extent that one in three universities face cyberattacks every hour. This has coincided with the changes driven under COVID-19, with many schools shifting towards virtual learning.
With the University of Hertfordshire incident, the BBC reports that all of the institution’s systems were affected by the attack. This caused the university to halt its online teaching. Furthermore, students did not have on-site or remote access to computer facilities in the learning resources centres, laboratories or the university Wi-Fi.
Looking at the issue for Digital Journal is Steve Forbes, Government Cyber Security Expert at Nominet.
According to Forbes, the timing of the attack is especially bad: “The education system is a fundamental part of our society and it being compromised, as with the University of Hertfordshire, is one in a long line of attacks that have threatened to compromise the UK at a vulnerable time – during COVID-19.”
Forbes move on to consider the extent of the latest attack, noting: “With its IT systems knocked out and several days’ worth of online classes cancelled, attacks of this nature are not only especially disruptive to students, but can also lead to retargeting attacks if personal information is stolen.”
The motivation of the attack probably relates to the rich data stream that is available to hackers, says Forbes. He adds: “We should remember that universities hold onto a wealth of sensitive information, from financial records, coursework, to COVID-19 test results, while also being hubs of research and innovation for the next generation of technology companies. The impact from this disruption is not only short term.”
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