NCSC issues cyber attack alert over ransomware threat to education sector

The UK’s cybersecurity agency has issued an alert to schools, colleges and universities about an increase in hacking attempts around the start of the new academic year.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned the education sector to be aware of ransomware attacks and urged organisations to follow their guidance on securing their networks.

The centre says it saw an increase in attempted cyber attacks on education establishments in August, often using ransomware which involves the encrypt of data by cybercriminals who then demand payment in exchange for recovery of the data.

The NCSC has encouraged institutions to take immediate steps such as ensuring all data is backed up and copies are stored offline to prevent data loss in the event of an attack.

As part of the issued alert, the NCSC says it has stepped up support for UK schools, colleges and universities, including offering guidance on how to best protect themselves and improve their understanding of cybersecurity.

NCSC director of operations Paul Chichester said: “This criminal targeting of the education sector, particularly at such a challenging time, is utterly reprehensible.

“While these have been isolated incidents, I would strongly urge all academic institutions to take heed of our alert and put in place the steps we suggest, to help ensure young people are able to return to education undisrupted.

“We are absolutely committed to ensuring UK academia is as safe as possible from cyber threats, and will not hesitate to act when that threat evolves.”

In July, the NCSC, along with agencies in the US and Canada warned that cybercriminals were targeting healthcare organisation working on coronavirus research and potential vaccines.

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said: “As the last six months have shown us, it has never been more important for colleges to have the right digital infrastructure in order to be able to protect their systems and keep learning happening, whatever the circumstance.

“This needs a whole college approach and for a focus wider than just systems, it needs to include supporting leaders, teachers and students to recognise threats, mitigate against them, and act decisively when something goes wrong.

“This guidance will prove incredibly useful for colleges to ensure that they can do just that.”

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