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Cyber attacks on UK academia prompts NCSC alert

The National Cyber Security Centre has issued an alert to the academic sector following a spate of online attacks against UK schools, colleges and universities.

The organisation, part of GCHQ, has issued an alert to the sector containing a number of steps they can take to keep cyber criminals out of their networks, following a recent spike in ransomware attacks.

The NCSC dealt with several ransomware attacks against education establishments in August, which caused varying levels of disruption, depending on the level of security establishments had in place. With institutions either welcoming pupils and students back for a new term, or preparing to do so, the NCSC’s alert urges them to take immediate steps such as ensuring data is backed up and also stored on copies offline.

The new alert, Targeted ransomware attacks on the UK education sector by cyber criminals, supplements existing support that the NCSC, which is a part of GCHQ, provides academic institutions across the UK.

Paul Chichester, director of Operations at the NCSC, 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.”

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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