NCSC supports education sector after spike in cyber attacks

The National Cyber Security Centre is to provide additional support for schools following a rise in ransomware attacks since February.

Advice to help UK schools, colleges and universities to counter a rise in cyber attacks has been issued by online security experts.

The NCSC, which is a part of GCHQ, has published an alert to education establishments warning of an increase in ransomware attacks and setting out steps they can take to keep criminals out of their networks.

While operational details cannot be disclosed, the NCSC has dealt with a significant increase in the number of attacks since late February, when establishments were preparing to welcome students back to the classroom.

The centre says there is no reason to suspect the same criminal actor has been behind each attack, which have caused varying levels of disruption, including targeting school financial records.

The NCSC’s advice includes a number of practical steps which can be taken as part of a ‘defence in depth’ strategy, from installing and enabling antivirus software to having up-to-date and tested offline back-ups.

Paul Chichester, Director of Operations at the NCSC, says: “Any targeting of the education sector by cyber criminals is completely unacceptable.

“This is a growing threat and we strongly encourage schools, colleges, and universities to act on our guidance and help ensure their students can continue their education uninterrupted.

“We are committed to ensuring the UK education sector is resilient against cyber threats, and have published practical resources to help establishments improve their cyber security and response to cyber incidents.”

Steve Kennett, Executive Director of E-infrastructure at the UK’s digital body for tertiary education, Jisc, adds: "Jisc has been helping many colleges and universities recover from ransomware attacks recently, so we have seen what a devastating impact this crime has on the sector.

“I urge all education and research institutions to act swiftly to ensure their systems and data are robustly protected."

Often the aim of cyber criminals deploying ransomware is to encrypt data that will have the most impact on an organisation’s services. This can affect access to computer networks as well as services including email systems and websites.”

The NCSC previously reported an increase in ransomware attacks on the UK education sector in August and September 2020, and has updated this alert in line with the latest activity.

Alongside the updated alert, network defenders are also urged to read the NCSC’s mitigating malware and ransomware guidance, and to plan and rehearse ransomware scenarios in the event that defences are breached.

 

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