November 9, 2020

Open University flooded with over a million cyberattacks in nine months

By Ellen Daniel

The Open University has been flooded with over a million cyberattacks over the past nine months, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.

The request was sent by the think tank Parliament Street, which discovered that the distance learning university received 1,191,312 malicious email attack between January 2020 to September 2020.

Fortunately, all these malicious messages, which included spam, malware and phishing attacks, were blocked by the university’s servers, with around 132,368 email attacks and spam messages blocked each month.

This comes as cybercriminals are increasingly turning their attention to the education sector. According to research by software company Check Point, in July and August there was a 20% increase in cyberattacks against the global education sector.

Earlier this year, both Newcastle and Northumbria universities were hit by cyberattacks. Newcastle University reported that a number of its IT services had been affected, and the attack against Northumbria University resulted in the cancellation of exams.

Open University cyberattacks follow shift to remote learning

In September, the National Cyber Security Centre issued an alert following a rise in ransomware attacks targeting educational institutions coinciding with the return of students. It set out a number of steps schools, colleges and universities can take to protect their networks from cybercriminals and warned that attacks can have a “devastating impact” on organisations.

Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many other universities have also incorporated more online learning into their courses, leaving them more vulnerable to disruption in the event of a cyberattack.

Andy Harcup, VP sales, Absolute Software said:

“As the second national lockdown puts more people out of work, and hinders ‘traditional’ education institutions, millions will be looking towards the Open University in an effort to boost qualifications, retrain in a new career path, or learn a new skill. Therefore, unfortunately, cyber attackers will attempt to target the onslaught of new personal devices which will soon be added to the Open University’s nationwide network of devices, all of which are likely to be connected, in some way, via shared data storage points and cloud SaaS applications, for example.

“Therefore, prospective students, and the Open University itself, must ensure that its devices are protected by a sophisticated endpoint security solution, which will ensure that a compromised device can still be accessed, controlled or frozen, so that breached log-in credentials or a stolen device, does not necessarily equate to a loss of data.”

Read More: NCSC warns of cyberattacks against schools after ransomware spike.


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