Cyberattacks on higher education institutions increase as education goes online

21st October 2021

Over the past few years, UK universities have increasingly relied on online learning tools to dispense learning material and provide students feedback on their work.

Despite this reliance, however, universities have failed to implement robust cybersecurity mechanisms; leaving their security standards woefully underdeveloped and vulnerable to a cyberattack. This was the case with the University of Sunderland.

The public university's online infrastructure has been rendered inaccessible. This includes telephone lines, mobile apps, email servers, and online learning environments. The attack is so severe that staff and students cannot even communicate over Microsoft Teams.

Although the campus remains open, students cannot access online services—meaning that they cannot take online classes, submit coursework, access online journals from the library, or even get feedback for assignments they submitted online.

The University claims that the extensive issues across their IT infrastructure are signs of a cyberattack. They also explained that they are working with several agencies, including the police, to discern how severe the damage is.

While the University has not identified one specific cause for the attack, experts believe that the hackers could have gained entry through the influx of new students who created logins to access the online learning system.

What can we learn from this attack?

The attack on the University of Sunderland highlights the need to adopt the best cybersecurity practices to protect virtual infrastructure as universities expand online learning systems.

With students acquiring new logins and universities migrating to the cloud, higher education institutions need to be vigilant to prevent cyberattacks that could cripple their infrastructure.

This is especially crucial during this time, as the pandemic has seen the number of cyberattacks on higher education institutions increase; a phenomenon that highlights the importance of cybersecurity and the vulnerability of these environments.

Without proper cybersecurity infrastructure, universities could find their research data, student information, and staff details vulnerable to exploitation, which will hurt their reputation.

Universities need to adopt more sophisticated security tools that will allow them to detect anomalies in real-time and better manage their attack surface to prevent cyber breaches in the future.

RiskXchange is the only 360-degree attack surface management solution that allows users to compile an inventory of internet assets and discover unknowns easily to reduce the attack surface, lower time to detection, and create a more secure vendor environment.