show image

Hackers target university defence research

British universities are facing a barrage of cyber attacks as hackers attempt to steal government-funded scientific, medical and defence research.

A survey of senior IT leaders at 68 universities found that 24 per cent believed their security and defence research had been infiltrated, while 53 per cent said they feared they had been subject to a cyber attack carried out by foreign hackers.

Security analysts revealed last year that cyber criminals linked to the Iranian government had launched several attacks on British universities. The attacks saw hackers spoof universities’ online library systems in a bid to harvest their passwords and secure access to research.

John Chapman, a security executive at Dell EMC, which commissioned the survey, warned that one of the major consequences of such attacks is a “loss of credibility” and that future sponsors could be put off if they feared the research they fund might end up in the wrong hands.

“In conducting research that may shape the future of the nation and its citizens, universities are under the microscope of some of the world’s most well-resourced and potent cyber attackers,” he added. “Universities must do more to protect themselves, and the sensitive information they hold, against the ever-expanding range of increasingly sophisticated threats.”

There were more than 1,000 cyber attacks on universities last year, and a recent test of institutions’ defences revealed that hackers were able to extract sensitive data within two hours.

Louise Fellows, a director at VMware, added that universities’ security teams must “examine how they can evolve practices and approaches in line with an increasingly complex threat landscape, including cybersecurity as a consideration at every stage of the research process by design”.