Technology Ransomware: Sharp rise in attacks against universities as learning goes online
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The number of ransomware attacks targeting universities has doubled over the past year and the cost of ransomware demands is going up as information security teams struggle to fight off cyberattacks.
Analysis ofagainst higher education found that attacks against universities during 2020 were up 100 percent compared to 2019, and that the average ransom demand now stands at $447,000.
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The sharp rise in the number of ransomware attacks, combined with the six-figure sums ransomware gangs demand in exchange for the decryption key means ransomware represents the number one cybersecurity threat for universities, according to the research by tech company BlueVoyant.
Ransomware is a problem across all sectors, butit currently represents a particular problem because means that students are receiving their teaching online while many academics are also working from home.
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Overstretched IT departments might not have the ability to fully address security, providing cyber criminals with an opening to exploit.
"Operating in the middle of the pandemic provides even greater opportunity for the adversary," Austin Berglas, global head of professional services at BlueVoyant told ZDNet.
Berglas said IT staff are already busy ensuring students and staff have the necessary tools to conduct remote learning, from device configurations and the installation of new software and cameras to assisting end users that are having problems with the new technology. "These schools may not have the resources to properly secure the network," he said.
That means that universities could be considered an easy target for cyber attackers – and the lack of IT resources, combined with students and staff being reliant on the network being available, means that many victims of ransomware attacks in higher education will consider paying a ransom demand ofin order to restore the network as quickly as possible.
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Researchers suggest that in many cases, cyber criminals are specifically targeting universities because they perceive them to be a soft target, and one from which it is easier to extract a ransom payment than businesses in other areas, which might potentially provide more lucrative targets, but that require more effort from attackers.
According to the report, more than three-quarters of the universities studied had open remote desktop ports, and over 60% had open database ports – both of whichand a means to eventually deliver and execute ransomware attacks.
While cyberattacks and ransomware continue to pose a threat to universities – and will continue to do so even after in-person teaching resumes – there are things that can be done in order to improve cybersecurity and reduce the chances of falling victim to malicious hackers.
This includesacross all email accounts, so if cyber criminals can breach login credentials, it's much more difficult to exploit them for access around the network.
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On Data Privacy Day, here's a reminder that breaches can affect you long after your data is stolen.The report, issued to coincide with Data Privacy Day, is a good reminder that stolen personal data has a long afterlife. After you file away a data breach notification, you'll remain at risk of becoming the victim of identity theft or a ransomware attack for a long time to come. Now is as good a time as ever to check your credit reports, health insurance records and bank accounts for anything suspicious. If you think you might be the victim of identity theft, you can contact the US Fair Trade Commission and the Identity Theft Resource Center for help.
"Ensure multi-factor authentication using a single sign-on solution. Multi-factor authentication will prevent the majority of, which is one of the top ways ransomware is being deployed," said Berglas.
It's also recommended that universities, such as fast logins or logins to multiple accounts from the same location, as that could indicate suspicious activity.
MORE ON CYBERSECURITY
Kia and Hyundai recovering from days-long network outages .
BOSTON (AP) — Kia Motors America says it’s restoring services crippled by a computer network outage that began Saturday and which apparently affected dealers’ ability to order vehicles and parts and knocked offline a smartphone app that owners use to remotely start and warm up vehicles. Both Kia and affiliated automaker Hyundai Motor America, which reported a less severe IT outage it said also began Saturday, said they had no evidence the problems were caused by ransomware. Neither would provide an explanation for what caused them.