The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has today issued an alert to the entire education sector over fears that institutions’ cybersecurity is at risk, prompted by the rise in online schooling during the pandemic.
Cybersecurity wonks at the NCSC, which is part of the intelligence agency GCHQ, are increasing the support available for UK schools, colleges, and universities in handling online attacks.
It comes after a spate of attacks with the potential to de-rail preparations for the new term hit educational institutions over the summer.
The alert urged schools and universities to take immediate steps such as ensuring data is backed up and also stored on copies offline.
“This criminal targeting of the education sector, particularly at such a challenging time, is utterly reprehensible,” said Paul Chichester, director of operations at the NCSC.
“While these have been isolated incidents, I would strongly urge all academic institutions to take heed of our alert and put in place the steps we suggest, to help ensure young people are able to return to education undisrupted.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring UK academia is as safe as possible from cyber threats, and will not hesitate to act when that threat evolves.”
Universities and schools found themselves under threat last month after an attack on cloud computing provider Blackbaud, which affected more than 125 organisations.
Dozens of universities were involved in the hack, including the University of Edinburgh and Aston University in Birmingham.
“As the last six months have shown us, it has never been more important for colleges to have the right digital infrastructure in order to be able to protect their systems and keep learning happening, whatever the circumstance,” said David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges.
“This needs a whole college approach and for a focus wider than just systems, it needs to include supporting leaders, teachers and students to recognise threats, mitigate against them, and act decisively when something goes wrong.”