The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has published a new report which discusses the current cyber security threat to UK universities and academia.
In the report it is explained that universities are key contributors to innovation, skills development and economy in the UK, which results in them handling personal and research data, intellectual property and other significantly valued assets. As a result universities have become an extremely attractive target to cyber-criminals.
It is almost guaranteed that state-sponsored actors are looking to steal data and information for strategic gain. The report said: “While it is highly likely that cyber crime will present the most evident difficulties for universities, state-sponsored espionage will likely cause greater long-term damage.”
“This is particularly true for those universities which prize innovation and research partnerships. This damage will extend to the UK’s larger national interest and to those researchers whose work may give others the chance to ‘publish first’.”
The report added that nation states are most definitely targeting universities for the information and data they hold: “Cyber offers a deniable route to obtain information that is otherwise unavailable to them. It is likely exploited instead of, or in conjunction with, traditional routes to gain access to research, such as partnering, ‘seconded students’, or direct investment.”
It was noted that universities are most likely to be impacted by untargeted attacks such as widely-distributed ransomware. Other attacks conducted by cyber-criminals include phishing and malware.
The report urges universities to increase user security awareness, as well as enforcing stricter access controls and security-conscious policies.
Whilst universities continue to generate high value intellectual property, they will still remain a target for state-sponsored espionage.
“We believe that state espionage will continue to pose the most significant threat to the long-term health of both universities and the UK itself. There’s a realistic possibility that the threat will increase in-line with increased scrutiny of foreign direct investment and the minimising of other avenues to gain insight and advantage.”
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