Increase in Cyberattacks Targeting UK Universities, Survey Finds

United Kingdom Europe Higher Education News by Erudera News Feb 27, 2024

A person using computer

Higher education institutions in the United Kingdom, especially those affiliated with international research institutes, are at risk of cyberattacks, according to a new survey by KnowBe4, world's largest security awareness training and simulated phishing platform.

The report reveals there has been an increase in cyberattacks against universities in the UK, Erudera News reports.

“British universities are commonly affiliated with notable international research institutes, making the data that can be stolen through a cyberattack far more valuable than the phone numbers and credit card numbers they may get elsewhere,” the report states.

A survey involving 52 higher education institutions conducted by the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) in April 2023 found that all types of institutions were more likely to be cyberattacked than the average of UK companies, the report notes.

According to the results, phishing is the most common form of cyberattack against higher education institutions. This is followed by online impersonation, and viruses spyware, or malware.

Among the surveyed institutions, 85 percent admitted to having suffered breaches or attacks within the past 12 months. This share was 32 percent among UK businesses within the same timeframe.

“Further education and higher education institutions experienced more breaches and attacks than schools, and experienced a wider range of attack types, including impersonation, viruses, and other malware,” the report points out.

The survey revealed that of 44 higher education institutions that reported breaches, half of them said they had experienced a cyberattack at least once a week. All institutions reported phishing, 86 percent reported impersonation breaches, and 64 percent faced viruses, spyware, or malware.

Not just higher education institutions but also primary and secondary schools and further education colleges reported security breaches - 41 percent, 63 percent, and 82 percent reporting attacks or breaches in the last 12 months, respectively.

The information gathered shows that higher education institutions were more severely affected by attacks than schools, resulting in lost money and data or compromised accounts for illegal purposes.

The findings are alarming because most higher education institutions lack a security strategy. Only half of surveyed institutions admitted to having a security strategy, meaning they lag behind businesses, whereas seven in ten already have a strategy to fight the phenomenon.

The report recommends that the higher education sector navigates the balance between remaining open for research and protecting itself against cyber attacks.

The United Kingdom has been a leader in higher education for centuries. It is home to top institutions, including two of the world’s most renowned universities, Oxford and Cambridge.

UK universities also attract large numbers of international students yearly, hitting a record high with 787,000 international students in the 2022/23 academic year.

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