Ransomware Attacks Targeting UK’s Education Sector Increased, says NCSC

 

According to the warning by GCHQ's cybersecurity arm, NCSC, there has been a substantial spike in the number of ransomware attacks targeting education sector over the last month, just as schools were getting ready to resume in-person classes. 

Ransomware attacks on the UK education sector have been on the rise, according to a new report. This includes developments seen in August and September 2020, along with attacks that have occurred since February 2021. It also offers mitigation recommendations to help in the defense of this sector. 

According to the report, senior leaders must recognize the magnitude of the threat and the ability of the ransomware to cause serious harm to their organisations in terms of information exposure and access to important services. 

Ransomware encrypts servers and files, making it impossible for businesses to provide services. Cyber criminals are anticipating that the need for schools and colleges to provide instruction would lead to target organisations succumbing to extortion requests and paying a bitcoin ransom in return for the decryption key required to recover the network. More importantly, cyber criminals have begun to warn that if the ransom is not paid, they will disclose confidential data taken from the network during the attack. Many elevated cases have arisen in which cyber criminals have carried out their attacks by exposing confidential data to the public, mostly via darknet's “name and shame” websites. 

"In recent incidents affecting the education sector, ransomware has led to the loss of student coursework, school financial records, as well as data relating to COVID-19 testing," the agency said. 

Ransomware attacks can be crippling to businesses, taking a considerable period of time for victims to recover and restore vital services. These activities can also be high-profile in nature, gaining a lot of attention from the public and the media. 

There are many ways for ransomware attackers to gain entry to a victim's network. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is one of the most commonly used protocols for remote desktop activities, according to the NCSC, allowing staff to access their office desktop computers or servers from a remote device over the internet. Ransomware attackers often use insecure RDP and virtual private networks (VPN) configurations to gain initial access to victims' computers. 

"This is a growing threat and we strongly encourage schools, colleges, and universities to act on our guidance and help ensure their students can continue their education uninterrupted", says NCSC. 

 To protect against malware and ransomware threats, the NCSC suggests that businesses must adopt a "defense in depth" technique. Having an effective plan for vulnerability management and deploying security fixes, protecting remote web services with multi-factor encryption, and installing and activating anti-virus programs are all cybersecurity guidelines for schools, colleges, and universities to secure their networks from ransomware attacks.