UK Universities Impacted By Cyber Attacks Every Hour

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VMware research reveals university struggle to deal with challenges faced in managing IT security

More than a third (36 percent) of UK universities are blighted by a cyber attack each hour, and 83 percent of universities believe that cyber attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication.

These are the findings of a study by virtualisation and cloud infrastructure provider, VMware, which explored the current level of cyber attacks and standard of IT security within UK higher education institutions.

data encryptionData at risk

Not only did the study reveal a growing level of cyber security risks facing the higher education market, but also the kind of data that is most at risk from cyber attacks:
• A quarter (25 percent) admit to having critical intellectual property (IP) data infiltrated. This relates to highly confidential and valuable data including national defence, social, economic and medical research.
• More than two in five (43 percent) of respondents confirmed that they have had student IP infiltrated, including dissertation materials and exam results.
• Respondents believe that some of the greatest threats posed by cyber attacks to the data held by their organisation come internally, with more than six in ten (63 percent) claiming domestic students pose a threat to data.

Alongside the considerable financial impact, the ramifications of each and every breach are costly in more ways than one, with 79 percent citing damage to reputation, 77 percent a possible impact on national security and almost three quarters (74 percent) having had to halt a valuable research project.

In response to these rising incidents of cyber attacks, 85 percent of UK universities agree that more funding must be given to IT security to protect critical research IP and over a quarter (27 percent) believed that the security of their private on-premise data centre (in which a lot of their critical data sits), is ‘inadequate’ and in urgent need of being updated. Overall, nearly two thirds (64 percent) don’t believe their existing IT infrastructure will be sufficient in protecting against cyber attacks in next 12-18 months.

Tim Hearn, director, UK Government and Public Services, VMware, said: “While UK universities continue to be world class in terms of quality of teaching and student experience, many risk falling behind in terms of IT security. In many cases, the strategy for dealing with the wave of cyber attacks needs to be urgently re-addressed to effectively protect sensitive student information, as well as valuable research data.

“With millions invested in IT annually across our universities, it’s imperative that they’re adequately able to defend against the evolving cyber threat, reviewing and investing in the appropriate network security tools and technologies.”

Paul Hopkins, director, UK HE-Shared Services, a technology consultant for the higher education sector, said: “This study from VMware verifies the growing threats which are infiltrating universities at many different levels. They must take a holistic approach to security, striking a balance to ensure critical research data is adequately protected without prohibiting or impeding researchers.”

VMWare’s study was conducted in January and February 2016 among 75 UK IT decision makers, including CIOs and CISOs, at approximately 50 universities across the UK.

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