The Student

Cyber attacks predicted to increase in 2016

Following a series of cyber attacks on university networks in 2015, The Center for Internet Security (CIS), a non-profit organisation which strives to improve global internet security, have forecast that a new wave of attacks will hit the UK in 2016.

As quoted in FedScoop, Thomas Duffy, chair of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (MS-ISAC) run by CIS, predicted a “growth in malware, such as randomware” attacks in the new year.

“There was a lot of activity in 2014, 2015, and we don’t expect that to slow down in 2016” Duffy said, explaining that there were a number of “new variants” which were becoming “harder to detect and harder to mitigate”.

He also said that universities were often hit by these cyber attacks because they are “home to an awful lot of valuable intellectual property” and that major research universities in particular were “prime targets” for attackers.

In order to prevent attacks like these in the future, Duffy said that software needed to be “updated on a regular basis”.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at updating the operating systems, but often the content management systems are forgotten about, or if they do patch them, they forget about the plug-ins and all the component pieces of the web server [that] need to be patched and kept up to date” he told FedScoop.

A patch is a piece of software that seeks to fix security vulnerabilities and other bugs in a computer program or its supporting data.

A spokesperson for Jisc, a public body which provides digital resources and networks to higher education institutions, told The Student about the steps being made by the organisation to protect universities from cyber attacks in the future.

“While the defences we put in place have resulted in no similar impact to network services since, we continue to work hard to improve resilience and strengthen the network against attacks.”

She went on to say that Jisc is taking action “to protect core infrastructure from outside of the Janet network, and [is] working with customers to increase protection even further.”

Universities across the UK, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester, were disrupted during the exam diet of last December, when publicly-funded internet networks were hit by a series of cyber attacks.

Jisc released a statement  in December, declaring that they had “been experiencing a targeted and sustained set of attacks on the Janet network.”

The Janet network is used by many universities throughout the UK and the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks brought about “reduced connectivity and disruption” for all its users, according to Jisc.

DDoS attacks are malicious attempts to interrupt a network service and often occur when multiple systems flood a target system, usually one or more web servers.

Jisc announced in another statement that they did not know who were behind the incident but were “working with various enforcement agencies” as part of an “ongoing investigation into the cause of the attacks.”

Image credit: Flickr: Brian Klug