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August 24, 2016

Ransomware hits Bournemouth University 21 times in one year – proving extortion pays

News: NHS also hit hard by ransomware in the last year.

By Ellie Burns

Bournemouth University has been hit by ransomware an incredible 21 times in the last 12 months.

The university, which boasts a cyber security centre, confirmed the attacks but told the BBC that “It is not uncommon for universities to be the target of cyber security attacks; there are security processes in place at Bournemouth University to deal with these types of incident.”

Adding weight to the university’s statement that cyber attacks are not uncommon, cyber security firm SentinelOne found that a substantial number of UK universities had been attacked in the past year. The company contacted 71 UK universities, with 23 of the 58 that replied confirming that they had been attacked.

According to SentinelOne, none of the institutions had paid a ransom but the largest sum demanded was five bitcoins – approximately £2,200. Only one university had called the police. Astonishingly, two of the universities questioned by SentinelOne did not even use anti-virus software – a huge concern for institutions which hold so much personal and private data.

The hike in ransomware attacks was not confined to universities, with the NCC Group asking every NHS trust in England if they had been attacked in a separate report. Of the 60 responses, 28 said they had been attacked with 31 declining to comment due to patient confidentiality.

The fact that hackers are targeting universities and institutions such as the NHS should come as no surprise – they offer a treasure trove f valuable data and have been slow in their move to digital. However, what the two reports highlight is that ransomware works, and will continue to work. Bharat Mistry, cyber security consultant at Trend Micro, said:

“Bournemouth University is a poignant example of why ransomware attacks work. By paying the ransom victims are in fact fuelling the underground economy and encouraging cyber-criminals to continue targeting them with money-spinning extortion-style attacks.

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“We’ve seen a number of increasingly creative ransomware variants with files getting deleted every hour the victim doesn’t pay up, or the ransom amount increasing when the deadline to pay is missed. Although paying up can seem like a tempting option for many organisations, we’d recommend contacting a law enforcement agency instead and implementing a sound back-up system, so that when a ransomware situation occurs, the company is not left at the attacker’s mercy.”

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