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Massive increase in cyberattacks on higher education (Includes interview)

University College Hospital
University College Hospital

Ransomware attacks represent the number one cybersecurity threat for universities, as ZDNet reports. In 2020, attacks against higher education were up 100 percent compared to 2019 with the average ransom demand being the huge sum of $447,000. It remains that ransomware is an issue for all businesses, however universities are currently facing even greater risk with students taking more online classes and academics also working from home due to the pandemic (based on a BlueVoyant survey).

According to Apoorv Agarwal, co-founder and CEO at Text IQ, which specializes in sensitive data, the intention behind these attacks is either to extort money or to acquire personal data.

Speaking with Digital Journal, Agarwal explains why this form of cybersecurity breach is particularly challenging for universities and colleges: “Ransomware attacks on universities are problematic since schools collect and store personal information for all parties. This can include bank or credit card information, health records, social security numbers, and birth certificates.”

There is a special reason, too, why higher education is in the spotlight. Agarwal explains: “Cybercriminals prefer to target entities like universities, especially with less in-person instruction, because of the wealth of data they possess and the fact that universities, unlike enterprises, may not spend tens of millions of dollars each year on cybersecurity.”

The consequence of this means that: “Cyberattacks are a painful reminder for higher education institutions to better understand what sensitive data they hold, and to invest in protocols and technologies to automate the process of determining whose data has been breached.”

With this form of preventative action, Agarwal recommends: “Investing in secure automation platforms that accurately identify sensitive information using AI may be the only feasible way for these institutions to enable response teams to make quicker, more informed and more accurate decisions on who to notify based on applicable regulations.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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