Heriot Watt University Knocked Offline For A Week

Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University has suffered a serious cyber attack taking down IT systems for more than a week. The management has declared a ‘security incident’ involving a malware onslaught had affected a VPN used by staff and students for remote learning but stressed the issue had been ‘contained’.

Internal directories, financial services and student records are also reported to have been affected  in the incident which was first detected on 15th March.

Specialist officers from Police Scotland’s cyber crime unit are investigating, however the university has stressed there is no suggestion of any data leak. The university says it is now “strengthening” its online security protocols to guard against any future attacks. The 200-year-old institution's IT team first referred to the crisis as a "security incident" but now has confirmed that it was a cyber attack.

Status checkers on the higher education facility’s website lists ten systems, including a finance programme linked to their Dubai campus, remain ‘unavailable’.

A ‘resource booker,’ allowing staff and students to secure rooms and sign out equipment is also down alongside a point of sale programme used for on-site canteens. A spokesperson for the university said all users had been safely moved onto alternative systems until the issue can be rectified. They added: “We can confirm that some of our online systems were subject to a cyber-attack last week... The incident was contained immediately and staff and students alerted to allow them to be supported using alternative systems... We are working closely with Police Scotland and specialist advisers to investigate the cause of the incident which will allow us to further strengthen our future security.”

The British National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had previously warned universities to be “vigilant” against malicious online threats following an increase in ransomware attacks as in-person learning returned amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of the Highlands and Islands was previously forced to shut down its physical and remote campus last year after being targeted by an unknown source. 

The university says it is now “strengthening” its online security protocols to guard against any future attacks.
Heriot-Watt is certainly not the first university to suffer a cyber attack. The University of Hertfordshire was forced to pull the plug on its systems after an incident of it own. Other establishments, including Newcastle University, were also the focus of cyber criminals.

STV:      Edinburgh Live:      Daily Record:        The Register:     Hack Notice:    PiPaNews

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