Universities Are Exposing Their Students To Cyber Threats

Universities face a constant deluge of cyber attacks according to new research from Proofpoint. It says that universities in the US are currently most at risk with the poorest levels of protection, followed by the UK, and Australia. These universities are “lagging on basic cyber security measures, subjecting students, staff and stakeholders to higher risks of email-based impersonation attacks,” Proofpoint say.

In particular, Proofpoint found that 97% of the top ten universities across these counties are not taking appropriate measures to proactively block attackers from spoofing their email domains, increasing the risk of email fraud. 

This id based on Proofpoint's analysis of Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) records. DMARC is an established email validation protocol used to authenticate a sender’s domain before delivering an email message to its destination. 

Universities and other academic institutions store large amounts of sensitive data, including personal information about students and staff information, which makes them prime targets for cyber criminals. If left unprotected, this data could be exploited for financial gain or other malicious purposes. 

Cyber criminals use social engineering to convince people to open attachments or click on links. No matter what technology you put in place, some users will still fall victim. Essentially, this means that the biggest cyber security threat within any organisation is its own staff.

None of the top universities in any of the countries had the required level of protection enabled, the report found.
The full findings of Proofpoint's DMARC analysis show:

 

  • None of the top US and UK universities had a Reject policy in place, which actively blocks fraudulent emails from reaching their intended targets, meaning all are leaving students open to email fraud.
  • Five of the top ten US universities do not publish any level of DMARC record.
  • 65% of the top US and UK universities had a base level of DMARC protection (Monitor and Quarantine) in place.
  • 17 (57%) of all surveyed universities implemented a Monitor policy, while only four (13%) of the 30 universities implemented a Quarantine policy.

“Higher education institutions hold masses of sensitive personal and financial data, perhaps more so than any industry outside healthcare... This, unfortunately, makes these institutions a highly attractive target for cybercriminals” commented Ryan Kalember, EVP for Cybersecurity Strategy at Proofpoint.

The rapid transition to remote learning driven by Covid--19 has increased the cyber security challenges that universities face, exposing students to significant risks from phishing attacks. 

The constantly changing student population, combined with a culture of openness and information-sharing, can conflict with the rules and controls needed to effectively protect universities, their users and systems, from attack.

Proofpoint:       Gov.UK:       I-HLS:      TopTal:      FEWeek:     Kon Briefing

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