UK multi-academy trust Harris Federation, which runs 50 schools in and around London, was the target of a ransomware attack on Saturday. Following the hack, Harris Federation disabled the devices given to pupils as a precaution, temporarily suspended email and telephone systems, and has been working through the weekend to resolve the issues.

Harris issued an official statement saying that the “highly sophisticated attack will have a significant impact on our academies but it will take time to uncover the exact details of what has or has not happened, and to resolve”.

At least three more academy trusts have already been struck by cybercrime in March alone, including Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT), Nova Education Trust, and Castle School Education Trust (CSET).

Earlier this month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division has issued a flash alert to warn of an increase in PYSA ransomware attacks targeting government entities, educational institutions, private companies, and the healthcare sector in the UK and the US.

The Harris Federation trust has recruited the services of a specialized cyber technology company and is working closely with the National Crime Agency and National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

We know that some families will have important individual concerns around data and that in these cases you will want to know more about the nature of the attack. Because we do not want to risk providing incorrect information, we will communicate further once we have clarity and liaise as appropriate with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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According to Ruth Schofield, UK Country Manager for Heimdal™ Security, the rapid switch to remote learning has made schools more dependent on their IT systems. In Ruth’s opinion, security has become less of a priority in the rush to get pupils online. “At a time when businesses have been strengthening their defenses, schools have become soft targets for criminals”, she added.

A year into the pandemic, cyberattacks are the last thing the education sector needs need right now. Clearly, schools and colleges take cybersecurity seriously and outperform businesses in terms of having safeguards in place, despite generally having more limited budgets. However, the impact these attacks are having suggests that institutions do need greater support to improve cybersecurity, for example replacing traditional endpoint security products with next-generation solutions that detect and prevent a wider range of threats. The good news is that even a small amount of investment can make a big impact in terms of safeguarding our education system.Ruth Schofield, Schools Better Than Businesses at Cybersecurity but Suffer More Attacks

Just last week, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued a warning that hackers are targeting schools.

In recent incidents affecting the education sector, ransomware has led to the loss of student coursework, school financial records, as well as data relating to COVID-19 testing. It is therefore vital that organizations have up-to-date and tested offline backups.

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The government body published an updated alert on Monday warning that there has been an increased number of such attacks since late February. NCSC advised education establishments to follow its guidance on mitigating malware and ransomware.

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