University of Manchester hit by cyber attack

The University of Manchester has been hit by a cyber attack of an undisclosed nature

The University of Manchester in northern England has been hit by a cyber attack that appears to have resulted in the exfiltration of an as-yet unknown quantity of data.

In a statement, the university’s registrar, secretary and chief operating officer, Patrick Hackett, revealed that some of its systems had been accessed by an unauthorised party and data copied.

Hackett told students that the university’s IT teams and external cyber support was working to establish what data has been compromised, and fully resolve the incident.

The organisation has also been in contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA).

“We know this will cause concern to members of our community and we are very sorry for this,” said Hackett. “Our priority is to resolve this issue and provide information to those affected as soon as we are able to, and we are focusing all available resources.”

Hackett told students and staff to “carry on as usual” but to be vigilant in regard to any suspicious activity targeting them, particularly phishing emails.

“We also advise staff not to download files from university systems in order to back them up,” he added.

Although limited information is available at this stage, students and staff can contact the university via email at [email protected] if they have further questions.

At the time of writing, there is no available evidence to suggest that the University of Manchester is dealing with a ransomware attack, although it certainly bears some of the hallmarks of this type of incident. Its external-facing websites remain accessible from the internet.

A member of the Russell Group of UK research universities, the red-brick University of Manchester is the third largest university in the country with more than 90,000 undergraduate applications every academic year. Its consolidated income for the 2021-22 year was £1.2bn, £270.6m of this figure received from research grants and contracts.

Notable alumni include the recently deceased novelist Martin Amis, Ed O’Brien of Radiohead, and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones. Its Department of Computer Science, the longest established in the UK, produced names such as computer designer and former chief scientific advisor to Margaret Thatcher’s government, John Fairclough, the designer of the BBC Micro and the ARM 32-bit RISC microprocessor, Steve Furber, and of course Alan Turing.

Notable threats to universities

Universities face a variety of cyber security threats thanks to the large amount of data they hold on their student bodies, which is highly valuable to cyber criminals seeking financial gain. However, besides financially motivated cyber attacks, they are also considered vulnerable to nation-state backed threat actors looking to steal data and intellectual property to gain strategic advantages on the world stage.

The NCSC assesses that cyber crime presents the most immediately evident and disruptive problem to the academic sector, whereas that state-backed actions are more likely to cause long-term damage, with knock-on effects including impacts to the value and quality of research, falls in investment, and damage to the UK’s science and technology sector.

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