The University of Sunderland in the UK has announced significant operational issues that have taken most of its computer systems out of service, attributing the problem to a cyber attack.
The first signs of disruption to the university’s computer systems appeared on Tuesday morning, but remain largely impactful and unresolved.
The University continues to be confronted with numerous computer problems which have all the characteristics of a cyber attack. Our phone lines, website and computer systems are still down. @Graemethedean @sunderlandsu @UoSFutures @UniOfSunComms pic.twitter.com/2h21JLHib6
– University of Sunderland (@sunderlanduni) October 13, 2021
The attack appears to have cut off all phone lines, the official website, major mail servers, library Wi-Fi, on-site access to PCs / laptops, printing, and all online portals that students use to access eBooks, journals, and other services.
Unfortunately, there is no estimate of when the systems will be operational again, as the attack appears to be still in the containment phase.
Students who do not have urgent questions are advised to follow the university’s social networks to be informed of the situation, as the only operational inbox is overwhelmed.
Additionally, an alternate domain has been created on “uostoday.sunderland.ac.uk” to provide updates to affected students, but don’t expect any services to be offered through this.
Impact on students
The University of Sunderland is a public research institute with around 20,000 students, so the disruption caused by the cyber attack affects a huge number of people.
As expected, this incident surprised some students at a critical time in their studies, and some of them are faced with urgent visa applications or other delays.
A spokesperson for the university sent the following comment to TechToSee:
The University is now working with a number of agencies, including the police, to find out exactly what happened and the extent of the problems.
Students are encouraged to come to all college campuses where face-to-face teaching continues and information services will be available to offer advice and support.
For those who study further, plans have been made to ensure that they can continue to do so, with minimal disruption.
We take the security of our systems very seriously and will do our best to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
Likely a ransomware attack
Although the University of Sunderland did not mention a ransomware attack, the extensive outage that was caused makes this scenario likely.
There have been a series of ransomware attacks on universities over the past year, with some notable examples from the region being the attacks on TU Dublin and the University of Newcastle.
A national survey conducted in 2020 found that around 25% of all universities in the UK have experienced at least one ransomware attack since 2013.
Ransomware players target large educational institutions because they believe they are good candidates to pay quickly and get their systems back up and running.
However, in most cases, we find that these entities prefer to restore from backups and accept any data leaks that may have occurred during the cyber attack as an inevitable side effect.
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