Ransomware attack forces college to tell students to stay at home • Graham Cluley

A UK college says it has closed its campus buildings for one week, and advised students that all lessons and lectures will be taking place online, following a ransomware attack.

South & City College in Birmingham, which has over 20,000 students aged 14 and over, says that it suffered a “major ransomware attack” that has disabled many of its core IT systems.

As a result, yesterday the college informed students it was shutting its eight sites, and reverting to online teaching while IT specialists attempt to recover systems.

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The news will cause further upheaval to college students, who only returned to face-to-face tuition last week, following an extended lockdown in the UK caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

South & City College says it became aware of the attack on Saturday 13 March, and asked students to study from home:

“Our campus buildings will therefore be CLOSED TO STUDENTS for a week from Monday 15 March to allow our IT specialists to fix the issue.

“On Monday, March 15 we will revert to online teaching for the rest of the week for all areas. We are therefore asking you to access your online lessons from Monday, as you did during lockdown.

“There may be some disruption during this time and we ask that you please bear with us and contact your tutor you have any problems.

“Thank you for your cooperation and patience during this time. Keep an eye on our social channels for any updates.”

Details of precisely which strain of ransomware has infected the college have not been made public.

The college says it has reported the incident to the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Security Response Team, Action Fraud, Information Commissioners Office (ICO), the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Last September, the NCSC, in co-ordination with JISC, issued an alert and guidance for colleges and universities following a series of ransomware attacks.

Clearly that advice wasn’t good enough to prevent South & City College Birmingham from falling foul of ransomware.

Ransomware victims in the UK education sector have included Dundee and Angus College, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, and colleges in Leeds, amongst others.

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Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon’s Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy.

Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

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