MI5 has warned that British universities are facing a high risk from cyber attacks as foreign nations look to steal their research. The claim, which came to light after MI5 chief Sir Jonathan Evans briefed university vice chancellors on the threat, follows claims from Evans in 2012 that MI5 was facing an ‘astonishing’ level of cyber-attacks on UK industry. At the time, Evans also suggested that the target of cyber attacks had shifted towards government and big businesses – with MI5 investigating claims that one major London business had suffered £800 million in losses following an attack.
This latest warning has placed UK universities on high alert, with the president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, Eric Thomas, stating that academic institutions were under threat due to the intellectual property “that many people would give their right arms for”.
Paul Davis, VP of Europe at FireEye made the following comments: “The latest warning from Sir Jonathan Evans should come as no real surprise. The fact is that cyber criminals have altered their focus away from unwitting individuals for the purpose of relatively low-level credit card fraud and so on, and are now looking to large enterprises and even nations for the high financial rewards offered by the intellectual property.
“Organisations such as universities hold highly valuable and sensitive data – such as academic research – within their networks and as a result, they were always going to be a big target of cyber attackers.
“The challenges facing universities with regards to the cyber threat level is one shared by big businesses and nation-states as the threat landscape continues to escalate. In fact, it was recently revealed that organisations face a malicious malware incident up to one every three minutes in the UK.* With this in mind, it really is vital that those with much to lose from a hack, re-evaluate their enterprise security and begin by identifying the business’s crucial assets and whether these are robustly locked down. After all, with the risks facing the UK higher than ever before, it really is inevitable that your business will be targeted.”