UK think tank Parliament Street has produced a report that uncovers has revealed the extent to which universities are being focused on by hackers and the sheer amount of spam and malicious emails that are sent to the inboxes of university staff and students.

Data related to malicious and spam email amounts was obtained by Parliament Street through a Freedom of Information request. The analysis of data from UK universities showed they are having to block millions of spam emails, hundreds of thousands of phishing emails, and tens of thousands of malware-laced emails every year.

Warwick University’s figures indicate that over 7.6 million spam emails were sent to the email accounts of staff and students in the last quarter of 2019 alone, which included 404,000 phishing emails and more than 10,000 emails including malware.

Bristol University encountered a similar level of focus withmore than 7 million spam emails over the same period, 76,300 of which included malware. Data from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed that more than 6.3 million spam emails were registered during 2019, which included almost 99,000 phishing emails and over 73,500 malware attacks. 12,773,735 spam and malicious emails were received in total for 2018 and 2019.

Data from Lancaster University showed that over 57 million emails were rejected for reasons such as spam, malware, or phishing, with 1 million emails marked as possible spam. The figures from Imperial College London were also worrisome, with almost 40 million emails intercepted during 2019.

Like attacks on firms, cyberattacks on universities are often conducted for financial profit. These attacks attempt to send malware and obtain credentials to obtain access to university networks to exfiltrate data to sell on the black market. Universities store huge amounts of sensitive student data, which is extremely valuable to hackers as it can be leveraged for identity theft and other types of fraud. Attacks are also conducted to send ransomware to steal money from universities.

Universities normally have high bandwidth to support tens of thousands of students and employees. Attacks are conducted to hijack devices and add them to botnets to conduct a range of cyberattacks on other targets. Email accounts are being hijacked and used to run spear phishing attacks on other targets.

Nation state-backed advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are focusing on universities to gain access to intellectual property and research data. Universities carry out cutting edge research and that information is extremely valuable to companies who can use the research data to develop products to gain a massive competitive advantage.

Universities are viewed as relatively soft targets compared to groups of a similar size. Cybersecurity defenses tend to be far less advanced, and the large networks and number of devices used by staff and students make defending networks complicated.

With the amount of cyberattacks on universities increasing, leaders of higher education institutions need to implement measures to enhance cybersecurity and prevent the attacks from succeeding.

The majority of threats are sent over email, so advanced email security defenses are essential, and that is an area where TitanHQ can be of assistance.

Independent tests confirm that SpamTitan blocks in excess of 99.97% of spam email, helping to keep inboxes free of junk email. SpamTitan uses dual anti-virus engines to block known threats, machine learning to spot new types of phishing attacks, and sandboxing to discover and block zero-day malware and ransomware threats. When email attachments get past initial tests, suspicious attachments are moved to the sandbox for in depth analysis to identify command and control center callbacks and other malicious actions. SpamTitan also uses SPF and DMARC controls to prevent email impersonation attacks, data loss prevention controls for outbound messages and controls to discover potential email account compromises.

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