Universities and colleges are being warned by the UK’s cyber-security agency that rising numbers of cyber-attacks are threatening to disrupt the start of term.
The National Cyber Security Centre has issued an alert after a recent spike in attacks on educational institutions.
These have been “ransomware” incidents which block access to computer systems.
Paul Chichester, the NCSC’s director of operations, says such attacks are “reprehensible”.
The return to school, college and university, already facing problems with Covid-19, now faces an increased risk from cyber-attacks, which the security agency says could “de-rail their preparations for the new term”.
The cyber-security body, part of the GCHQ intelligence agency, says such attacks can have a “devastating impact” and take weeks or months to put right.
Newcastle University and Northumbria have both been targeted by cyber-attacks this month, and a group of further education colleges in Yorkshire and a higher education college in Lancashire faced attacks last month.
The warning from the NCSC follows a spate of ransomware attacks against academic institutions – in which malicious software or “malware” is used to lock out users from their own computer systems, paralysing online services, websites and phone networks.
The security agency says this is often followed by a ransom note demanding payment for the recovery of this frozen or stolen data – sometimes with the added threat of publicly releasing sensitive information.
Universities have frequently been targets of cyber-attacks – with up to a thousand attacks per year in the UK.
Attacks can be attempts to obtain valuable research information that is commercially and politically sensitive. Universities also hold much personal data about students, staff and, in some cases, former students who might have made donations.
Earlier this summer more than 20 universities and charitie
Broadband: Old TV caused village broadband outages for 18 months
Engineers have solved a mystery which left villagers with broadband problems for 18 months.
Connectivity could be poor along with slow speeds from 07:00, causing issues for households trying to get online.
Openreach engineers replaced cables at Aberhosan, Powys, but it did not fix the problem so they had to think again.
They then switched to a monitoring device and found the fault was due to electrical interference emitted by a householder’s second-hand television.
The owner, who does not want to be identified, was “mortified” to find out their old TV was causing the problem, according to Openreach.
“They immediately agreed to switch it off and not use again,” said engineer Michael Jones.
Engineers walked around the village with a monitor called a spectrum analyser to try to find any “electrical noise” to help pinpoint the problem.
“At 7am, like clockwork, it happened,” said Mr Jones.
“Our device picked up a large burst of electrical interference in the village.
“It turned out that at 7am every morning the occupant would switch on their old TV which would, in-turn, knock out broadband for t
‘Lack of investment’ behind snarled-up legal system
When Louise Westra and her partner decided to adopt a child in November 2018, they were aware of the long process that was ahead of them, but they were not to know that the coronavirus pandemic would hold them back from completing the adoption of their son.
On 27 March, their petition was due in court. As lockdown had taken effect, telephone conferencing would be used instead of going to court.
However, after the phone call, Ms Westra received an email from her solicitor explaining that the papers had not been served to the biological parents of the child. This continued every month after lockdown, as it wasn’t possible for the papers to be physically served.
“It’s farcical because one of them is the biological father who lives with the biological mother who has had her petition but the biological father hasn’t and they live in the same premises,” Ms Westra says.
Serving papers has to be completed by post via Royal Mail or in some cases lawyers would instruct a process server to physically take the papers and hand them to the person.
“It sounds very archaic but if [the person] won’t take them by hand, the processor has to touch them on the shoulders and drop the papers at their feet and that’s technically counted as full service,” says Rebecca Ranson, a solicitor for Maguire Family Law.
E-mailing or any other forms of digital communication are not considered valid – even though the majority of people in the UK have access to e-mail and the internet. It is this kind of process, in need of a digital upgrade, that is frustrating for Ms Westra.
Ms Westra’s case is one of many that have been delayed. The number of outstanding Crown court cases was 43,676 on 26 July, and the entire backlog across magistrates’ and Crown courts is more than 560,000. The Commons Justice Committee has announced an inquiry into how these delays could be addressed.
The reality, however, is that there was already a huge backlog back in December, and Covid-19 has just exacerbated an existing problem. Cases like Ms Westra’s have been affected by the pandemic, but many lawyers believe that the legal system could have been better prepared through technology investment over the years.
“We’ve got people being held for longer than they otherwise would be, and for every person in custody waiting for trial or waiting on bail for trial, there are witnesses, and complainants and their families awaiting a resolution. Whether it’s the lack of technology links in prison, using Skype and improvising or not having enough Nightingale courts – it all boils down to a lack of investment,” says Joanna Hardy, a London-based barrister.
In 2016 HM Courts & Tribunals Service began a £1bn court reform programme. This included a video-conferencing tool called the Cloud Video Platform (CVP), which allows for a dedicated private conference area, so criminal lawyers can speak to their clients without visiting prison.
A programme for testing and adopting video technology was planned out until 2022, but in the pandemic, the government had to get CVP up and running in 10 weeks. This has since been extended to civil courts. But this implementation has been challenging, as there are only a restricted number of physical video links allowed.
“As we weren’t ready for this huge technolo
Microsoft buys Fallout creator Bethesda for $7.5bn
Xbox-owner Microsoft has acquired the games company behind blockbuster titles including Doom, Fallout, Skyrim and Wolfenstein.
It is paying $7.5bn (£5.85bn) for Bethesda’s parent ZeniMax Media.
Xbox has said that the publisher’s franchises would be added to its Game Pass subscription package for consoles and PCs.
This could help make the forthcoming Xbox Series X more attractive than the PlayStation 5 to some players.
Both machines are due to launch in November.
Game Pass already gives players access to more than 200 games. Microsoft includes first-party titles at point of launch to those signed up to its “ultimate” package without further cost.
By contrast, Sony has opted to charge players up to £70 for its own major releases and does not intend to include new titles in its PlayStation Plus Collection service.
It is not yet clear how the takeover affects Bethesda’s plans to create The Elder Scrolls 6, Starfield and other unfinished games as cross-platform titles.
In a statement, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the two firms “shared similar visions for the
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