The University of Sunderland in the UK has announced extensive operational issues that have taken most of its IT systems down, attributing the problem to a cyber-attack.
The first signs of disruption for the university’s IT systems appeared in Tuesday morning, but remain widely impactful and unresolved.
The University continues to experience extensive IT issues which has all the hallmarks of a cyber-attack. Our telephone lines, website and IT systems are still down. @Graemethedean @sunderlandsu @UoSFutures @UniOfSunComms pic.twitter.com/2h21JLHib6
— University of Sunderland (@sunderlanduni) October 13, 2021
The attack appears to have taken down all telephone lines, the official website, the main email servers, library WiFi, on-premise PC/laptop access, printing, and all online portals that students use for accessing eBooks, journals, and other services.
Unfortunately, there is no estimate on when the systems will be up and running again, as the attack appears to be still in the containment phase.
We have sent an email to the university to ask for more details about the type of the cyber-attack, but we have not heard back yet.
Students who don’t have any urgent queries are advised to follow the university’s social media channels for updates on the situation, as the only operating inbox is overwhelmed.
Also, an alternative domain has been set up on “uostoday.sunderland.ac.uk” to provide some updates to concerned students, but don’t expect any services to be offered through there.
Impact on students
The University of Sunderland is a public research institute that has about 20,000 students, so the disruption from the cyber-attack affects a notable number of people.
As expected, this incident has caught some students at a critical point in their studies, and some of them are dealing with pressing visa application or other deadlines.
Likely a ransomware attack
Although the University of Sunderland hasn’t mentioned a ransomware attack, the extensive outage that has been caused makes this scenario likely.
There has been a string of ransomware attacks on universities in the past year, with some notable examples from the region being the attacks against TU Dublin, and the Newcastle University.
A national survey conducted in 2020 revealed that roughly 25% of all universities in the United Kingdom have suffered a ransomware attack at least one since 2013.
Ransomware actors target large educational institutes because they believe they are good candidates for paying quickly and having their systems back up and running again.
In most cases though, we see that these entities prefer to restore from backups and accept whatever data leaks may have taken place during the cyber-attack as an inevitable side-effect.