Criminals demand college and university pay ransom in cyber attack

University Centre Peterborough building

University Centre Peterborough, which was targeted in the cyber attack along with Peterborough College. - Credit: Google Street View

A college and university attended by hundreds of Fenland students have been subjected to a cyber attack from overseas criminals demanding “a substantial ransom”.

A statement published on the Peterborough College and University Centre Peterborough websites has reassured parents the attack has been contained and insists “there is currently no evidence to suggest that any data was taken”.

IT specialists have since been working to restore the computer systems for students to continue their studying, and protect the infrastructure from any further cyber attacks.

The institutions have also said the police as well as education and cyber security bodies have been informed about the incident.

A most recent statement published by both the college and university on Friday (March 26) says: “We’re really thankful to our IT teams who swiftly contained the cyber attack and have worked around the clock to restore some of the systems that were impacted.

“Thankfully, the incident did not have any material impact on teaching and learning and, while our investigation is ongoing, there is currently no evidence to suggest that any data was taken.

“While externally you may not have experienced much disruption, some of our IT infrastructure was impacted and we have a comprehensive plan in place to rebuild those systems, using clean back-ups.

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“We’ve brought in some external IT experts and temporary staff to assist with this, with the aim of having all systems restored by the end of the Easter holidays.”

The college said the incident happened on March 15.

Its education provider, the Inspire Education Group, was specifically targeted and the attack affected Peterborough College and University Centre Peterborough.

Temporary “workaround solutions” - such as a library system – were launched where possible to help students continue with their studies.

An initial statement published on its website four days later said: “This appears to be part of a succession of cyber attacks in UK education institutions.

“A ransomware attack encrypts and ‘locks’ systems and data and then the organised criminals demand a substantial ransom for the decryption key and for the systems to be released.

“We are aware that cyber attacks have been on the increase within the education sector for some time and as a result have a managed cyber security response service which enabled us to catch the attack early.”

It added: “We have been able to mitigate the situation to some extent, in that the encryption only reached part of our systems before we were able to shut down the attack.”

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire police said specialist cyber fraud officers are investigating the incident and a report has been sent to Action Fraud UK.

As well as Peterborough College and University Centre Peterborough, Inspire Education Group also supports Stamford College in Lincolnshire.