Schools cyber warning: Spy chiefs issue security alert

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Schools, colleges and universities face a growing threat from hackers, spy chiefs warned last night.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, issued an alert to institutions about an increase in attacks around the start of the new academic year.

They warned the education sector to be aware of ‘ransomware’ blackmail attempts and urged organisations to follow guidance on securing their networks.

The cyber centre said it had seen an increase in attempted attacks on education establishments throughout August. 

These often involved ransomware which criminals use to encrypt data before demanding payment for its recovery.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, issued an alert to institutions about an increase in attacks around the start of the new academic year (pictured: GCHQ centre)

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, issued an alert to institutions about an increase in attacks around the start of the new academic year (pictured: GCHQ centre)

They warned the education sector to be aware of 'ransomware' blackmail attempts and urged organisations to follow guidance on securing their networks (file image)

They warned the education sector to be aware of ‘ransomware’ blackmail attempts and urged organisations to follow guidance on securing their networks (file image)

The NCSC has encouraged institutions to take immediate steps such as ensuring all data is backed up and copies are stored offline to prevent information loss in the event of an attack.

As part of the alert, the centre says it has stepped up support for schools, colleges and universities, including offering guidance on how to best protect themselves and improve their understanding of cyber security.

Blue plaque for Winston Churchill’s favourite spy 

A wartime spy described as Winston Churchill’s favourite has finally been remembered with a blue plaque.

Christine Granville, who was born Krystyna Skarbek in Warsaw, joined British intelligence in 1939 and is said to have inspired Ian Fleming’s spy character Vesper Lynd.

She struggled after the war and was given cheap lodgings at a London hotel run by the Polish Relief Society. It was her home until she was murdered by a stalker in 1952, aged 44.

Her English Heritage blue plaque is at the site of the former Shelbourne Hotel – now 1 Lexham Gardens – in Kensington, west London.

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Paul Chichester, who is NCSC director of operations, said: ‘This criminal targeting of the education sector, particularly at such a challenging time, is utterly reprehensible.

‘While these have been isolated incidents, I would strongly urge all academic institutions to take heed of our alert and put in place the steps we suggest, to help ensure young people are able to return to education undisrupted.’

He added: ‘We are absolutely committed to ensuring UK academia is as safe as possible from cyber threats, and will not hesitate to act when that threat evolves.’

In July, the NCSC, along with agencies in the United States and Canada warned that cyber criminals were targeting major healthcare organisations working on coronavirus research and potential vaccines.

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said: ‘As the past six months have shown us, it has never been more important for colleges to have the right digital infrastructure in order to be able to protect their systems and keep learning happening, whatever the circumstance.

‘This needs a whole college approach and for a focus wider than just systems, it needs to include supporting leaders, teachers and students to recognise threats, mitigate against them, and act decisively when something goes wrong.

‘This guidance will prove incredibly useful for colleges to ensure that they can do just that.’

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