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In this technological advanced era, every sector from health, financial to education are connected to internet and they are the part of some or the other network. It is important to ensure that all the sectors these days are secured as they are the home to vast amount of data. A university’s network is an autonomous network which might be managed by one entity and can be used by different bodies, such network has vast number of user groups. Cyber-attacks are prevalent with respect to the advancement of technologies as most of the information are stored in digital form. Securing network has grown paramount as these data can be accessed by the consumers anytime and anywhere, therefore, these sectors must enforce security measures and policies to be proactive of any breach which can cost not just money but the trust of the users.
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The given scenario is about the Australian National University who became a victim of cyberattack and the data stored from19 years have been compromised (McGowan, 2019). The data includes personal information such as names, date of birth, passport details, tax file numbers, bank details, payroll information, Student academic records and transcripts (Affairs, 2019). An estimated of 2,00,000 students and staff’s data have been compromised and could be used in many ways to access gain and China is a suspect, but it is difficult to prove as the hackers are smart enough to hide the tracks. However, it is confirmed by federal government officials that the attack was launched in China with the aim to acquire the information for commercial or technological profit (Wroe N. M., 2018). It is considered as a medium to high scale attack and major national event which is certainly an act of foreign government (Wroe D. , 2019).
The university is a host of the National Security College, and it is the one which trains Australian defence and intelligence personnel (Andrew Brown, 2019). According to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the Intelligence organisation fears that this breach is done to target students and use them as informants as they might end up making careers in Australian government departments as most of the alumni are from this university. These informants can be fruitful to the hackers and could leak the confidential information which in turn would be a great loss to the Australian government. Many universities partnered with the government and military projects and shares confidential information which is at risk of theft and can be used inappropriately (Hunter, 2019).
The university said during an upgrade they have detected the incident which took place in late 2018 (Crozier, 2019) , which might means that the university does not have any periodical network scans or check for any vulnerability. The universities are a target of cyberattack as they are the perfect combination of public and private network with very high rate of file sharing. Primarily, the students are at risk as their personal details and online activity can be known by the attacker which can be used as a weakness for agreeing them what the attacker wishes.
This stolen data could end up on sale in dark web for creating fake identity or the hackers can ask for ransom to delete all the data by threatening the University that else the sensitive information will be published publicly. One of the major mistake could be the data from past 19 years is not encrypted if it was backed up and stored with utilising some encryption techniques then the hackers would have a tough time reading it (Landis-Hanley, 2019).
Edith Cowan University is not different to the Australian National University in terms of IT infrastructure and the user that access the network. All these users have different levels of accessing the network and are classified in different groups such as former and new students, staff & faculty, alumni, parents, other universities access and contractors from outside the university.
- With numerous user groups who access the universities network the chances of getting infiltrated increases to the highest. Social Engineering attack is a major risk for universities and educational organisation. The aim is to trick the receiver through a fancy or urgent look alike message believing that the message is important for them, through psychological manipulation. This could be done by asking the recipient to reveal sensitive information or download the malware attached to the link (Fruhlinger, 2019). The lifecycle of social engineering gives a glimpse of how it works.
Figure 1Attack Cycle through Social Engineering (imperva, 2019)
- As mentioned above the users categorised in different groups such as parents and other contractors might not be aware of the risk associated with the phishing emails and how to respond to them. Thus, they fall prey towards these attacks and could be a door to the intruder. Therefore, the attacker can install the malware which enables to have access to victim’s machine through which it can whale into the main IT network to gain access to large amount of sensitive data.
- Spear Phishing is another way by which the different user groups can share their information as the attacker gain the trust and curiosity of them, and thus, the victim feels that it is a genuine attempt to share information (Forcepoint, 2019). For example, a message from the hacker who pretends to be IT manager to the students for changing their passwords by sharing some information to assure that they are legitimate can allow the attacker gain access to their systems.
- Baiting is a technique of social engineering which uses physical media and can use a malicious file as a software update or a generic software when the user provides their login details to certain sites (Lord, 2018). Students from ECU can receive emails from IT department to book appointment for updating the software online by sharing their login credentials which could end up installing malicious software on their machine. This file then allows attacker to advance in the victim’s computer.
- Vishing is a type in which attacker uses a phone call to trick the victim to reveal confidential information such as bank details, home address or pin code. This can be achieved by calling the alumni or the parents and asking for information as attack over VoIP is cheap while concealing one’s identity.
- Unsecured Internet of the things – IOT device is popular among young generations which allows them to access the network while being comfortable in their space as they are connected to each other. These devices could be connected to the university’s wireless network which pose a challenge for the IT team to secure the university’s network as they might be infected and can become a door for any intruder ECU’s network and asset (Trendmicro, 2019). The hacker then can scan for vulnerabilities and can access the servers and systems through specific feature of IOT devices which the user is unaware.
- SQL injection are designed to exploit the server bypassing the password protection it is a language that manages to allow an attacker to gain access to the server which stores all the details of the users associated with university. It can be done by exploiting the weakness in the code underlying in the login pages. For example, a Russian hacker or group of hacker steal information from many U.S universities by using SQL injection (Campbell, 2019). In this case the security flaw was on the library search page or a course selection webpage. Similarly, ECU website too have a unit search tool and library webpage where materials can be searched, and it can be compromised when a student access it from an infected device. This could lead to devastating damage of the database if found vulnerable.
- Malware is another term which describes malicious software specifically designed to infiltrate victim’s system to gain access to the data lying in it. It mainly delivers through emails and may encrypt the sensitive information, steal or spy on activity. Some of the common types of malware are virus, trojans, worms etc. (University, 2019). Once installed in the system it blocks the access to key components, can disrupt the system making it inoperable, and can obtain data by transmitting it from hard drive.
Threats are becoming inevitable as hackers are getting smart with the use of technology and infiltrating a University’s network, therefore it is vital to arm with the protection strategies. An effective solution can be a combination of tools, Deren Chen from Inside Solution Architect for security comments that the university network is vulnerable to attackers due to the fact of their openness of supporting any device (Messier, 2018). The proactive approach towards cyberattack with different strategies are required and an effective solution needs to be a combination of tools, resources and knowledge. Considering people, processes and technology the mitigation strategies are described below.
- Protection from Social Engineering
- It is important to educate the user groups for not clicking on any links, open attachment in emails which is from unknown source.
- Make the users familiar with showing good examples of how a very enticing or appealing message looks like and how it can threaten to make you take action suggested by the attacker.
- If an email seems suspicious, check it by contacting the respective organisation or person who generated it for you.
- Before you click a link, hover over that link to see the actual web address it will take you to (usually shown at the bottom of the browser window). If you do not recognize or trust the address, try searching for relevant key terms in a web browser. This way you can find the article, video, or webpage without directly clicking on the suspicious link.
- Use a spam filter to block unwanted messages which can be deceptive in nature.
- A financial institution and other large organisations (such as Amazon, PayPal, Google, Apple, Facebook and others) would never send you a link for entering your details.
- Strategies to use internet of things wisely
- Stay Smart Online is a simple way to be proactive towards protecting the data stored online and be up to date with the information related to cyberattacks which includes new threat and vulnerability. It is important to be active when internet is a part of life as to be responsive of new threat (Centre, 2019).
- Enforce standard policies and procedure for using IoT in university.
- Use Encryption technology, Virtual Private Network (VPN), multiple operating system at server side to reduce the risk of cyber-attack (Lalita Kumari, 2011).
- Two-factor authentication can be used on your email, social media or online banking. It is a simple step which requires logging in with the password then receiving an SMS with a randomly generated code. This ensures that only the user is logging in and using the services.
- Protection from SQL injection
- People need to be cautious when accessing any website online and trust nobody.
- Update system regularly
- Keep the database credentials encrypted and separate them.
- Disable shell and other functionalities which are not required as it turn off the access to any hacker.
- Limiting privileges to the users and avoid root access to them.
- Validate user input by checking it in database and then allow to access (Tableplus, 2018).
- Protection from malware
- Encrypt all the data when it is baked up and even when it stored permanently.
- Anti-virus software must be used and automatically download signature updates periodically.
- Keep all software’s up to date.
- Use strong passwords and follow two-way authentication.
- Back-up your files regularly.
- Disable Microsoft Office macros. (Macros are small programs used to automate simple tasks in Microsoft Office documents but can be used maliciously – visit the Microsoft website for information on disabling macros in your version of Office).
- Regularly check the software installed on your computer, tablet and other devices and uninstall any programs or software that is unused. If you see new programs or software that you did not agree to install, search the program name or ask your local computer repairer or retailer about the program, to see whether it is safe to use.
- Awareness & Education
Training and educating your staff is vital to have a strong online security system in place to manage cybersecurity threats. Put in place an online security awareness program to keep you and your staff informed about good online security practices. Formal and casual security training can help stakeholders understand that they can assume a noteworthy job in ensuring themselves and the university. Fundamental endeavours, for example, not clicking on connections in spontaneous messages, fixing and refreshing all gadgets speedily, and secret key ensuring cell phones are simple and modest to execute, and they go far towards keeping the university system secure.
Some more points to consider but not limited to
- basic training for staff
- updates and reminders on policies, standards and best practices
- a regular, scheduled review to update existing security measures
- signing up staff to the date with the latest online threat information (News, 2018).
- Best Practices
The best practices must be followed by the IT department to ensure the network is secure enough as shown in the figure below.
Figure 2 Best Practices to secure IT Network (Patterson, 2017)
The Universities are the most important organisation which is connected to numerous sectors across the country and educate the young students who might end up landing jobs in defence and health sectors. They must undertake measure and be proactive of any cyberthreat as they hold large amount of data which could be compromised. Additionally, they must upgrade their software’s and encourage the staff and student to be up-to-date with new practices to be followed to secure their personal and sensitive information. Along with that a security scan should be in place periodically to identify and have a responsive plan in action to reduce the risk of accessing information by a third party. The generation of this era must educate themselves as they delve into the space of networking and remains connected to it.
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