Week Ending: 15th October - A Roundup in I.T. & Tech News

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As you might expect during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, there is a security theme to this edition of our Weekly Roundup. We’ve taken a look through the week’s top I.T. and Technology news stories to bring you the latest, including a stark ransomware warning for UK businesses, the former Facebook employee raising issues in Parliament and a suspected cyber attack at one of the UK’s top universities.

We’ll get you up to speed...

Cyber chief describes ransomware as “the most immediate danger to UK business”

Lindy Cameron, the chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned that ransomware is “the most immediate danger to UK business."

Speaking at the cyber conference held at London’s Chatham House, Ms Cameron highlighted several recent major cyber incidents including the SolarWinds attack, the attack on Ireland’s Health Service and on the Colonial Pipeline, which resulted in significant US fuel shortages. Explaining that ransomware has the ability to impact anyone “from FTSE 100 companies to schools; from critical national infrastructure to local councils,” Ms Cameron acknowledged that ransomware was an extremely concerning global issue.

Compounded by criminal gangs operating outside UK borders, the challenge, Ms Cameron suggests, is a worldwide fight against ransomware. Her speech indicated that, as long as businesses remain vulnerable and people continue to pay the demanded sums of money, cyber criminals will continue to carry out extortion schemes.

“We have been clear that paying ransoms emboldens these criminal groups - and it also does not guarantee your data will be returned intact, or indeed returned at all.”

From Ms Cameron’s keynote speech, it is clear that ransomware is a very present danger for businesses of all sizes and that organisations should look to protect themselves from vulnerabilities that could make them a target for such an attack.

Read the full story here.

Facebook whistleblower calls for the UK to regulate Facebook

Former Facebook employee and data scientist, Frances Haugen, is to appear before MPs in the UK as they look into "regulating big technology.”

The whistleblower, who has publicly accused Facebook of pursuing profit over safety, will offer guidance to the UK Parliament later in October as it reviews the possibility of an online safety bill which could see an obligation enforced on social media companies to protect users, especially children.

Ms Haugen, who has alleged that Facebook weakens democracy, feeds divisions in society and impacts the mental health of children, is calling for the regulation of the technology giant around the world. She has spoken out against the organisation on many occasions recently, giving a detailed account of her time at Facebook and often referring to the harm she believes the company is causing. Her words seem to be taking effect as momentum builds among politicians to address the issues she has raised.

The information she has so far provided has “strengthened the case for an independent regulator with the power to audit and inspect big tech companies,” Damian Collins, the MP chairing the joint committee examining the bill, has been quoted as saying.

“There needs to be greater transparency on the decisions companies like Facebook take when they trade off user safety for engagement,” Mr Collins said.

Facebook has responded by pushing back against Ms Haugen’s allegations, saying they believe documents were stolen and that reports are misleading and also misrepresent the motives of the company.

Read more here.

Suspected cyber attack strikes University or Sunderland

This week the University of Sunderland suffered “extensive I.T. issues,” which have “all the hallmarks of a cyber attack.”

Disclosing the incident on its official Twitter account, the University said its telephone lines, website, email and I.T. systems were down, with all online classes being cancelled.

At the time of writing the University of Sunderland’s official website was still down and had been for several days, the incident having been passed to the police as the University works with them to resolve the problem.

The University’s local newspaper, the Sunderland Echo, quoted a University spokesperson as saying;

"We take the security of our systems extremely seriously and will work to resolve the situation as quickly as possible."

The suspected cyber attack comes after a surge in incidents targeting educational institutions, including other damaging attacks on universities in the North-East last year. Both Newcastle University and Northumbria University were targeted and, early this year, the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Portsmouth suffered ransomware attacks with resulted in outages lasting days.

Cyber criminals, it appears, consider the education sector an easy target, due in part to the move to remote working during the pandemic. Reports of universities falling victim to such attacks have become increasingly common in the last year and a half, which is a major concern, especially for students and staff, as extensive damage is caused by a loss of data and vital access to services is compromised. Multiple layers of defence have been suggested, with several mitigations, in order for educational institutions to protect themselves. It is hoped that applying a more in-depth defence approach will help detect malware sooner and prevent widespread damage to the institution.

Find out more here.

Those were just some of this week’s top stories but if you want more content, follow us across our four social media channels: