The cyber attack at Maastricht University has put the data security team at WUR on red alert too. WUR is well protected against cyber attacks, says security officer Remon Klein Tank, but it is not impregnable. ‘Watch out for phishing emails in particular.’
Remon Klein Tank has not yet received all the details from Maastricht, which suffered a cyber attack just before Christmas. He is part of a nationwide working group through which universities exchange information on cyber security. Klein Tank knows the software that the attackers used to encrypt the data. It was also used to attack the University of Antwerp in October and a French hospital in November.
Has WUR data been seized in the past and a ransom paid?
‘I can’t comment on that. WUR is attacked on a daily basis. 91 per cent of the attacks start with a phishing email, aimed at getting you to reveal your password for instance. Then the hackers start doing things under your name, such as encrypting data. That means you can no longer see your family photos at home or no longer access your research data at the chair group. Most attacks are unspecific but some are smarter. The attacker gets inside the system, and then the software looks around and decides where most damage can be done. That’s what happened in Maastricht.’
Can you stop that?
‘Here in Wageningen, we are on the alert and we keep our systems in good order. But you can’t protect yourself against every eventuality. You want your IT department to intercept as many suspicious emails as possible but you never get them all. You’d need to change the password every five minutes to be totally sure, but we still have other work to do. Students and staff are on their guard but despite all the warnings, about 10 per cent still get caught and open suspicious emails. The emails are often quite sophisticated too. We are constantly working on methods for filtering them out at an early stage.’
‘Over 90 per cent of the attacks are via phishing emails that ask for your password or persuade you to open an attachment or link. So you must not open these. If you do, you are often shown a yellow bar saying “enable editing”. Never click on that, especially if you weren’t expecting the document!’