Data obtained by the UK think tank Parliament Street has revealed the extent to which universities are being targeted by cybercriminals and the sheer number of spam and malicious emails that are sent to the inboxes of university staff and students.

Data on malicious and spam email volume was obtained by Parliament Street through a Freedom of Information request. The analysis of data from UK universities showed they are having to block millions of spam emails, hundreds of thousands of phishing emails, and tens of thousands of malware-laced emails every year.

Warwick University’s figures show that more than 7.6 million spam emails were sent to the email accounts of staff and students in the final quarter of 2019 alone, which included 404,000 phishing emails and more than 10,000 emails containing malware.

It was a similar story at Bristol University, which received more than 7 million spam emails over the same period, 76,300 of which contained malware. Data from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine revealed more than 6.3 million spam emails were received in 2019, which included almost 99,000 phishing emails and more than 73,500 malware attacks. 12,773,735 spam and malicious emails were received in total for 2018 and 2019.

Data from Lancaster University revealed more than 57 million emails were rejected for reasons such as spam, malware, or phishing, with 1 million emails marked as suspected spam. The figures from Imperial College London were also high, with almost 40 million emails blocked in 2019.

Like attacks on companies, cyberattacks on universities are often conducted for financial gain. These attacks attempt to deliver malware and obtain credentials to gain access to university networks to steal data to sell on the black market. Universities store huge amounts of sensitive student data, which is extremely valuable to hackers as it can be used for identity theft and other types of fraud. Attacks are also conducted to deliver ransomware to extort money from universities.

Universities typically have high bandwidth to support tens of thousands of students and staff. Attacks are conducted to hijack devices and add them to botnets to conduct a range of cyberattacks on other targets. Email accounts are being hijacked and used to conduct spear phishing attacks on other targets.

Nation state sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are targeting universities to gain access to intellectual property and research data. Universities conduct cutting edge research and that information is extremely valuable to companies who can use the research data to develop products to gain a significant competitive advantage.

Universities are seen as relatively soft targets compared to organizations of a similar size. Cybersecurity defenses tend to be far less advanced, and the sprawling networks and number of devices used by staff and students make defending networks difficult.

With the number of cyberattacks on universities growing, leaders of higher education institutions need to take steps to improve cybersecurity and prevent the attacks from succeeding.

The majority of threats are delivered via email, so advanced email security defenses are essential, and that is an area where TitanHQ can help.

Independent test show SpamTitan blocks in excess of 99.97% of spam email, helping to keep inboxes free of junk email. SpamTitan incorporates dual anti-virus engines to block known threats, machine learning to identify new types of phishing attacks, and sandboxing to detect and block zero-day malware and ransomware threats. When email attachments pass initial tests, suspicious attachments are sent to the sandbox for in depth analysis to identify command and control center callbacks and other malicious actions. SpamTitan also incorporates SPF and DMARC controls to block email impersonation attacks, data loss prevention controls for outbound messages and controls to detect potential email account compromises.

If you want to improve cybersecurity defenses, start with upgrading your email security defenses with SpamTitan. You may be surprised to discover the little investment is required to significantly improve your email security defenses. For more information, call the TitanHQ team today.