Major educational charity hit by ransomware attack

A major educational charity has been the victim of an ongoing ransomware cyber attack that has paralysed its email, devices and telephone system.

The Harris Federation, which runs 50 primary and secondary academies in London and Essex, said the attack was discovered on Saturday and had left about 37,000 pupils unable to access emails or use devices issued to them by the federation.

As well as emails being disabled, telephone systems (which run on the internet) and each academy’s switchboard has also been disabled.

In a statement, the Harris Federation said: “A ransomware attack means that cyber criminals have accessed our IT systems and encrypted, or hidden, their contents. We are at least the fourth multi-academy trust to have been targeted in March.

“This is a highly sophisticated attack that will have a significant impact on our academies, but it will take time to uncover the exact details of what has or has not happened, and to resolve.”

The statement also said the organisation is working with “a specialised firm of cyber technology consultants, the National Crime Agency and the National Cyber Security Centre” on the matter.

Harris Academies have remained open for pupils and the Harris Federation said it would “endeavour to keep them open until the end of term”.

On 23 March, just a few days before the attack took place, the government’s National Cyber Security Centre had issued an alert about a spike in ransomware attacks affecting schools.

Paul Chichester, director of operations at the National Cyber Security Centre, said: “Any targeting of the education sector by cyber criminals is completely unacceptable.

“This is a growing threat and we strongly encourage schools, colleges and universities to act on our guidance and help ensure their students can continue their education uninterrupted.”

A government report revealed that more than a quarter of charities faced cyber attacks last year.

In one high-profile case, more than 100 UK charities fell victim to the Blackbaud cyber attack, which targeted commonly used financial software.

When Third Sector contacted the Harris Federation for further comment, most of its internal communication systems were still down as a result of the attack.

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