Cyber Attacks Wreak Havoc on Universities Across NRW

All universities in NRW affected by cyber attacks

All universities in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) have been hit by cyber attacks to varying degrees over the past five years, according to a response by NRW Science Minister Ina Brandes to a request from the SPD parliamentary group. While universities with a technical orientation were more in the focus of attacks, sensitized personnel meant that most attacks had no consequences. However, eight universities have experienced successful cyber attacks with damage caused.

A cross-university advisory and coordination structure to strengthen information security will be set up in July at the University of Siegen, supported with around two million euros over the next three years by the state government. Regular reports on the risk situation and implementation of information security will be produced and made available to the state. The state government is currently providing the universities with around 41 million euros in cybersecurity funding from the special fund to deal with the consequences of the Ukraine war.

The universities can use the money to switch their IT services to two-factor authentication, to buy better firewalls, and to create contingency and recovery plans. The state-wide service for data backup began last year at RWTH Aachen University, financed with state funds of eleven million euros. The University of Duisburg-Essen and another university are planned to start as backup locations and service providers.

Minister Brandes has admitted that “100% protection will not be possible at the universities” as they are too large and varied. But, she affirmed, each university must take responsibility for the security and integrity of its own IT systems. In the event of an attack, the “Cybercrime” contact point of the State Criminal Police Office can be reached around the clock, seven days a week. The universities also need to report such attacks themselves.

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