8th December 2015

University network under sustained cyber attack

The University of Manchester and other institutions connected to the Janet network had their internet connections knocked out after sustained attack

The publicly-funded academic computer network Janet, which connects many British universities to the internet, came under a persistent cyber attack this morning. Fire services’ websites were affected too in an attack that briefly brought university’ websites, online learning environments, internet connections, essay submission services, and email systems to their knees.

The attack disrupted internet connections on The University of Manchester’s campus. The network was working intermittently but remained down on certain connections until Tuesday afternoon. Campuses across the country were affected, as Janet is responsible for the domains, domains, and the eduroam WiFi network used at the majority of universities across the country.

IT services said: “The Janet network is experiencing issues again this morning affecting a number of educational institutions including us. We’ll keep you updated.”

There is intermittent service on the campus WiFi system, eduroam. Engineers recently tweeted:

The Janet network is is funded by the public body Joint Information Systems Committee, Jisc, which tweeted about the attacks from its Jisc Major Incidents account. 

Denial of Service attacks (DoS) are malicious attempts to knock out an internet service. The most often employed tactic is flooding the target with large amounts of traffic. Flooding the service causes it to exceed its capacity, which causes the service to run slowly or become unavailable to normal users.

Despite returning to good service after the attacks began last Friday, on Monday morning the attacks had recommenced causing campus-wide issues, and the Turnitin system was inaccessible to all students—preventing some students from submitting essays within their deadline.

IT services said: “Janet, the UK organisation which provides computer network access to UK education and research services, has experienced a Denial of Service attack, resulting in a degradation of network traffic.

“Further and higher education organisations in the UK—including The University of Manchester—are connected to the Janet network. “Engineers from Jisc are implementing blocks to prevent connections from the source of the attack, while taking great care to ensure that legitimate network traffic is still accessible.

“We are being provided with more information by senior management at Jisc, and will issue updates when relevant here on StaffNet news and our social media channels, particularly Twitter @UoM_ITS.

“The occurrence of these incidents highlight the fact that issues with cyber security are a very real threat, and this further emphasises the importance of the University’s extensive cyber security programme. More about the cyber security programme can be found on the IT Services website.”

On Twitter, Jisc said they would stop updating their status page and has since stopped tweeting detailed information in response to their suspicions that attackers were using their tweets to keep ahead of Jisc engineers’ efforts to control the network.

At 14:00, Jisc Major Incidents tweeted to say that they were monitoring the situation, after an increase in traffic in the East Midlands signalled a potential further attack this afternoon

As of 15:00 on Tuesday 8th of December, the internet connections and eduroam WiFi service on most campuses, including Manchester, appeared to be online and functioning as normal.

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