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Jisc and QAA highlight cyber threat to universities from essay mills


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Essay mills are the source of an emerging cyber security threat to UK universities, two organisations in the field have warned.

Jisc, the membership organisation technology provider to higher education, and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), have said there is a need to defend against the threat by following the former's advice on good practice in cyber security.

Essay mills, otherwise known as contract cheating sites, are looking to dupe students and cash in by hacking into university websites and placing content for their own ends that appears to be legitimate and aligns with university services.  

Jisc and QAA said that typically, attackers write on student facing pages, with hyperlinks to their own websites, or hijack links to legitimate services with redirects to contract cheating sites. This type of activity has already been picked up at US and Australian universities and similar tactics could be employed in the UK. 

Elements of the advice include familiar steps towards good cyber security, including securing all services with strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, and maintaining effective vulnerability and patch management.

Organised crime

Jisc’s director of security, Henry Hughes, said: “Cyber attacks are a growing problem for colleges and universities and, as is probably the case with illegal essay mill activity, is often driven by organised crime. 

“There are steps that can be taken to minimise risk, including using cyber security services that can block known malicious content, help mitigate phishing attempts and other forms of attacks against UK education and research.  

“Jisc is working with universities, colleges, sector bodies, and regulators to help co-ordinate a policy based approach to blocking a wide range of cyber security threats.” 

Image from iStock, SolarSeven

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