Hackers: 1; Geeks: 0: Cyber attack stalls Oxford, Cambridge servers

A sustained cyber-attack on .ac.uk and .gov.uk domains has taken down the servers, websites and campus internet connections of the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester universities.

The hackers in question launched a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack on Network Janet which controls the domains in question. Along with university servers, a number of networks on .org domain also took the hit.  A large number of fire services use the .org domain for their online operations.

So if you're enrolled in one of these universities, you may not be able to access its website until engineers can restore normal operations. The attacks began on Friday and are broader in scope than usual hack attempts which target specific university servers.

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Given that a large number of students are currently in the process of finishing and submitting their assignments ahead of the Christmas break, the cyber-attack couldn't come at a worse time.

Along with Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, the Universities of Essex, Paisley and Glasgow have also suffered, with internet services down since Monday.

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“We’ve been experiencing problems with internet access and the impact has varied from user to user. Janet engineers are dealing with the issue at a national level and we are hoping this will be resolved as quickly as possible,” said a university of Essex spokesman.

"Universities are more commonly targets of phishing and compromised domains. An attack such as this focusing on essential infrastructure used by learning establishments is probably something they weren't prepared for and has had a real world impact on many students today," said Chris Boyd, a malware analyst at security site Malwarebytes.

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Even though the hackers are yet to be traced, it is generally believed that the attempt was aimed at denial of services rather than to access secured and confidential information. The widely-reported hack of TalkTalk's customer accounts was also a result of a severe DDoS attack and cost TalkTalk up to £35m, but the hackers' motives were much worse in that case.

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