Top Universities Put Students, Staff, and Stakeholders at Risk of Impersonation by Cybercriminals: Proofpoint


Top universities in Australia, the US and the UK are falling behind on basic cybersecurity measures, putting students, staff and stakeholders at higher risk of spoofing attacks email identity, according to new research from security firm Proofpoint.

Proofpoint research found that 97% of the top ten universities in each country do not take appropriate steps to proactively prevent attackers from spoofing their email domains, increasing the risk of email fraud.

point of proof says that according to the analysis, universities in the US are most at risk with the lowest levels of protection, followed by the UK and then Australia.

The full results of Proofpoint’s DMARC scan show:

  • Only one institution (in Australia) out of 30 universities has a rejection policy in place to block unqualified emails.
  • 17 (57%) of the universities surveyed have implemented a surveillance policy, while only four (13%) of the 30 universities have implemented a quarantine policy.
  • Eight of the 30 universities (27%) do not publish any DMARC record level, including five in the United States.
  • In Australia, one university did not have a DMARC record; two universities have quarantine measures in place; six Monitor while only one university implements a rejection policy.
  • While 80% of top UK universities have implemented some level of DMARC protection, no UK university has implemented the highest level of DMARC protection, the Rejection Policy, with the same results discovered for the United States.

Proofpoint says the research results are based on Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) analysis of the top ten universities in each country. DMARC is an email validation protocol designed to protect domain names from misuse by cybercriminals.

DMARC authenticates the identity of the sender before allowing a message to reach its intended destination. DMARC has three levels of protection – monitor, quarantine, and reject, with reject being the safest to prevent suspicious emails from reaching the inbox.

Steve Moros, Senior Director, Advanced Technology Group, Asia Pacific and Japan at Proofpoint said: “Higher education institutions hold masses of sensitive personal and financial data, perhaps more than any industry outside of healthcare. This, unfortunately, makes these institutions a very attractive target for cybercriminals. The pandemic and the rapid shift to distance learning have further heightened cybersecurity challenges for higher education institutions and exposed them to significant risks from malicious email-based cyberattacks, such as phishing.

“In particular, the recent Voice of the CISO report found that education sector chief information security officers (CISOs) felt the least supported by their organization. Consistent with these findings, the World Economic Forum reports that 95% of cybersecurity issues are due to human error, pointing out that many CISOs still significantly underestimate the risk posed by users. For example, only 47% of CISOs in the education sector consider users to be their greatest risk.

“Email remains the most common vector for security compromises across industries. In recent years, the frequency, sophistication and cost of cyberattacks against universities have increased. It is the combination of these factors that makes t is of particular concern that only one of Australia’s top ten universities is fully DMARC compliant.

Proofpoint warns that with the shift to distance learning and now hybrid learning, these numbers will continue to rise – noting that lack of protection against email fraud is commonplace in the healthcare industry. higher education, exposing countless parties to fraudulent emails, also known as companies. compromised email (BEC).

Proofpoint explains that BECs are a form of social engineering designed to trick victims into believing they have received a legitimate email from an organization or institution – and cybercriminals use this technique to extract personal information from students and staff using decoy techniques and disguising emails as messages from the university’s IT department, administration, campus group, often directing users to fake landing pages to collect credentials.

“Email authentication protocols such as DMARC are the best way to strengthen defenses against email fraud and protect students, staff, and alumni from malicious attacks. As holders of large amounts of sensitive and critical data, we advise universities across Australia to ensure they have the strictest level of DMARC in place to protect those within their networks,” said Moros,

“People are the last line of defense against email fraud, yet remain one of organizations greatest vulnerabilities. DMARC remains the only technology capable of not only defending against, but also eliminating domain theft or the risk of identity theft. When fully DMARC compliant, malicious email cannot reach your inbox, eliminating the risk of human interference,” Moros concluded.

Proofpoint’s analysis was conducted in May 2022 using data from QS best universities


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