Cambridge University sinks below Oxford in Dark Web cybersecurity analysis

By 21st March 2018News

RepKnight research finds nearly 600,000 leaked or hacked email addresses from UK’s two most prestigious universities on the dark web

Cambridge may well be the odds-on favourite to overturn Oxford’s recent dominance in the Boat Race this weekend, but research from Dark Web cybersecurity firm RepKnight shows that Oxford University is seemingly still pulling ahead of its rival when it comes to data protection.

RepKnight found over 400,000 email addresses using the domain on the dark web – more than double the number that feature the domain* – as part of an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the huge number of leaked and hacked credentials circulating on the Dark Web. These contact details are routinely used by cybercriminals to launch large-scale phishing scams and, perhaps more significantly for the universities, can potentially be used to gain access to university computing resources and possibly commit data theft.

The analysis was done using RepKnight’s Dark Web monitoring tool BreachAlert, based on a comprehensive list of the domains for every Oxbridge college, faculty and administrative department. The exposed email domains were found across Dark Web, bin, dump and data breach sites, which feature more than 5 billion stolen, leaked or hacked credentials.

Interestingly, more than half of the Oxford University credentials identified were associated with the colleges, while the overwhelming majority (97%) of the exposed addresses from Cambridge were from faculties or university departments.

Educational institutions are an increasingly popular target for hackers and cybercriminals wanting to exploit their resources for activities such as cryptojacking – stealing high-performance computer cycles to mine cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.  At the other end of the performance scale, universities may also have poorly secured legacy systems connected to the public internet, which can be accessed by hackers and used as proxies to carry out illegal activity.  A wider analysis by RepKnight showed that the Russell Group of 24 leading UK universities have almost 5 million email credentials exposed on the dark web.

Patrick Martin, cybersecurity analyst at RepKnight, said: “It is often assumed that cybercriminals are primarily targeting commercial businesses. However, it’s not hard to see why the confidential data stored at universities might be a valuable commodity for criminals, given the links those institutions have to government agencies, supra-national organisations like the EU, and the private sector.

“Like most industries, universities are working hard to improve their cybersecurity capabilities.  But the best network security often can’t defend against someone logging in using a stolen username and password.  The vast majority of the credentials we see on the Dark Web are from third-party breaches, where an email address had been used on a site like LinkedIn or Dropbox, and that site was subsequently compromised – often including the user’s password.  That’s why – in addition to securing their networks – every university should be deploying a dark web monitoring solution, to get a better understanding of their attack surfaces, and to get real-time alerts of leaks and breaches.”