PCC funded scheme comes to the aid of secondary school hit by cyber attack.

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February 20, 2024

Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen has praised cyber security experts for coming to the aid of a Durham secondary school following a cyber attack.

The County Durham and Darlington PCC works closely with the North East Business Resilience Centre (NEBRC) to fulfil her Police and Crime Plan commitment to help businesses protect themselves from the threat of online fraud.  

The NEBRC is a police-led, not-for-profit organisation delivering affordable 24/7 cyber security support to small and medium sized businesses. It was established in 2019 by a police-led team collaborating across seven forces in the North East.

The PCC, a NEBRC board member, has provided significant funding towards the cost of delivering safety sessions to educational providers and their staff across the county with the aim of removing the cost barriers they face in accessing help and support to keep their data assets safe.

In a recent project, the Commissioner contributed £1,575 of matched funding with NEBRC to respond to Framwellgate School in Durham which suffered a significant data breach after hackers stole 40GB of sensitive data in September 2023.

NEBRC teamed up with local digital firm Waterstons who carried out a full investigation to understand how the breach had occurred while two NEBRC Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) ethical hackers from Northumbria University worked alongside to assess the network’s vulnerability to identify any weaknesses.

Following assessment, the team identified weaknesses in the external infrastructure and worked collaboratively with the school’s IT team and technology providers to boost the security of its systems.

This week, the PCC visited the school to hear first-hand how her funding had delivered vital expertise and support that would protect its IT network from future attacks.

Commissioner Allen said: “I am very grateful to staff at Framwellgate School for sharing their experience to raise awareness of the real risks posed by hackers and the work we are undertaking through NEBRC to reduce and tackle these emerging threats.

“We live in a world where online theft and harm is much more prevalent, and where the methods by which criminals are executing these crimes are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Durham is as susceptible to these risks as other areas which is why I am determined to help.  

“Most of these crimes are preventable and by opening the door to advice and expertise for educational providers, I believe we can and will protect these data assets much more effectively.

“I am proud of the response provided by NEBRC and Waterstons, in conjunction with Durham Constabulary and the school’s IT team, which has strengthened the school’s network from future attacks. It demonstrates partnership working at its best and highlights the value of standing united to counteract these risks. I will continue to invest funding in proactive activity and resources to increase our capabilities so we can tackle the cyber threat head on.”

Framwellgate School was referred to the NEBRC by their external IT support team following information from police that they may have suffered a data breach.

It was during the NEBRC’s vulnerability assessment that the school received an email extortion demand from hackers claiming to have stolen 40GB of their sensitive data. The email had an attachment that contained a sample of the school's data, verifying that the school had suffered a significant data breach.

Security experts from Waterstons established that cybercriminals had compromised the network for some time and worked with the school to secure the network and quickly restore full service.

Wendy Pattison, Framwellgate School Business Director, said: “Their response, from initial email to undertaking work, was within a day which helped us to secure the network through targeting priorities in order.

“Working with NEBRC was a thoroughly supportive experience, from the initial Teams call and subsequent phone calls to post-crisis communications. The team was non-judgemental, supportive, and made us understand quickly that it is known vulnerabilities that are attacked, not the school.

“The NEBRC worked closely with other support stakeholders, including the police, Waterstons, Durham’s PCC, the IT support team and an external IT support company to coordinate work and share critical information.

“The support and advice given by NEBRC and the exceptional work of the ethical hackers was something I never expected to have to experience, but with their support the school was scaffolded quickly and is in a much better place due to their expertise, compassion and guidance through a very difficult time.”

ENDS

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