UK institutions must be vigilant against emerging cybersecurity threats from test factories, a university watchdog has warned.
The Higher Education Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) said essay writing services could “fool students” and make money by hacking university websites and placing content that seems legit.
Attackers of trial mills typically write on student pages with hyperlinks to their own websites or hijack links to legitimate services with redirects to contract fraud sites. US and Australian universities have already resumed such activity and UK authorities could employ similar tactics, the watchdog warned.
The industry has seen an increase in ransomware attacks. The QAA and educational technology nonprofit Jisc recently collaborated to raise awareness of the emerging threat and provide advice directly to higher education institutions.
Writing factories, which are illegal in some countries like Australia and New Zealand, make money by encouraging students to cheat on assessments.
âTest factories pose a threat to the world-class reputation of UK higher education,â said Gareth Crossman, policy and communications manager at QAA. âThese companies are unscrupulous and their exploitation of students jeopardizes their academic and future careers while exposing them to blackmail and cybercrime.
He added: âTheir only motivation is money, so we need action from governments and online platforms to make it as difficult as possible to operate. Therefore, the QAA is also campaigning for legislation criminalizing editorial factories. “
Crossman urges universities to follow the technical advice provided by Jisc and educate staff and students about the new tactics employed by the test factories. âUsers need to know what to look out for and how to report any suspicion,â he added.
Meanwhile, Henry Hughes, director of security at Jisc, said: âCyber ââattacks are a growing problem for colleges and universities and, as is probably the case with illegal activities at newswriting factories, are often the case. motivated by organized crime.
Hughes said universities can take certain steps to minimize risk, including using cybersecurity services that can block known malicious content, help mitigate phishing attempts and other forms of attacks on education, and British research.
Jisc works with universities, colleges, industry bodies and regulators to help coordinate a policy-based approach to block a wide range of cybersecurity threats, Hughes said.
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