Ransomware attack, all systems taken down


In December 2019 just before Christmas, the university was subjected to a ransomware attack which affected 16% of its servers (267 of 1647). The attack appeared to focus on encrypting Windows data and it also affected back-ups.

The university paid the attackers a ransom which was demanded in bitcoin after "extremely difficult deliberations" weighing up the police advice against the impact on students, scientists and staff who could no longer access their data and files.

The attack prompted a network-wide shutdown and put valuable research and commercial operations data at risk as staff and students were unable to use their emails or the university's filing system.

In July 2022, the university revealed a "remarkable development". In February 2020, the investigation team froze the wallet containing part of the paid ransom, the value of the cryptocurrencies found at that time was €40,000. They were stored in an account of the Public Prosecution Service. At the July 2022 exchange rate they were worth around €500,000 representing a ransom profit for the victim! The Executive Board plans to create a fund with it for students in need.

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Courtenay Brammar

Experienced global enterprise risk and governance professional. Previously Vice President at Morgan Stanley, Deloitte Risk Advisory practitioner and PRMIA steering committee member in both London and New York.

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  • Maastricht University

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