Cyberattack Hits Israel’s Bar Ilan University: ‘Data Is Being Erased Right Now’

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Computers at Bar Ilan University. The academic institution was targeted by what an internal email said was a massive cyber attack that is seeing Bar Ilan's data deleted
Computers at Bar Ilan University. The academic institution was targeted by what an internal email said was a massive cyber attack that is seeing Bar Ilan's data deletedCredit: Moti Milrod

A cyberattack targeted Israel’s Bar Ilan University Sunday, the school reported. An internal email sent out by the university’s IT department said the attack was ongoing and urged staff to shut down their computers.

“A serious cyberattack is underway right now against Bar Ilan University,” the internal mail said. “The attack involves data being erased or encrypted,” they noted, likely indicating a criminal motive, rather than espionage. It may be a ransomware attack, or what is called a “wiper” attack: In both cases, the victim’s data or network is taken over and access to it is restored only if a ransom is paid to the hackers. If no payment is made, the data is erased or remains locked behind the hackers’ encryption.

“The directive now is to shut down all computers hooked up to the network and wait for further instructions,” the email concluded.

The university told Haaretz that the event was being taken care of by a group of specialists.

“A limited group of computers on our research network faced a small cyber incident,” the university said. “Our management is handling the incident with cyber experts from within our university and together with Israel’s National Cyber Directorate.

“From what we know now, this is a limited incident and the work and studies at the university will continue as planned.”

Israel’s academic institutions are among the country's most frequent cyberattack targets. This week, it was revealed that a massive cyber operation led by the Chinese state against Israel – the first case of such an attack happening – also targeted academic institutions.

The attack was revealed by FireEye, which said in a report that the Israeli targets included state bodies and as well as private organizations from the fields of shipping, high-tech, telecommunications, defense, academia and information technology.

By analyzing the hacking tools used and comparing them to similar attacks in the past, FireEye concluded that Chinese intelligence services and their Ministry of State Security was behind the attack. Similar attacks have been reported in the past: For example, there were a number of attempts to hack institutes involved in the coronavirus vaccine.   

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the BadBlood hacking group, considered a proxy for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, targeted specialists in genetics, neurology and oncology as well as others in over 20 medical professionals in Israel and the United States. 

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