Australian University Students and Faculty Face Increased Email Fraud Risk

October 09, 2019
Crispin Kerr

More than 1.33 million students attended universities in the first half of 2018 according to the Australian Department of Education, and enrolment continues to increase every year. Each of these students expect to receive emails from their school around financial aid, enrolment, and classes. Unfortunately, many universities have not implemented email authentication best practices, and are therefore more susceptible to cybercriminals spoofing their identity. This leaves their faculty, students, alumni, donors, and partners potentially exposed to significant cyberattack risk.

In an examination of the top 20 Australian universities listed in the QS World University Rankings 2020 list, Proofpoint uncovered that 50 percent have not published a DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) record. DMARC, which is an email validation protocol designed to protect domain names from being misused by cybercriminals, is like passport control for email. It can verify that the purported domain of the sender has not been impersonated by leveraging the established DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) and SPF (Sender Policy Framework) standards to ensure the email is not spoofing the domain. This authentication protects employees, customers, business partners and supply chains from cybercriminals looking to impersonate a trusted domain.

Additionally, while half of the Australian universities have a DMARC record in place, only 10 percent of universities examined by Proofpoint have implemented the recommended (strictest) deployments that block malicious emails from reaching their intended target. In other words, 90% of these universities are not using established best practices for email security and authentication and are therefore more susceptible to identity deception attacks.

The education sector remains a regular target. Cybercriminals pursue both students and staff to gain access to credentials and vast stores of sensitive data available in student information systems. In 2018, Proofpoint researchers found that globally the education sector saw the largest year-over-year increase in email fraud attacks of any industry, soaring 192% to 40 attacks per organisation on average, underscoring the importance of securing the email vector.  Importantly, universities are often associated with teaching hospitals, government research organizations, and more, providing additional attractive targets for cybercriminals.

To defend against these threats, it is critical that universities invest in a dedicated advanced email security gateway to stop threats from ever reaching students, faculty and staff – and provide remedies, including security awareness training, to empower users in the event they do. And bringing this full circle, deploying DMARC email authentication protocols and lookalike domain defences are an absolute must to defend against today’s people-centric attacks.

For more information on DMARC, email fraud, and Proofpoint’s email security solutions, please visit: https://www.proofpoint.com/au/product-family/email-protection. And for more information on How to Get Started with DMARC, please visit: https://www.proofpoint.com/us/resources/white-papers/getting-started-with-dmarc.