HAW Hamburg student center
The HAW Hamburg student center. Image: Minderbinder / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Vice Society ransomware group claims German university as latest victim

The Vice Society ransomware group added the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) to its leak site this weekend following an attack that the institution said took place late last year.

HAW Hamburg is one of several German-speaking institutions with a focus on applied sciences to be targeted by ransomware gangs in recent months.

In a statement sent to all employees and students, the university said the attack was on December 29, describing a ransomware incident without using the term itself. The school has about 16,000 students.

“The attackers worked their way manually from decentralized IT systems via the network to the central IT and security components of HAW Hamburg. They also gained administrative rights to the central storage systems via this attack path and thus compromised the central data storage,” the statement explained.

“With the administrative rights obtained, the encryption of various virtualized platforms and the deletion of saved backups were finally started,” it added.

The university warned that “significant amounts of data from various areas” were copied, including usernames and “cryptographically secured” passwords, email addresses and mobile phone numbers.

Despite describing the compromised passwords as “cryptographically secured” the IT team recommended that students and staff change their passwords “for all internal university applications,” adding “in particular, change your password for Microsoft Teams and avoid using passwords that you have already used before.”

The university said it had to rebuild its IT systems, including the existing Microsoft cloud environment, and was “trying to restore a backup of the email data from the old mail server as of December 14.”

Following the attack, HAW Hamburg’s IT security said it had “received several reports from students about attempts to log on to Internet portals such as Amazon and eBay by unauthorized third parties.”

“After reviewing all previous reports, and taking into account the attacker group's previous approach, it can be ruled out that the login attempts are related to the security incident at HAW Hamburg or the attacker group,” the team added.

Back in January the Vice Society ransomware group claimed responsibility for a November attack against the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

Then in February the University of Zurich, Switzerland’s largest university, announced it was the target of a “serious cyberattack,” which a spokesperson described to The Record as “part of a current accumulation of attacks on educational and health institutions.”

The week before, the Harz University of Applied Sciences in Saxony-Anhalt, Ruhr West University, and the EU/FH European University of Applied Sciences all announced being impacted by cyberattacks.

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.