Australian university suffers data breach of 47,000 students

Digital generated image of electronic circuit security padlock made out of numbers on black background.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Deakin University suffered a data breach that affected nearly 47,000 current and past students, with the attacker carrying out a smishing attempt as well, the university revealed yesterday.

The university became aware of an incident on Sunday 10 July in which a staff member’s username and password were hacked by an unauthorised person to access information held by a third-party provider.

The Victorian university was using the third party to forward messages prepared by the university to students via SMS. The information accessed by the attacker was then used to send an SMS, pretending to be from Deakin to 9,997 students.

The smish was a parcel delivering scam containing a link that when clicked on, took users to a web form asking for additional information including credit card details.

Additionally, the attacker was able to download the contact details of 46,980 current and past Deakin students. The details included students’ names, mobile numbers, university email addresses, and “special comments” which include recent exam results.

“Deakin sincerely apologises to those impacted by this incident and wants to assure the Deakin community that it is conducting a thorough investigation to prevent a similar incident from occurring again,” said the university.


The Total Economic Impact™ of IBM Security MaaS360 with Watson

Cost savings and business benefits enabled by MaaS360


Deakin said it took immediate action to stop any further SMS messages being sent to students and an investigation into the data breach was launched.

The university said it would report the breach and be guided by the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC). It will also work with the third-party provider to ensure security protocols are enhanced to prevent any recurrence of the breach.

Academic institutions are battling a war on three fronts, according to experts. This includes cyber warfare, a variety of threats targeting both students and staff, and a complicated and fluid technology environment.

This isn’t the first Australian university to suffer a cyber attack, as the nation’s top-ranked university confirmed it suffered a huge data breach in 2019, leaking students’ bank and passport details.

The Australian National University (ANU) found that the records stolen belonged to students dating back 19 years. The information included names, email addresses, payroll information, bank account details, and more. This was the second attack it experienced in a year, the first occurred in July 2018 and reportedly was carried out by a group operating out of China.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.