Evidence suggests REvil behind Harris Federation ransomware attack

abstract image of a hacker with lines of code on a screen

Ransomware gang REvil is thought to be responsible for the recent cyber attack on London-based multi-academy trust Harris Federation, which led to 37,000 students being locked out of their emails and coursework.

The trust, which manages 48 primary and secondary academies in and around London, fell victim to a ransomware attack on 27th March which saw hackers gain access to its IT systems. The “highly-sophisticated attack” forced the schools to take precautionary measures of temporarily disabling its email and internet-enabled telephone system, as well as any Harris Federation devices, including those used by pupils.

Following initial investigations, it now appears that the REvil group is in possession of the trust’s personal information, including financial records, and has made these available on the dark web. REvil is considered to be one of the most prolific ransomware gangs in operation today, recently claiming to have made more than $100 million in one year from extorting large businesses.

Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow found that “screenshots of multiple financial documents” belonging to the Harris Federation had been posted to “Happy Blog”, a dark web site belonging to REvil, suggesting the gang was behind the 27th March attack.

A screenshot from REvil's Happy Blog displaying Harris Federation details

Screenshot courtesy of Brett Callow (Image credit: Brett Callow, Emsisoft)

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“At present, students’ personal information has not been posted,” Callow told IT Pro.

The Harris Federation has yet to respond to IT Pro’s request for comment. However, the trust has previously said that it is cooperating “as appropriate” with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as “using the services of a specialised firm of cyber technology consultants” and “working closely with the National Crime Agency and the National Cyber Security Centre”.

It also stated that it is “at least the fourth multi-academy trust to have been targeted in March” by hackers. In the last few weeks, cyber criminals had also targeted multiple higher education institutions, including the University of Northampton, as well as Oxford University’s Division of Structural Biology.

In the US, students of Tilton elementary school in Haverhill, Massachusetts, who were scheduled to finally go back to full in-person learning, found out on Thursday that their return had been postponed due to the district's computer system being hit in a ransomware attack.

The high-profile cyber attack against tech giant Acer in March, said to have cost the company $50 million, was also attributed to REvil.

Sabina Weston

Having only graduated from City University in 2019, Sabina has already demonstrated her abilities as a keen writer and effective journalist. Currently a content writer for Drapers, Sabina spent a number of years writing for ITPro, specialising in networking and telecommunications, as well as charting the efforts of technology companies to improve their inclusion and diversity strategies, a topic close to her heart.

Sabina has also held a number of editorial roles at Harper's Bazaar, Cube Collective, and HighClouds.