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Parliamentary debate on UM cyberattack

Report by the university on 5 February

MAASTRICHT. ​There is soon to be a parliamentary debate on the cyberattack that hit Maastricht University just before Christmas. The exact date is not yet known. On 5 February, the UM itself will “reveal all” during a public meeting in Maastricht. The hack will be subject of discussion during a private meeting of the University Council today, Wednesday 15 January.

On 30 December 2019, two VVD members of parliament, Dennis Wiersma and Chantal Nijkerken-de Haan, had already asked the Minister of Education critical questions about the attack: What had happened exactly op 24 December, is scientific data secure, what about student documents? The two received sufficient support from the Second Chamber for a public debate this week. At the exact same time when the police publicised crime figures for 2019. These showed that cybercrime, such as attacks with ransomware, has increased significantly in 2019: 64 per cent more.

The UM had already announced that it would present its findings regarding the ongoing investigation into the hack during a public meeting on 5 February (and not 6 February as was initially stated by the Executive Board). Moreover, the university will provide answers to (almost) all the questions. That includes the question as to whether a ransom was paid (which is in fact no longer a question) and if so, how much.

The actual setup of the meeting is not yet clear. What is clear is that outsiders for whom these findings are also relevant, are welcome, as is the press.
What does ‘reveal all’ mean exactly? Fons Elbersen, interim spokesman: “We are striving for maximum transparency, we want to share our experiences with others, so that we can all learn from them. At the same time, we are not going to share sensitive information that might help new hackers or that might otherwise harm the interests of our students or staff.”

Meanwhile, reactions on the Observant site indicate that not everyone agrees with the image sketched by President of the Executive Board, Martin Paul, during the New Year’s reception, stating that the UM is a big family that buckles down together in times of crisis.

Two staff members – one anonymous (“in order to keep my job”), one by name, both from the field of ICT – are very critical. Why did everyone ‘buckle down’ when the attack was a fact? “We had no choice,” one writes, “if you say no, you are out of a job.” And: “We are all involved because we don’t want to be victims of these failing policies.” Further along: “The whole Christmas holidays ruined because of a failing Executive Board and lots of tension at home.” The anonymous writer has nothing good to say about paying the ransom, that is “not a victory but a tragic loss.” Where were the backups, he wonders? Then payment wouldn’t have been necessary.

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