Phishing attacks and online fraud – protective steps

by Jennifer Kennedy.

Digital Technology Services is increasing the visibility of potentially fraudulent email by marking all email from outside the University to remind users to treat links or attachments with caution. This is an increasingly common tactic across the HE sector to help users to better identify fraudulent email, reducing the risk to them and the University.
Over the past month the University has seen a big increase in phishing, with over 3000 fake emails being delivered to University users’ mailboxes. While many recipients identify them as fake and report them so DTS can take action, the emails and web pages linked to are often convincing enough for some people to be taken in, providing usernames and passwords or other personal data to the attackers. Where we can trace that a user is at risk from an attack, DTS can take action and have reset over 100 hundred users’ passwords where suspicious activity is observed.
Once a user’s username and password are compromised like this they are exposed to a number of risks which have recently included use of their mailbox to launch further phishing or fraud attacks against other University users and changing staff bank details in Core to redirect salary payments to an attackers account.
The CyberAware online training shows users the key risks in online activity, such as mail and web browsing, and how to deal with them. We recommend all undertake this regularly. While DTS can identify accounts at risk and support users in recovering control of their account, we cannot help where data or money has already been lost. For this reason it is important for the protection of University staff and students that we help people identify suspicious activity and take appropriate action.
If you ever accidentally click on a suspicious link, contact IT Help on 0114 225 3333 immediately.

Passwords and Credential Stuffing

by Jonathan Ashton.

Recently the UK National Cyber Security Centre published an analysis of passwords available online from existing breaches at various organisations (including LinkedIn).

Worldwide, weak passwords like “123456”, “qwerty”, “password” (along with football team names like “liverpool” and “chelsea”) are being used to secure millions of user accounts on social media, shopping sites and even banks (  These passwords provide little protection both due to their reduced number of characters (no variation in upper/lowercase or special characters).  This means they can be cracked relatively quickly even by complete novices using freely available automated tools.  In addition to this, such passwords have been made widely available in common password lists for use in random attacks on services, this is known as ‘credential stuffing ‘.


Credential Stuffing

This is a simple attack using:

  • an email address that is already part of a breach (e.g. the LinkedIn breach of 2016 which involved 117 million email addresses and passwords being made available online)
  • a list of common passwords (referred to as a dictionary)
  • repeatedly trying the email address and dictionary password combinations against online services (e.g. Amazon, Gmail, Facebook, Spotify, Halifax, AirBNB, etc)

As hackers are dealing with millions of email addresses, combined with the fact that millions of people are using insecure passwords, it’s not surprising that a significant number of accounts are breached and then used for further fraudulent activity.


Check your Email Addresses and Password Security

You can check if your email address (and/or other details) have been involved in breaches and subsequently made available online by using sites such as  Once an email address is in the public domain like this, it will be used in credential stuffing attacks.

You can check to see if your password has been used in a previous breach and therefore if it is likely to be available for hackers at

Another online resource, available at, shows you how strong your password is.


Password Advice

The password advice is still:

  • Don’t re-use passwords between services
  • Passwords should be a mix of upper and lower case along with numbers and one or more special characters (like !#@*^, etc)
  • Passwords should be a minimum of 12 characters