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Fake Drugs being sold from .ac.uk sites

BBC News reported that a number of .ac.uk sites are being used to sell counterfeit drugs at the end of last week. I wish I could say this surprised me, but knowing how complicated the issues are in sorting out web security at the university where I work, I can't say it's come as a massive shock.

At a university it is often the case that a department may be responsible for their own web presence - usually someone for who it is not a priority, and they may know nothing about the technical issues involved. Sometimes a department will have had a third party company supply a site or content management system without realising it needs to be kept up to date. Even where there is a good level of centralised support for web publishing, some departments may do their own thing for historical reasons.

We've been fairly proactive at working with departments and getting our own house in order, but it's certainly been a challenge to have security taken seriously across the institution. While incidents like this are unfortunate, they do have the positive side-effect of raising the profile of these issues, and longer term this can only be a good thing.

Finally I'll share a tip for anyone working in academia. Set up some google site alerts for the following:

These will alert you to any new pages that appear on your site with those terms. It's not perfect, but it will alert you to some compromised pages, or even comment spam on wiki pages/blog posts that should be dealt with.


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