HACKERS broke into Swindon College’s network in what staff called a “deliberate and criminal” attack.

As well as current staff and students’ personal information, hackers gained unauthorised access to data retained from those who attended or worked at the college during the last eight years – sparking fear among those affected.

The data breach happened at some point in the latter half of last week and the college is working with the National Crime Agency to catch the criminals responsible.

Chloe Webster, 18, is studying hair and beauty at the college. She said: “This made me feel upset and very distressed and I am worried about other people finding out where I live and my home number.

“These things can be dangerous. Someone who you don’t know could be anywhere and can follow you. I am worried that someone could follow me and get me beaten up quite badly.”

Principal Steve Wain told the Adver this was the first time the college had ever experienced a cyber attack of this kind.

He said: “As soon as we became aware of the breach, we instigated our major incident plan.

“We immediately contacted local law enforcement agencies, the National Crime Agency and the Information Commissioners Office.

“The indication is that this was a sophisticated cyber-attack and that our systems were deliberately and criminally accessed.

“We are working very closely with these agencies to limit any possible impact and to put robust solutions in place to prevent any further breaches.

“We are following all recommended procedures and processes and have engaged external expert third party agencies who are supporting us.

“We informed staff and students of the breach as soon as we were permitted to do so by the law enforcement agencies, to ensure they were aware of the potential impact this could have and to provide immediate advice on any action that may need to be taken.

“We recognise that this breach will understandably cause concern, and we will do all we can to advise and support.

“We hope you will understand that we are unable to provide any further information regarding the extent or nature of the attack at this stage because it is a live criminal investigation.”

Bosses first notified students about the breach on Saturday morning and kept the college open throughout the day so that anyone concerned could speak to them face-to-face.

Hundreds of people shared the post and word quickly spread.

At this stage, the college is not able to confirm individually whose data had been compromised but would be able to do so later this week.

Mr Wain promised to keep people updated as the investigation progresses and urged anyone who could be affected by the data breach to follow this advice to safeguard their digital identity:

- Contact their bank to identify if there is any suspicious activity on their account and discuss with them what further action they believe should be taken.

- Carefully read official information and guidance relating to cyber security then follow the advice given.

- Helpful sources include fraud protection website actionfraud.police.uk, identity theft support website ico.org.uk, and guidance for staff and families on ncsc.gov.uk/section/information-for/individuals-families

- Enable two factor authentication on Gmail email addresses via google.com/landing/2step

For further advice and support, email datasupport@swindon.ac.uk