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NWO hacked: expected consequences to grant proposals

While waiting for NWO announcements, the Grants Office shares with the UT community its expectations on the impact of the cyber-attack, to grant submission and evaluation processes.

[update 18 February 2021]

This Monday, the research community in the Netherlands awoke to the announcement of a ransomware attack to NWO (Dutch Research Council). Reacting to the weekend’s event, NWO has stopped all IT services and systems. This will impact the timings of several activities relevant to the research community, including grant submissions and ongoing assessments (evaluation). What we know – and importantly, what we expect – is explained next.

System failure magnitude

While NWO is not yet able to give an estimation of how long its IT system will be down, the Grants Office anticipates situation to last at least a few weeks; first, NWO will have to identify and deal with all possible network failures, before a new network or assessment procedure can be started up again.  

Relevant to grants, the NWO already announced that two parts of the system have either not been affected – the NWO website – or are unlikely to be affected – the NWO’s dedicated grant submission portal, ISAAC. As precaution, however, ISAAC has been shut down; ISAAC contains details on all grant submissions, including personal details and grant proposals or evaluations. In the eventuality of breaches in personal data announced by NWO, the UT community will be informed.

Impact on submissions and evaluation processes

While from a privacy point of view the shut-down of ISAAC is a necessary measure, it opens questions on what will happen to submissions to NWO calls. While deadline delays seem indeed unavoidable (especially for calls now close to date), the Grants Office advises applicants not to delay their preparation efforts. Since, as indicated, the submission system seems to be unaffected, it may be the case that system is reopened in time for (most) current submissions deadlines.

A given seems to be the delay on ongoing evaluation processes. This is a total unknown at the moment, and a topic the Grants Office feels is worthwhile waiting for news from NWO. We will follow up with the community as soon as more is known from NWO.

Communication by NWO

Finally, a word on the understandably impaired situation on communication possibilities by NWO. As also Outlook is affected at NWO, no emails will reach their destination. Most phone connections of NWO run via Skype for Business, which is also shut down. This gives NWO very limited communication options at the moment, towards all concerned applicants and evaluators. So for now, NWO is mainly using its website as communication channel: it gives the possible details on the situation, including a FAQ with further information (currently only available in Dutch).

Furthermore, in an attempt to leave an open channel to the community, a general contact form has been made available. If you do have questions, do consider directly addressing us at the Grants Office, before contacting NWO. We can most likely help you without delay; as a research organization, the UT is in close contact with NWO and is informed by the Council of ongoing processes.   

Situations you may be experiencing 

  • I have submitted a NWO grant proposal and am waiting for evaluation outcomes.

    As evaluation processes totally rely on NWO IT infrastructure support, delays on ongoing evaluation processes – either for evaluation committees or on the side of external reviewers – are practically a given. With this, NWO will probably have to delay earlier posted dates or timelines. If you expect news of your submission within the next weeks, do count on such being delayed. This holds for example, for open competition grants, NWA-ORC and Vidi and Veni submissions. If you have been in contact with the Grants Office during your grant proposal preparation, you will be automatically notified on any news on this matter.

  • I am preparing a grant proposal for submission to a NWO call.

    Although currently submission IT system is down, this does not automatically imply delays in submissions dates. While calls within the upcoming weeks are most likely to be postponed, we have no means to know for how long. We therefore strongly advise you to keep working on your proposal if you are in the final stages of your submission. If at any moment you feel unsure on whether to proceed with the preparations, do not hesitate to contact the Grants Office. 

  • I have been exploring NWO calls and was about to start preparing.

    There is no reason to believe the calls published by the NWO will be cancelled, because of this cyber-attack. The Grants Office does, however, advise you to take this opportunity to potentially expand your view on funding landscape. For example, we draw your attention to the upcoming calls in the Horizon Europe Framework Programme, about to open. The deadline for those will be within the next 12 months and contain topics that are broad and in alignment with UT research. For a good overview of potential calls do look in the SBD Grants Office Support Hub and reach out to us if you find an interesting call.

  • I have had contact with NWO via email, which contained attachments: is there a risk?

    All UT personnel that had email contact with NWO in the past week have already been contacted by Computer Emergency Response Team of LISA. Emails originated from NWO have been checked, and the risk of infection is considered low. However, if you feel unsure about an email: do not open it, or any related attachments. Directly contact CERT-UT to address your concern.

Relevant links

FAQ NWO

Website NWO

More information

If you have any questions that haven't been answered in this news-item, please contact SBD-Grants Office at grants-office@utwente.nl.

If you have any concerns about the safety/integrity of your computer, please have a look at the Cyber Safety website or contact CERT-UT at CERT@utwente.nl