Howard University cancels classes after ransomware attack

Howard University, where classes were cancelled following a ransomware attack  (Josh/WikkiCommons)
Howard University, where classes were cancelled following a ransomware attack (Josh/WikkiCommons)

Online and hybrid classes at Howard University have been suspended until a suspected ransomware attack against the 154-year-old institution in Washington DC is investigated.

University officials became aware of an attack on Friday, when its IT team detected “unusual activity”, and switched off several online systems, as well as campus WiFi, for the Labor Day weekend.

It confirmed in an announcement that it had been the target of “a ransomware cyberattack”, and told students that classes at the university were cancelled on Tuesday. WiFi continued to be non-operational.

Online classes were also cancelled on Wednesday, the university said in a following update, and confirmed that it was investigating the cyber attack with the FBI. An alternative WiFi system was being set-up, it added.

“Based on the investigation to date, we know that the service disruption was caused by a ransomware cyberattack against the university,” the statement on Monday told students. “We are currently working with leading external forensic experts and law enforcement to fully investigate the cause and impact.”

The university said on Tuesday that there had been “no evidence of personal information being accessed”, and that “our investigation remains ongoing”.

Another update is expected on Wednesday afternoon, considering classes for Thursday. In an earlier announcement, officials told students that restoring WiFi and online classes was “a long haul – not an overnight solution”.

The Howard University campus remains closed to non-essential employees, and in-person classes were are able to resume on Wednesday, although some online learning material was inaccessible.

It follows warnings from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security of ransomware cyberattacks against educational institutions in July, as CNN reported.

Ransomware attacks against schools in July were averaging 853 a week, according to private researchers at Check Point Research, who reported a 29 per cent increase in attacks compared to the first half of 2021.

Similar incidents have seen institutions forced to pay a ransom fee, or see information stolen from systems leaked. It has become more common as schools and universities turn to remote online learning because of Covid.

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