Businesses and hospitals aren’t the only ones getting hit with ransomware attacks in recent months. In a disturbing new trend, academic institutions also appear to be at risk, as officials at Howard University recently found out.
Kevin Collier of NBC News reported that “Howard University, one of the largest historically Black schools in the United States, canceled classes on Tuesday (Sept. 7) after a ransomware attack.”
According to Collier, “The attack shut down the campus Wi-Fi, and nonessential employees were instructed to not report to work.”
Allan Liska, an analyst at the cybersecurity company Recorded Future, told NBC that at least 19 colleges and universities had been hit with ransomware attacks in 2021 alone — and the threat appears to be growing increasingly imminent for other institutions as well.
“Criminal hackers use ransomware to break into a victim’s computer networks to lock up files on as many computers as possible and then ask for money for a code to restore them,” Collier said. “Many ransomware hackers also threaten to publish files they’ve stolen in the effort.”
Fortunately, Howard University representatives said there was “no evidence of personal information being accessed or exfiltrated.” However, the investigation into the breach is still ongoing and could take weeks or even months to fully assess the breach.
School officials said they first noticed signs of a potential problem on the Friday leading into the long Labor Day holiday weekend. Experts say it’s a common tactic for hackers to initiate these attacks leading into weekends or holidays because their targets are understaffed and less likely to have the resources needed to quickly stop the software attack.
Federal law enforcement is currently investigating the attack on the school. As of Tuesday, campus Wi-Fi was still down and online classes were canceled until at least Thursday, with in-person classes expected to resume Wednesday.