October 12, 2022 By Jennifer Gregory 2 min read

U.S. colleges and universities are on high alert for cyberattacks. The FBI issued a warning for higher education in March 2021. Even with universities taking steps, several found themselves victims of BlackCat, also known as the ALPHV group.

A wave of attacks in April

Ransomware gang BlackCat took credit for a ransomware attack during North Carolina A&T State University’s spring break. A&T is the largest historically black college or university in the U.S. The attack disrupted apps and systems used for instruction and operations. These included wireless platforms used for online classes, single sign-on websites, virtual private networks and Chrome River. Students reported that classes were canceled or moved online, according to the A&T Register, the student newspaper.

BlackCat also claimed credit for a ransomware attack two days later at Florida International University of 1.2TB of data. According to the Record, BlackCat said that the attack involved personal information from students, teachers and staff, including contracts, accounting documents, SSNs and email databases. However, the university has disputed the idea that sensitive information was stolen.

In late April, Austin Peay State University announced a ransomware attack on Twitter. Because of the attack, the school asked everyone to disconnect from the university network. Clarksville Now reported exams were canceled two days after the attack.

According to the Record, six other universities were also targeted by ransomware attacks in April 2022: Ohlone College, Savannah State University, University of Detroit Mercy, Centralia College, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas and National University College.

Reducing ransomware risks

Ransomware attacks in higher education are on the rise. Combine that with the fact that cybersecurity at colleges is extremely challenging. So, institutions should take a look at their budgets before an attack happens and focus on digital defense. In the FBI warning, the agency suggested many best practices for colleges and universities. These include both ways to prevent attacks and how to reduce the impact if one happens, such as:

  • Back up all data with password-protected copies offline
  • Use multifactor authentication for all users accessing the network, apps and systems
  • Install all updates and patches for all systems
  • Change network and system passwords often
  • Install and update antivirus and anti-malware apps on all hosts
  • Disable hyperlinks in all emails sent through the network. This reduces the chances of staff, faculty and students clicking on a phishing link.

Universities and colleges view their core mission as educating their students. However, cyberattacks are especially disruptive to everyone on campus, students most of all. Reduce vulnerabilities for ransomware attacks and make sure your campus can get back online quickly. That way, you can put the focus where it should be – on your students.

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