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FBI issues warning in wake of ransomware attacks on U.S. colleges and universities

Written on Oct 21, 2022

U.S. colleges and universities have been on high alert for cyberattacks after 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. 

Ransomware gang BlackCat took credit for a ransomware attack on North Carolina A&T State University last spring. 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. Classes were canceled or moved online. 

BlackCat also claimed credit for a ransomware attack two days later at Florida International University. The attack involved personal information from students, teachers and staff, including contracts, accounting documents, Social Security numbers and email databases. 

In late April, Austin Peay State University announced a ransomware attack and asked everyone to disconnect from the university network. Exams were canceled two days after the attack. 

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. 

The FBI warning suggested 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.