Howard University Working with FBI to Investigate Ransomware Cyberattack

Howard University was forced to cancel classes on Sept. 7 and will continue to keep students and “non-essential employees” updated as to when they can return to normal operations following a ransomware attack on the university’s network.

The attack took place Sept. 3, and the school “intentionally shut down the University‚Äôs network to investigate the situation” as soon as unusual activity was detected in an attempt to “mitigate potential criminal activity.”

According to an update shared by the HBCU on Sept. 6, its IT vendor, Enterprise Technology Services (ETS), is still looking into the cause and a solution, but “based on the investigation and the information we have to date, we know the University has experienced a ransomware cyberattack.”

A ransomware attack is a form of malware that encrypts critical data so that organizations are unable to access databases, files, or other computer systems, and a ransom is demanded to regain access. The university is taking the matter seriously and has involved the FBI and the Washington city government to assist.

“We are currently working with leading external forensic experts and law enforcement to fully investigate the incident and the impact,” reads the statement. “To date, there has been no evidence of personal information being accessed or exfiltrated; however, our investigation remains ongoing, and we continue to work toward clarifying the facts surrounding what happened and what information has been accessed.”

Ransomware attacks are a growing threat for businesses and organizations, with the number of organizations impacted globally more than doubling in the first half of 2021 compared with 2020, and education falling into one of the top industries attacked in the North American region.

“The attack on Howard University is yet another sign that cyberattacks are global, interconnected, and evolving,” Stephen Manley, chief technology officer at Druva, a data protection software company, said in a statement. “Hackers, drawn by the lucrative potential of holding business-critical data hostage, are launching more sophisticated attacks every day.”

The school’s Sept. 7 update confirmed that an alternative wi-fi source is being deployed however until it is successfully installed, “online and hybrid undergraduate courses remain suspended for tomorrow, Wednesday, September 8, and the physical campus will be open to essential employees only.” All in-person courses, including undergraduate, graduate, professional, and clinical experiential, will resume as normal.

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