Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Lincoln College, an HBCU in rural Illinois, will be the first U.S. college to close because of a ransomware attack

Lincoln, the seat of Logan County
(Wikipedia map)
Lincoln College
in rural Lincoln, Illinois, is set to close its doors Friday, making it the the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. to shutter because of a ransomware attack. "A goodbye note posted to the school’s website said that it survived both World Wars, the Spanish flu and the Great Depression, but was unable to handle the combination of the Covid pandemic and a severe ransomware attack in December that took months to remedy," Kevin Collier reports for NBC News.

The local economy will no doubt feel the loss of the college keenly, since staff and students make up nearly 900 of the community's more than 13,000 residents. Colleges can be a significant economic draw in general for rural towns in general.

The loss goes beyond the economic toll. Lincoln College, which broke ground on namesake Abraham Lincoln's birthday in 1865, "is one of only a handful of rural American colleges that qualify as predominantly Black institutions by the Department of Education," Collier notes. It is also the only college to be named after Lincoln while he was alive, and the town is the only one named for him before he became president; he was a lawyer for the railroad that founded it.

Ransomware attacks are an increasing threat to the security and finances of businesses, governments and schools nationwide, especially in rural areas that often lack the time, funding and expertise to fend off such attacks. Smaller schools are often especially attractive to hackers, owing to their smaller cybersecurity budget.

At least 14 colleges and universities have been hit with ransomware attacks this year. "Ransomware attacks against colleges come from a number of known, distinct cybercriminal gangs, and they don’t appear to have any particular pattern with what kind of college they target, and instead simply go after any victim where they can find a cybersecurity vulnerability," Collier reports. "Many ransomware hackers who attack American targets are based in Russia or other former Soviet countries. But even in cases where U.S. authorities know their identities, few of them have ever been arrested in conjunction with American law enforcement efforts."

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