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College Closing Another Sad Milestone for Ransomware Impact

Lincoln College in Illinois announced they were closing their doors as a result of COVID-19 and cyber attack disruptions. Who’s next?

Lincoln College University Hall
Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill., the only college named for Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime, will close following a ransomware attack last semester.
(Mark Gordon/Lincoln College)
For years, the odds have been daunting for those hit by a major ransomware attack. According to CNET in 2017, ransomware shut down 1 in 5 businesses that were hit by a major attack.

Last year, Atlas VPN claimed that 31 percent of U.S. companies closed down after falling victim to ransomware.

Even more concerning, Inc. magazine reported in April 2022 that 75 percent of small- or medium-size businesses would be forced to close if hit by a major ransomware attack.

And now, we have another casualty, at least partially blamed on a destructive ransomware attack. According to the New York Times on May 9, “Lincoln College, a predominantly Black college in Illinois, will close this week after 157 years, saying it could not survive the financial challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack last year. …

“Founded in 1865 and named for Abraham Lincoln, the college had survived the 1918 influenza pandemic, multiple recessions and two world wars.

"But the pandemic led to a drop in enrollment and forced the college to make costly investments in new technology, according to the statement. Then, in December 2021, a ransomware attack walled off the school’s access to its data and halted its recruitment, retention and fund-raising campaigns.”

Here is some of the nationwide media coverage for this sad announcement:

ABC NewsIllinois predominantly Black college closing after 157 years: “Lincoln College, which saw record enrollment numbers in 2019, said in a news release that it scrambled to stay afloat with fundraising campaigns, a consolidation of employee positions, and exploring leasing alternatives.

“Then, as COVID cases fell and students returned to schools across the country, the college was victimized by a December cyber attack. It left all the systems needed to recruit students, retain them and raise money inoperable for three months.

“Lincoln's president, David Gerlach, told the Chicago Tribune that the school paid a ransom of less than $100,000 after an attack that he said originated in Iran. But when the systems were fully restored, the school that had just over 1,000 students during the 2018-19 academic year discovered ‘significant enrollment shortfalls’ that would require a massive donation or partnership to stay open beyond the current semester.”

NPRLincoln College closes after 157 years, blaming COVID-19 and cyber attack disruptions: “The 1918 influenza pandemic couldn't bring Lincoln College down. Neither could the Great Depression or World War II. It survived a major fire and economic hardships. But the college is closing for good on Friday — the victim of two modern blights: the COVID-19 pandemic and a cyber attack.

“It's a shocking turnaround for the small private Illinois school that has welcomed thousands of first-generation college students and qualified for federal recognition as a predominantly Black institution, or PBI.

"Lincoln College has been serving students from across the globe for more than 157 years," college President David Gerlach said in a statement on the school's website. "The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense."

BlackEnterprise.comHBCU Lincoln College Closing Due To Cyber Attack, COVID-19-Induced Burdens: “With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, there was an increased number of cyber attacks against schools, colleges, and universities that are often unprepared to ward off ransomware attacks, in which victims’ digital data is encrypted until the victim pays. …”


This college closure adds to the growing number of ransomware casualties over the past several years. From the Colonial Pipeline incident last year to the long list of global ransomware attacks targeted against companies and governments, the breadth and depth of challenges continues to grow in 2022.

Ransomware was the top cybersecurity story in 2021, as I explain here.
Who's next? Only time will tell. But I am sure there are more sad stories to come.

If you are looking for resources to help fight ransomware attacks, here are a few good options:

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.