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Caldwell Community College Training to Preempt Cyber Threats

After a ransomware attack shut down another North Carolina college for almost two weeks in February, Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is educating users on its network as a precaution.

(TNS) — Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute is boosting its cybersecurity in response to a recent cyberattack on Central Piedmont Community College.

Susan Wooten, vice president of technology and institutional support at CCC&TI, said that there are frequent attacks on college systems through various websites or emails. The concern is that some viruses are capable of infiltrating computer systems so deeply that potentially all technology at the college could shut down.

"It's just a matter of the type of threat that it is and whether we're able to stop it or block it," Wooten said. "Our biggest defense is educating our users. These attacks have become so sophisticated over the years, and seeing how these criminals evolve is incredible. It's impossible to stay ahead of them."

The college is educating users on how to spot suspicious emails and what to do if they think they may have discovered something malicious. Wooten said viruses can live in a computer's system for weeks or months unnoticed.

"These things will lay in wait ... until eventually some event or some time clock ticks down and they launch," she said. "It's something that we have to watch for constantly."

On Feb. 10, CPCC experienced a ransomware attack that shut down operations at the college for almost two weeks. A separate ransomware attack hit Guilford Technical Community College in the fall semester.

Ransomware is malware that locks or cripples a computer system, and the school would not be able to regain control without paying a ransom.

Jeff Lowrance, vice president of communication, marketing and public relations at CPCC, told EducationNC, a news organization focused on higher education in the state, that as soon as the ransomware was discovered, workers shut down all the college's major computer systems.

"CPCC started sending information to students and employees that there would be no classes the following day. The shutdown meant interruptions to everything," Lowrance said. "The thing that has made it so frustrating for us is, we feel like our students have been through so much over the last year. So many of them have hung in there with us, persisted, shown great resilience, and really worked hard. And to have the semester interrupted by a criminal act has just been really frustrating."

Dr. Mark Poarch, president of CCC&TI, said that as soon as CCC&TI officials heard about the attack, IT workers there began putting defenses in place.

"An attack like that can compromise the ability to serve students and the community," he said. "Our goal is to do everything we can to protect data like grades, transcripts, financial records and other important information. Most of all, we want to protect our students and employees."

(c)2021 the News-Topic (Lenoir, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.