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Howard University Classes Canceled Due to Ransomware Attack

The university’s network was shut down Tuesday and classes were canceled following a ransomware attack. Officials said they don’t have evidence that personal information was exposed, but the investigation is ongoing.

Ransomware attack, binary code
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Howard University in Washington, D.C., canceled classes and shut down its networks Tuesday in response to a ransomware attack, according to a university memo.

The announcement said IT staff first noticed unusual activity on the private university’s network last week. Officials said the incident remained under investigation Tuesday afternoon, and that the university’s Wi-Fi network will remain down until officials “determine the best and safest path to stand it up.” They clarified that remediation would not happen overnight.

“Based on the investigation to date, we know that the service disruption was caused by a ransomware cyber attack against the university. We are currently working with leading external forensic experts and law enforcement to fully investigate the cause and impact,” a university statement read. “Our investigation into this criminal activity remains ongoing, and we will continue to share updates with the campus community when we have more information.”

Howard gave little details on the attack, noting “a position of heightened security.” Officials said the university was working with the FBI and other law enforcement for additional safety measures to protect personal data, but declined to comment further beyond public announcements.

“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,” the memo read.

According to a report by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, 2020 marked a “record-breaking” year for cyber attacks against public schools in the U.S. However, the FBI also issued an advisory in March warning colleges and universities about an increase in higher ed ransomware incidents.

Howard officials encouraged students and staff with information on the attack or other suspicious activity to notify IT staff at helpdesk@howard.edu.