Cyberattack Delays Classes at Alabama Community College

Wallace State Community College has delayed the start of its spring semester classes after a cyberattack suffered this week. Fortunately, no personal data was breached, and classes will be back on January 8.

by Benjamin Bullard, The Cullman Times / January 6, 2020
Shutterstock/NicoElNino

(TNS) — The start of spring semester classes at Wallace State Community College in Alabama has been delayed by two days as the school’s Information Technology office works to bring its networked systems back online following a cyberattack this week.

Instead of beginning the spring semester on Monday, Jan. 6, the first day of class for all students has been postponed until Wednesday, Jan. 8, the college announced on a public-facing web page set up on Friday to address the matter. Registration also has been extended through Jan. 15.

Kristen Holmes, the school’s director of communications and marketing, said late Friday that no student data — including student records, transcripts, financial aid, and other personal information — had been compromised in the attack, and that Wallace State had notified “appropriate law enforcement agencies” to investigate the attack’s origin.

“It’s very important to stress that no personal data was breached,” said Holmes. “Out of an abundance of caution to prevent a limited attack from spreading further, a lot of systems outside the origin of the attack also have been temporarily taken down.”

That means that, until further notice, student-facing features like the Blackboard student portal, as well as school-hosted email services, are not available. The school’s informational website pertaining to the incident, located at wallacestate.edu/cybersecurity, will update over the next few days with the latest on when those online services will again be accessible. The site also provides a link whereby students wishing to access their myWallaceState accounts may still do so, allowing them to continue registering for classes, check account balances, and make tuition payments.

Holmes said the college also will send out updated information via social media, as well as Wallace State’s Lion Alert emergency and notification system, as the need arises. Faculty and staff also will report to campus on Monday, and will be available to meet with students to share information and address any concerns they may have. Instructors will work with students to make provisions for assignments and coursework that may be affected by the delay.

Networked systems like Blackboard, which students access via password and serve as a one-stop platform for everything from academic lesson materials to grades and more, have become so vital to the operations of a modern college — whether on campus or remotely — that conducting classes and administrative functions is difficult, if not impossible, when those systems go offline.

“In order to serve students most effectively, especially at the start of the semester, these online systems are so important — for accessing Blackboard, email, online coursework, and other features — and that is the impetus for the delay,” said Holmes.

“Any large entity that relies as heavily on technology as we do is vulnerable to such attacks,” she added. “Malware attacks are increasingly common nationwide, and they affect personal computers as well as businesses. Wallace State has sophisticated tools and training in place to prevent such attacks. But nothing is foolproof, as the goal of the perpetrators of these attacks is to stay one step ahead of even the most advanced technology.”

The attack appears to have occurred sometime overnight between Thursday and Friday. “There were some computers that were acting a bit suspiciously, and IT [the school’s Information Technology department] was contacted. They determined that there had been a malware attack,” said Holmes.

“Our IT department is working around the clock to restore previously backed-up, unaffected versions of our systems. They’ve already started that recovery process, and it may take several days.”

©2020 The Cullman Times (Cullman, Ala.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs