Howard University Gradually Bounces Back from Ransomware Attack

Howard University (HU) resumed online and in-person instruction in the third week of September after a ransomware cyberattack brought most activity to a halt for several days.

For the time being, students, faculty and staff have access to some of the university’s most common applications.  

As administrators explained on Sept. 12, recovery will happen in phases and in a manner that ensures continuity of operations. 

In the aftermath of service disruptions and the compromise of important data, some students, like Kaya Freeman, relished the gradual return to normalcy. 

“Some people clicked a link and gave their passwords to the hackers,” said Freeman, a freshman from West Bloomfield, Mich. 

“It’s been hard in terms of watching television, using your computer and writing papers.  Teachers postponed deadlines because you can’t go online unless you have a hotspot. It’s affecting our schoolwork but you do what you can on campus.” 

A Growing Threat 

In ransomware attacks, hackers use phishing emails to steal user credentials and access to IT networks.

They then block institutions’ access to networks and leverage stolen information to demand their target pays a hefty sum. Over the last couple of years, tactics have included threats to sell stolen information on the darkweb if demands aren’t met. 

In 2020, the average ransom demand totaled more than $312,000, a report by Unit 42/Palo Alto Networks determined. 

Since its detection of unusual activity on Sept. 3, HU has collaborated with external forensic experts and law enforcement officials to fully investigate the cause of the ransomware attack and its impact. 

HU told The Informer that its response team, composed of in-person and remote personnel, has used its resources to add new secure systems. 

Such tools build upon security updates the university has implemented over the years with the aid of what officials described as expert cybersecurity partners. 

Over the last few days, much of HU’s focus has been on protecting data and strengthening its network, all while keeping HU community members abreast of the ongoing situation.  

“Faculty, staff, and students should soon expect audits…