Higher education institutions suffering from ransomware attacks is nothing new. However, as institutions shift to distance learning, the attack surface is much greater, giving malicious actors greater opportunity.
Institutions have a plethora of data – student assignments, academic research, administration and admission files, and alumni relations materials. The amount of data institutions have is incredible and increasing – making them prime targets for ransomware attacks.
Ransomware not only creates an issue for institutions by restricting access to critical systems and data, but it also can expose students’ personal information, such as Social Security numbers, passports, and banking details.
When Michigan State University was hit with an attack, the institution chose not to pay – and hackers began publishing financial documents and financial information shortly thereafter. Once an attack occurs, there is no guarantee that stolen data is safe – even if the institution pays a ransom.
With or without ransom payment, any delay by the institution in protecting and restoring data affects its ability to operate effectively. Malicious actors know that institutions are already under immense pressure with increased costs due to pandemic safety measures and the shift to hybrid learning, combined with reduced revenue. Further, a recent advisory from The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control warns that government agencies may consider the payment of a ransom to be a violation of laws relating to financial sanctions and embargoes.