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Illinois HBCU Lincoln College university closing, pandemic and iran cyberattack

Because of the pandemic and the ransomware attack, Lincoln College will have to close.

After 157 years, a mostly black college in Illinois will stop running on Friday because it couldn't raise enough money to recover from the pandemic and a cyberattack that came from Iran.

After 157 years, Lincoln College, an Illinois college where most of the students are black, will close this week. The school says it couldn't handle the financial problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack last year.

David Gerlach, the president of the college, said in a statement, "The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is huge."

When Mr. Gerlach was asked to say more by email on Monday, he refused.

The college was started in 1865 and was named after Abraham Lincoln. It had been through the 1918 flu pandemic, several recessions, and two world wars.

The statement says that the pandemic caused a drop in enrollment, which meant the college had to spend a lot of money on new technology. Then, in December 2021, a ransomware attack stopped the school from getting to its data and stopped its campaigns to get new students, keep old ones, and raise money.

Illinois HBCU Lincoln College university closing, pandemic and iran cyberattack
The Lincoln College grounds.

Lincoln College in Illinois, hasn't said how much it paid in the end to get its data back, but Mr. Gerlach told The Chicago Tribune that it was less than $100,000. He told The Tribune that the attack with ransomware came from Iran.

When the college got access to its data again in March, projections showed "significant enrollment shortfalls" that would require a "transformational donation or partnership" to keep Lincoln College going after the current semester, the school said in a statement. Last month, Mr. Gerlach told The Tribune that Lincoln needed $50 million to keep running. The money didn't come through.

"I think we could have found someone if we had more time, but this is out of our hands," said Annette Roter, an associate professor, in a Facebook post meant to comfort the thousands of students, faculty, and alumni who worked to keep the school open.

In the past few years, cybercriminals have been going after schools, colleges, and universities because they are often not ready to stop ransomware attacks, which encrypt the digital data of victims until they pay.

Brett Callow, a threat analyst at Emsisoft, a security company in New Zealand, said that ransomware attackers just try to make money any way they can.

Mr. Callow said, "If they find one area that makes a lot of money, they will go back to it over and over and over again." He said that schools should take precautions like using multifactor authentication and installing security updates as soon as they come out.

An analysis by Emsisoft shows that ransomware was used to attack 1043 schools in the United States last year. There were 26 colleges or universities among them.

Henry Stoever, the president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said that technology "touches almost every part of the academic enterprise." This includes information about students' and teachers' finances and health, as well as information about donors. He also said that losing this information can be very bad.

Austin Berglas, the global head of professional services at BlueVoyant, a cyberdefense company in New York City, said that the average cost of a ransom attack on a college or university is about $115,000. This is a low number compared to other industries. Colonial Pipeline, which runs a key fuel pipeline on the East Coast, paid $5 million to get back data that was stolen in a ransomware attack last year.

Mr. Berglas said that the decision to pay depends on things like whether the institution that was hacked caught and stopped the breach in time.

An attack in November 2020 on the Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland shut down the system for three days and erased grades and lesson plans. WYPR, an NPR affiliate, said in November that the cost of fixing the damage from the attack was getting close to $10 million. The district hasn't said what was asked for or if the ransom was paid.

Some of the victims, like Florida's Broward County Public School District, the sixth largest in the country, have said they won't pay. In March 2021, hackers asked for $40 million to keep them from leaking sensitive information like Social Security numbers and financial contracts. The South Florida Sun Sentinel says that about 26,000 files were put online by cybercriminals a month later.

After paying the ransom, Lincoln College and its students tried to save the school with a last-ditch social media and fund-raising campaign, including a GoFundMe page.

But after hearing that the school would close for good on Friday, students, teachers, and graduates of Lincoln were having a hard time dealing with the loss.

Arielle Williams, who got an associate's degree in communications in 2017 and is now 26, said in a direct message on Instagram that the closing was heartbreaking.

"My college memories are so close to my heart," she said, adding that she had met many of her best friends at Lincoln. She added, "It's bittersweet that I can't go back and show my kids when I have them."

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