Lincoln College forced to permanently shutdown following cyberattack

Photo credit: Mark Gordon - Wikimedia Commons

Ransomware is a growing concern for colleges and universities

After more than a century and a half, Lincoln College in Illinois is no more. Over the course of its history, it was able to stave off the Great Depression, the Spanish flu, and a couple of World Wars, but the wrath of COVID-19 and a cyberattack that hindered access to all of the college’s data proved to be too much for the predominantly Black college.

“Lincoln College has been serving students from across the globe for more than 157 years,” said David Gerlach, president of Lincoln College. “The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense.”

Gerlach said things were looking good up until 2019, with enrollment at Lincoln at an all-time high. But when the coronavirus hit town, recruitment, fundraising, athletics, and campus life was brought to their knees.

Added to the economic burdens brought about by the pandemic that required significant investments in technology and campus safety measures, many students decided to put college on the back burner. That put an even greater crunch on the school’s finances. Supporters of the school tried their hand at a GoFundMe campaign in hopes of raising $20 million, but the effort barely raised $2,000.

Cyberattack delivers knockout punch

The knockout punch for Lincoln came in the form of a cyberattack from Iran in December 2021, one that held the college’s computer systems hostage and made all systems required for recruitment, retention, and fundraising efforts inoperable.

By the time the school paid the ransom and got everything restored four months later, the recruitment projections showed significant enrollment shortfalls that required a transformational donation or partnership to sustain Lincoln College beyond the current semester.

“The cyberattack was just another kick in the shin,” for the struggling college, Gerlach told Forbes. 

We’re likely to hear about cyberattacks and colleges again. Cybercriminals have come to love targeting colleges and universities because, by and large, they just don’t have the cyber defenses to stave off ransomware attacks. So far this year, North Carolina A&T State University, North Orange County Community College District, the Ohlone Community College District in California, and Midland University in Nebraska have also reported ransomware attacks.

Ransomware attacks like these cost colleges an average of $112,000 in ransom payments. But that ransom payment is just a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of resolving the attack, which averages about $2.7 million per incident, according to Chester Wisniewski, a principal research scientist at security software and hardware company Sophos.

“The average cost to an organization in the private sector was $1.8 million U.S. dollars after a ransom attack,” Wisniewski told Forbes. “So it was almost a million dollars higher cost for educational institutions to recover versus a normal private sector organization.”

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