Cyberattack Halts Lessons at Howard University

Cyberattack Halts Lessons at Howard University
A young man reads on Howard University campus, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Washington. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

Howard University has been forced to suspend online classes for a second day as federal and local authorities continue to investigate a ransomware attack first detected at the school on Friday.

While online and hybrid courses remain suspended, in-person courses would resume Wednesday, Howard said, adding efforts were underway to set up alternative wi-fi on campus. The school said its network was intentionally shut down to guard against potential attacks after IT workers detected a burst of suspicious activity.

“Based on the investigation and the information we have to date, we know the University has experienced a ransomware cyberattack,” Howard said.

Classes at the historically Black research university had been cancelled on Tuesday as it wrestled with what it called a “highly dynamic situation.” The priority, Howard said, was to protect “sensitive personal, research and clinical data.”

Howard said it had seen no evidence of any personal information being accessed or stolen, but advised the investigation was early and ongoing. The FBI and local Washington, DC, authorities are both working with the school, it said, alongside private forensics experts.

No details were available at this time regarding the sophistication and origin of the cyber threat.

Students should expect to receive daily emails at around 2 p.m. local time about any potential disruptions on campus. The deadline to drop or add courses will also be extended, Howard said.

The White House and FBI had warned in advance of the Labour Day weekend of potential ransomware attacks, saying while no specifics threats were known, a number of high-profile attacks have coincided with holidays in the past. “Indeed, a long weekend can sometimes make attackers feel they have extra time to navigate in a network before they are detected,” Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor, told reporters Thursday.

The attack at Howard reportedly came Friday as the school was honouring alumnus Chadwick Boseman, star of 42 (2017) and Black Panther (2018). Boseman died last August at the age of 43 after a years-long struggle with colon cancer. The university’s fine arts building has been renamed for actor, whom the school said “left an immeasurable legacy for then next generation.”