Historically black Lincoln College shutting down for good after ransomware attack   

by mcardinal

Matt Bush, FISM News


Lincoln College in central Illinois is closing down after more than 150 years of operation, citing “significant challenges from COVID-19 and complications stemming from a recent cyberattack.” 

The U.S. Department of Education designated Lincoln College as a “predominantly black institution,” and according to the Lincoln Heritage Museum, it is the only college “named for Abraham Lincoln while he was still living, located in the only town to be named for Abraham Lincoln prior to his presidency.” The school opened in 1865.

According to a letter on the school’s website, Lincoln College has notified the Illinois Department of Higher Education and Higher Learning Commission that the school would be permanently closed as of May 13, 2022, and that the School’s Board has voted to cease all academic programming at the end of the Spring Semester. 

Having any college shut down is difficult for everybody involved. Students have to find new schools. Staff members have to find new jobs, and there are transfer and records issues that come along with that as well. Lincoln College is one of the few rural predominantly black institutions in America, which makes this loss even more difficult.

The forced closing of Lincoln College also shines a light on a growing issue in America and around the world: cybersecurity attacks. While COVID-19 is mentioned as one of the factors in the closing, it seems clear that the school would have survived had it not been for the ransomware attack.

In December of 2021, Lincoln College was the victim of a cyber-attack. According to the school’s website, the attack “thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data, creating an unclear picture of Fall 2022 enrollment projections. All systems required for recruitment, retention, and fundraising efforts were inoperable.” The attack was not resolved until March of 2022, three months later.

Ransomware is a type of malware that either blocks access to or threatens to publish data from a computer system, usually by encrypting it until the victim pays a ransom fee to the attacker. Ransomware is expensive to protect against, but it can be devastating to have to repair a computer system after an attack, and the ransoms asked for are usually very high.

2021 saw some high-profile ransomware attacks, including the Colonial Pipeline, Acer, JBS USA, and CNA Financial. According to an article from techtarget.com, the education sector is the No. 1 ransomware target, including private schools, colleges and universities, and even public-school systems. As the education system had to make a dramatic shift to online and remote learning at the start of the COVID pandemic, cybersecurity methods could not keep up, leaving them vulnerable to increased attacks, such as the one on Lincoln College.

An FISM story from last May highlighted some of the security issues posed by ransomware attacks as they continued to increase after COVID-19.

Here are some recent numbers reported by techtarget.com:

  • Ransomware attacks doubled in frequency in 2021 and accounted for 10% of all cybersecurity breaches.
  • 37% of global organizations reported some form of ransomware attack in 2021.
  • There was a 62% increase in ransomware incidents in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020.    

The outlook for 2022 remains grim, with cybersecurity attacks predicted to increase as corporations and individuals continue to move more and more information online. It is vital for companies and individuals to take steps to protect against them.

Lincoln College had survived many other threats in the past, including “the economic crisis of 1887, a major campus fire in 1912, the Spanish flu of 1918, the Great Depression, World War II, the 2008 global financial crisis, and more.”