Hacking. Disinformation. Surveillance. CYBER is Motherboard’s podcast and reporting on the dark underbelly of the internet.
An Iowa community college cancelled all classes for four days after hackers forced it to shut down parts of the school’s network and telephone system.
The hack, which appears to be ransomware, has forced the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) to resort to posting updates on Facebook, Twitter, and a barebones version of its site. The school has also asked faculty, staff, and students to avoid using Microsoft Office 365, as well as the popular online learning platform Blackboard.
DMACC announced on Thursday June 3 that it was “currently working to restore Internet service across the College,” and that classes for that day were cancelled. The college then cancelled all classes on Friday, as well as Monday, and Tuesday of this week, according to its official Facebook page.
On Wednesday, the college asked some students to come to campus for in-person classes.
“DMACC classes that include any in-person component (either fully in-person, or partially in-person) will resume and be held at their regularly scheduled times and locations,” DMACC announced on its official website, which now only includes updates about the cyberattack and its consequences to school’s activities. “For our students and faculty, this means that if any portion of your class would typically meet in-person, that portion of class will resume being held as scheduled beginning Wednesday, June 9.”
As of Wednesday, online classes are still cancelled, and will only resume “24-hours after the network is restored,” as the school wrote on its site.
Do you work or study at DMACC? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, lorenzofb on Wickr and Telegram, or email email@example.com.
“We can access the assignments but we can’t access the materials so you’re basically just doing it blind. You’re just guessing,” second-semester student Brenna Vauble told We Are Iowa
The school is in the middle of the summer semester, where there are both online and in-person classes, while “DMACC Administrators are planning to start a ‘new normal’ in college operations when fall classes resume on Aug. 25,” according to a cached version of the school’s website page on COVID-19 updates.
At the beginning of the pandemic last year, DMACC closed and cancelled in-person classes. Last summer, DMACC announced that it would offer in-person classes as well as online classes for the 2020 fall semester.
DMACC has not published details of the cyberattack, only saying on Facebook that it “required us to shut down parts of our network.”
Rob Denson, the school’s president, said in a message posted on the site that the IT department is working with “outside cyber experts” to restore service and “determine what, if any, data was compromised.” Denson added that the FBI has joined the investigation.
“To date, we have no evidence that any student or faculty information has been acquired or is at risk as a result of this incident,” he wrote.
At this point, it’s not clear if this is a ransomware attack, nor which hacking group was behind it.
Mark Clark, the college’s executive director of information solutions, responded to an email asking whether this was ransomware and other specific questions about the incident referring to the official site, and saying that “we will address individual questions as soon as we can.”
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