Lincoln College Shuts Permanently After Ransomware Attack

Lincoln College, a private college in the US state of Illinois, is to close its doors permanently after 157 years since its foundation.

The further education establishment was founded in 1865, and it survived multiple disasters, including a major campus fire in 1912, the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, the World Wars, and the 2008 global financial crisis.

But a ransomware attack in December was so damaging, that the college announced that it will shut down permanently on Friday 13 May 2022.

Lincoln College attack

The ransomware attack was the final straw after two years of struggle for the institution caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Lincoln College has notified the Illinois Department of Higher Education and Higher Learning Commission of permanent closure, effective May 13, 2022,” said the notice on the college’s website. “The Board of Trustees has voted to cease all academic programming at the end of the spring semester.”

“The institution experienced record-breaking student enrollment in Fall 2019, with residence halls at maximum capacity,” it said. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic dramatically impacted recruitment and fundraising efforts, sporting events, and all campus life activities.”

“The economic burdens initiated by the pandemic required large investments in technology and campus safety measures, as well as a significant drop in enrollment with students choosing to postpone college or take a leave of absence, which impacted the institution’s financial position,” it said.

“Furthermore, Lincoln College was a victim of a cyberattack in December 2021 that thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data, creating an unclear picture of Fall 2022 enrollment projections,” it said.

The college said that the ransomware attack rendered all systems required for recruitment, retention, and fundraising efforts inoperable. The attack however did not expose any personal identifying information.

The college fully restored its systems in March 2022, but it said the projections displayed “significant enrollment shortfalls, requiring a transformational donation or partnership to sustain Lincoln College beyond the current semester.”

Undeniable grief

“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.”

“Though we are experiencing undeniable grief and sadness, we find comfort in knowing Lincoln College has served generations of alumni who have undoubtedly impacted our world,” said Gerlach.

The institution said it has worked tirelessly to strengthen its financial position through fundraising campaigns, selling assets, consolidating employee positions, and exploring other alternatives.

Unfortunately, these efforts did not create long-term viability for Lincoln College in the face of the pandemic.

Educational attacks

Lincoln College is not the only educational establishment to have suffered devastating ransomware attacks.

In October 2021 the University of Sunderland admitted that a cyberattack caused “extensive IT issues”, that led to the cancellation of all online classes.

In March last year email access for 37,000 students was cut off by a ransomware attack affecting a London-based group of schools (Harris Federation).

The UK education sector was also hit by a wave of ransomware attacks in August and September 2020.

A ransomware incident affecting University College London caused significant disruption in 2017, encrypting shared and networked files belonging to the university.

In 2016 SentinelOne revealed that British universities are being actively attacked by ransomware hackers.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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