Ransomware Attack, COVID-19 Force College to Close — Permanently

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Lincoln College, a 157 year-old liberal arts school located in rural Illinois, has permanently closed its doors — succumbing to a disabling hit to its finances from a ransomware attack in 2021 and hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The college, which the U.S. Department of Education lists as a predominantly black institution, prides itself on having survived a number of previous calamities, including the economic crisis of 1887, a major fire in 1912, the flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, two World Wars and the 2008 financial crisis.

Ransomware Attack Cripples Data Visibility

Still, the college could not overcome the double whammy to its recruitment and fundraising efforts, sporting events, and all campus life activities from the pandemic and a December 2021 ransomware attack that disrupted admissions and hampered access to systems and data. Lincoln’s enrollment is roughly 900 undergraduate students and the average annual tuition is just shy of $18,000.

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

Ultimately, it became too difficult for the college to project fall 2022 admissions, according to an announcement on its website. The ransomware attack, in particular, levied a financial blow that the college could not overcome, officials said. “All systems required for recruitment, retention, and fundraising efforts were inoperable. Fortunately, no personal identifying information was exposed,” the school said. The pandemic also forced Lincoln to seek large investments in technology and campus safety and combined with a drop in enrollment from students postponing college or taking a leave of absence prompted the college to “cease all academic programming.”

Lincoln said it had “worked tirelessly” to strengthen its financial position through fundraising campaigns, selling assets, consolidating jobs and other means but “these efforts did not create long-term viability in the face of the pandemic.”

Ransomware Attacks vs. Colleges, Universities and Schools

Lincoln is one of more than 1,000 schools, including 26 colleges and universities, that were victimized by malware attacks in 2021, according to security specialist Emsisoft. A total of 88 education sector organizations were impacted by ransomware, including 62 school districts, 26 colleges and universities and 1,043 individual schools. Data was stolen in at least 44 of the 88 incidents, resulting in sensitive information relating to both employees and students being released online.

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