KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Pellissippi State Community College officials are still working to get to the bottom of a ransomware attack that left students scrambling in the middle of final exams.
At the Hardin Valley campus, students talked about how this has been impacting them.
“I’ve gotten on multiple times yesterday when I was at home and it just wouldn’t let me log in or anything,” Nick Hughes said. “It’s like this account is not active or something.”
“It makes it hard because it will, like, shut you out and it won’t let you check, even on the app that we use,” said Raniyah Groden of using the Brightspace platform this week.
Groden said while only one of her finals was online, she also isn’t able to check her final grades because of the attack.
Another student said the attack is starting to cost him financially. Mauricio Sanchez said because he can’t use the school’s Wi-Fi and his Wi-Fi at home isn’t great, he’s been using up data.
“I had to use my hotspot, which was my data,” Sanchez said. “I actually stopped doing my review guide yesterday because it gave me a warning about my hotspot.”
Students said they’ve been encouraged to log onto Brightspace and finish their work, but not on the campus’s network.
Cybersecurity experts said there is a lot more than finals and grades these students need to be worried about ahead of winter break.
Bidgitte Mase, the vice president of Cyber and Technology Solutions with Boston Government Services, said hackers target schools and universities knowing there is important information being stored by the institutions.
“You know that if somebody is attending a university their Social Security (number) is being collected,” Mase said. “That’s part of the overall process and there’s a financial component to that, too.”
Mase said this is why everyone needs to always be backing up their electronic information.
“Your information at some point is going to be compromised,” Mase said. “Just being aware of it on front end and making sure that you can stop something before something bad happens.”
For Paul Caiazzo, the chief information security officer with cybersecurity firm Avertium, said schools and businesses have to be prepared or face paying a ransom to their hackers.
“If your back is up against the wall and you really are not prepared to deal with the ransomware attack through restoring from backups or something like that, chances are pretty good you’re going to have to pay,” he said.
Both experts said people can use any of the three credit bureaus to freeze their credit reports for free in the event of a ransomware attack. That would notify the person if someone else is trying to get in or is using stolen information, like Social Security numbers.
Pellissippi State officials said as of Wednesday afternoon they didn’t know if any personal information had been compromised. They added they were working with law enforcement officials as they investigate the attack. They also did not disclose how much the ransom was or if they were going to pay it.
College officials also posted an update to Facebook. In the update, they announced entrance exams for Pellissippi State would be postponed to January. They also shared commencement would take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10.