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(NY DAILY NEWS) — Monroe College’s computer system was hacked by someone demanding a $2 million ransom in Bitcoin, the Daily News has learned.
A hacker crippled the Bronx-based school’s computer network by encrypting its files remotely at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, authorities said.
Police sources say the attack affected each of Monroe’s campuses in Manhattan, New Rochelle and St. Lucia. Nearly 8,000 students are enrolled at the college.
The school’s website was completely inaccessible after the hack, though its Facebook page is still up.
A spokeswoman for Monroe said emails have also been compromised, but that classes remain in session. Their payroll system is handled by an outside firm and was not impacted, she said.
The school’s IT team is working on getting the computer system up and running, spokeswoman Jackie Ruegger said.
“The good news is that the college was founded in 1933, so we know how to teach and educate without these tools,” Ruegger said. “Right now we are finding workarounds for our students taking online classes so they have their assignments.”
“We are rolling up are sleeves and working to figure things out,” she said.
The school’s president, Marc Jerome, said Monroe will work to shore up its cyber security.
“We are taking very seriously,” Jerome said, “and have engaged our external experts to assist us.”
The school was told the system would be back up and running once it paid 170 Bitcoin. The digital currency is selling for about $11,530 per coin, putting the ransom at about $2 million. Bitcoin transactions are not linked to a person’s name, making it difficult to figure out who is involved.
Monroe officials have not said if the college will cough up the cash.
At the Bronx campus Thursday afternoon, students said the hack disrupted their classes because many of them take classes online. Now they are now talking to their professors about getting extensions, especially if they have term papers due.
“All the systems are down,” said student, Jeffrey Lopez. “It won’t let us log in our print our work.”
The NYPD and the FBI are part of a cybercrime taskforce looking into the attack and trying to determine if it is linked to several other hacks in Maryland and Florida.
Baltimore chose not to pay a Bitcoin ransom of about $76,000 when the city was hacked nearly two months ago. The hack has caused $18 million in damages in lost or delayed revenue and the cost to restore systems.
Two cities in Florida, Lake City and Riviera Beach paid a combined $1 million in Bitcoin as ransom to end hacks.
Security consultant Timothy Crosby told The News that hackers spend their time in cyberspace looking for vulnerable institutions, not necessarily those with big names or reputations.
“If you have an exposed service area, these guys, they’re scanning on a daily basis and sometimes they stumble on an area where there is vulnerability,” said Crosby, who works for Austin, Texas-based Spohn Security solutions, said. “And then they find their way in.”
How much Monroe is damaged by the hack, he said, will be determined in large part by its back-up security measures. The better the back-up, the less data compromised.
Despite a recent resolution by the U.S. Conference of Mayors that urges cities not to pay off cyber attackers, some victims feel they have no choice, Crosby explained.
“If they’re not at the point where they can operate again without paying, the odds are they’re going to pay it,” he said. “But they just won’t do it publicly.”
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