Ransomware, Pandemic Behind Shutdown of Historic Lincoln College

Photo of Closed College Doors

The impact of the pandemic combined with a targeted ransomware cyberattack has devastated the small liberal arts institution Lincoln College in Lincoln, IL, beyond repair.

As a result, the 157-year-old historic U.S. college is officially closing its doors to the world on Friday, May 13, an official announcement on Lincoln College’s website says.

The Impact of COVID-19

The historic and patriotic Lincoln College ⁠— a predominantly black institution named after President Abraham Lincoln ⁠— has weathered several storms over the last 157 years of its existence. This spanned several major economic crises and World War II, to the recent global lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The effects of the pandemic hit Lincoln College in Fall 2019, cutting recruitment, fundraising, sporting events, and most importantly student enrollment. This dramatically slashed what was to be a bright period of institutional success for Lincoln College. Furthermore, the college’s financial stature was burdened by the need for new investments and campus safety measures enforced by the sudden onset of strict COVID-19 regulations.

After working “tirelessly,” to raise money, sell assets, consolidate staff and explore new location alternatives, the college decided that all efforts were in vain — particularly during an unprecedented pandemic — unless a donation in the order of $50 million somehow went through.

Ransomware Attack Dealt the Final Blow

The already struggling college then suffered a cyberattack that mercilessly crippled what was left of the institution in December 2021. This destroyed admission activities, and fundraising efforts, blocking access to all institutional data and rendering the entire institution inoperable.

“The loss of history, careers and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, president of Lincoln College said.

Gerlach told The Chicago Tribune that the attack originated from Iran, and the school had to pay an estimated $100,000 to cybercriminals to regain access to their systems.

“I couldn’t believe it. How could the same college that survived the Great Depression and the Spanish flu crumble because of COVID and a cyberattack? It just didn’t make any sense,” Alexa Redd, a freshman from Lincoln College told The Chicago Tribune.

Although the 2022 enrollment projections corrupted by the cyberattack were restored in March 2022, they displayed “significant enrollment shortfalls, requiring a transformational donation or partnership to sustain Lincoln College beyond the current semester,” the notice said.

Lincoln College is an institution among several others in Illinois that are expected to fail in the next few years, Ohio University professor Richard Vedder told The Chicago Tribune. However, too much is at stake to simply let the college perish because schools like Lincoln help economically challenged students “improve their lives,” and take them off the streets, Associate Professor/Lead Faculty for Organizational Leadership at Lincoln College remarked.

The Ramifications of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks on academic institutions were frequent during the pandemic. It is not just colleges, but even kindergarten schools through K12 were a target between 2020 to 2021. This period also saw a sharp spike in cyberattacks targeting a remote workforce.

Sometimes the purpose of a cyberattack on an academic institution is to steal intellectual property, while other times it is purely to break through the weak defenses and exploit institutions for easy ransom money. A locked-down population is a perfect opportunity for cybercrime to flourish, with everyone at home and online and systems left unattended.

Institutions like Howard University, The University of California, and several others were also victims of ransomware attacks. According to the largest insurance firm in the world Allianz, Cyberthreats are the top global risk in 2022, with ransomware dominating the 2022 threat landscape.

Not only can ransomware attacks cripple academia, but they can transcend the cyber-physical realm and even lead to the loss of human life. The more we digitally transform our data, the more we risk the fundamental aspects of our existence, like the threat of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

Tech researcher & communications specialist
Mirza has an education background in Global Communications, has worked in advertising, marketing, journalism and television over the years while living in several different countries. He is now working to consolidate news and outreach at VPNoverview.com, while in his free time he likes to work on documentary projects, read about sociology and write about world events.