As students headed into the Labor Day weekend, Howard University broke the distressing news of a potential cyberattack, putting student’s personal information at risk and bringing unforeseen class cancellations.
Enterprise Technology Services, the company that provides IT services for Howard students and faculty, announced that the networks were currently down on Sept. 3 in an email to students. This initial outage hit VPNs, and more importantly the Howard University website.
From there, things seemed to take a turn for the worse. On Monday Sept. 6 the Howard Office of the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer broadcasted to their student body and faculty that “unusual activity” had been discovered on the University network.
Frank Tramble, VP of Communications and Chief Communications Officer spoke on how online attacks have become a pressing issue in recent weeks.
“We’ve seen a turn of ransomware and other cyberattacks among all universities … Unfortunately this isn’t something that is specific to only Howard. This is something that many universities have had to deal with along the way,” said Tramble.
According to the email with the subject line, “Ransomware Cyberattack Update,” the peculiar activity is under investigation. The University made the decision to turn off the wifi campus wide to prevent the attacker from retrieving personal information.
It was communicated that there are currently no indications that any tampering with personal information has occurred which has been a prominent concern for many. The email went on to advise students to cease making any new accounts using their Howard email address, and to refrain from clicking links from any unverified senders in order to stop any more access being granted to cyberattackers.
More significantly, this cyberattack caused a campus-wide closure, leaving the campus open to essential workers only. The decision was made to cancel all in-person classes on Tuesday Sept. 7, and all online classes for Wednesday, Sept. 8. However, the most disruptive ramification of this network attack was the sudden deactivation of the Howard campus wi-fi.
This unprecedented advisory comes at the start of the University’s mere third week of classes. After classes being completely virtual for the 2020-21 school year, students were eager to be finally let on campus after the implementation of a vaccine mandate. This semester has been conducted in a hybrid fashion, with students experiencing an intermix of both in-person and virtual classes.
The virtual aspect of both online and face-to-face classes has now proved to be especially challenging, considering Howard’s campus is no longer providing its students with free wifi services. Even with the in person class structure, many professors have still required their students to submit assignments on Blackboard, and keep up with virtual learning services such as Achieve or ALEKS. This disturbance has pushed many students to complete their work at off-campus sites that provide public wifi. These places include locations such as Potbelly, Starbucks, Chipotle, and Subway located on Georgia Ave.
In the past few days, these establishments have been filled to the brim with Howard students, either studying, completing homework, or turning in assigned work. Thamarre Laroche and Ashleigh Laroche, both freshmen criminology majors are prime examples of students who have been negatively impacted by the campus-wide outage.
“With the current hardships that we’re facing with the cyberattack happening in the school, as a student, it has really shifted my perspective on my study routines and my habits,” said Ashleigh. “It’s definitely been much more of a struggle to actually get work done.”
Though these off-campus restaurants may seem like a reliable alternative, their operating hours have been limited to students, especially those that only have time to study at night, a time in which establishments are usually closed. Students have pointed out these network issues are coming at an especially inconvenient time, as the holiday weekend leaves a minimal amount of businesses open.
Though online classes have been cancelled for the first three days of the week, some students believe that more extensive accommodations must be put in place for this particular incident.
“In terms of the teachers I want to see more compassion, and more understanding on behalf of the students,” said Thamarre concerning the University’s response. “In regards to the administration I would like to see more preparedness, being more responsive to the students. Just being straightforward when things like this occur.”
The events of the weekend and early this week have certainly left many students and faculty feeling wary of the safety of their personal information. Enterprise Technology Services has promised timely updates every day at 2pm.
For students that are in need of a place to access free wifi, these locations are easily accessible:
● Potbelly: 2301 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
● Starbucks: 2225 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20059
● Whole Foods: 967 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
● Sankofa Video, Books, and Café: 2714 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
● Shaw Neighborhood Library: 1630 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
● Compass Coffee: 1921 8th St NW #100, Washington, DC 20001