WWU Addresses Cyber Attack

December 13, 2019 | Education | Jay Wintermeyer

'Twas the first day of finals, and not a student was stirring on the Walla Walla University campus — at least when it came to submitting last-minute papers or taking online tests.

The day student final exams were scheduled to begin, Dec. 9, 2019, the university discovered ransomware on its computer network. Ransomware is a computer virus that prevents users from accessing their system or personal files and demands payment in order to regain access.

The systemwide incident disrupted student grading and testing, crashed online networks and took down the university phone system. The university responded by launching an investigation with help from a cybersecurity and forensic firm. Together they are working to secure the affected systems and bring university systems back online.

Students appear to be taking the digital attack in stride, and some are responding with humor. On Twitter, one student said, "Nothing is working, which means all my deadlines today will be pushed till tomorrow. It's a Christmas miracle."

"Though this incident was disruptive, I'm proud of how our students, faculty and staff pulled together to complete fall-quarter as scheduled," says John McVay, Walla Walla University president. "We're working carefully to restore our university systems and expect to resume classes on winter quarter's first day, Jan. 6, as scheduled."

As they work to complete the investigation, university officials are taking extra steps to further enhance the institution's existing security measures. "All organizations, including universities, are facing rapidly changing cybersecurity risks in this digital age. However, we look at the recent incident's effect on our own campus as an opportunity to affirm our commitment to security," says McVay.

In an official statement, the university says:

"Walla Walla University understands the importance of protecting the information of its students, alumni, donors, faculty and staff. We appreciate everyone's patience as we work through this incident."

At the time of this article, access to some university information systems remain affected. The university encourages students to contact their instructors about grades, registration or other class-related questions.