Wi-Fi was shut down at Pierce College after a cyber security breach at Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) led to a ransom payment of $28,000 to hackers to prevent the release of private information.
The cybersecurity breach, which locked out about 1,800 students and faculty, was detected on Dec. 30. Valley College was given a week to pay the amount in BitCoin or risk losing all of its data.
Erika A. Endrijonas, president of the college, said in a press release that after consulting with cybersecurity experts and LACCD leadership, the ransom was paid on Jan. 4 and a key was delivered to allow re-entry to the blocked files.
LAVC is covered by a district-wide cybersecurity insurance policy that will pay a portion of the ransom. College officials deduced that paying $28,000 would be less expensive than trying to eliminate the ransomware from the network on their own.
This incident has caused Pierce College to make changes to its systems, including backing up data and requiring Wi-Fi authentication to increase cyber security.
Pierce had an open network which made it vulnerable. Pierce College IT Committee member Wendy Bass said that Pierce’s Wi-Fi will now have requirements to go online.
“That’s one of the reasons they shut down the Wi-Fi on our campus. Our Wi-Fi had no authentication, so anyone could log into our network,” Bass said.
Faster connectivity in the Wi-Fi system can be achieved by addressing security first, Pierce College IT Committee member Clay Gediman said.
“I think right now they’re just trying to get the security part fixed, and then they’ll start looking at the other parts that they can work on to make it better connected,” Gediman said.
One component of the upgrade will be that the system will require authentication to prove that the user is a student or faculty member. Gediman said that with less people crowding the servers, the connections will likely be faster.
“One thing is that if people log in to use it, you’re not going to have all these people that are going on for free and leaching that aren’t students. That’s going to help the connections a little bit, because you’re not going to have so many people trying to connect all at once,” Gediman said.
Gediman said that he has been told that the new Wi-Fi system should be up relatively soon.
“They’re telling us the new Wi-Fi system will up in a few weeks, but they’re also having to do a lot of background stuff to make it work, and that’s taking a lot more time than they thought it would,” Gediman said.
Another measure taken to increase security online is backing up data. Bass said that IT has been pushing to backup data for a while, and since the cyber attack, the backups are finally happening.
“They’ve been discussing backups forever, and we’re finally doing it, but that was something that had been brought to the attention of our board, and our board didn’t necessarily see it as being as important as some of our IT people did,” Bass said.
Bass explained that having the data backed up could have prevented the need to comply with hackers.
“If we had backup, we could have not had to pay the ransom, and just pulled from our backup,” Bass said.
Jill Binsley, member of Pierce’s IT Committee, feels secure that the Los Angeles Community College District is taking the proper precautions to ensure cyber security.
“I am confident that cybersecurity is a top priority at Pierce and at the district level. I know they are doing everything possible to prevent another attack,” Binsley said.