brcc_20th_anniversary405.

Governors Building, center, built for Baton Rouge Community College's inception almost 20 years ago, seen with Louisiana Building, left, and Magnolia Library & Performing Arts Pavillion, right, both added later, seen Thursday, August 16, 2018.

Two days before commencement ceremonies, Baton Rouge Community College leaders learned that its computers were cyberattacked by ransomware.

Computers at the college with about 8,500 students started acting up. The servers were shut down and the Louisiana State Police Cyber Crime Unit was called in, said Quintin D. Taylor, chief public affairs officer for the Louisiana’s Community and Technical Colleges, the system that oversees BRCC.

State Police investigators collected evidence from the BRCC network and confirmed Wednesday afternoon a cyber intrusion and ransomware, he said.

"Representatives from the Office of Technology Services are assisting BRCC with any necessary network restoration efforts," Taylor said. "The investigation remains ongoing at this time. It is important to note that the college did not pay a ransom, and is not aware of any data loss."

No personal information on students, staff and faculty were ever in danger of being breached, Taylor said, as such data is kept in separate computers operated by the LCTCS system. The Louisiana Cybersecurity Commission, State Police and others are available to help local agencies when cyber attacks are suspected.

Classes have ended for the fall semester and no students were on campus, said Kizzy Payton, BRCC's spokeswoman. When the computers started acting up, technical personnel were able to take the servers offline with little fuss or impact.

Fall semester graduation will take place as scheduled, this Friday beginning at 10 a.m. in the BRCC Gymnasium. Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation & Development, is the featured speaker for the ceremony.

"Nothing is impacting our commencement," Payton said. 

“Presently, the situation is being contained," interim chancellor Willie Smith wrote in a memo released to campus personnel. "The investigation remains ongoing at this time, and the IT Department will be sharing additional information regarding cyber security efforts and the restoration of individuals PCs."

Initially tech personnel were unsure if BRCC’s computers had been hacked as the state’s system was last month. No ransom note was found, Payton said. But out of an abundance of caution the college’s computer servers were taken down to allow technicians to carefully check programming and determine what caused the alarms to go off. The State Police were then called in.

Students can still access email accounts through a roundabout method and the remaining grades from the last semester are being entered manually, she said. The only task slowed by the computers being offline is enrollment. Payton said most of the students had already enrolled for the Spring semester. For those remaining, the enrollment procedure is taking more time, but it's being accomplished.

Last month, technicians found state government’s computer systems had been attacked with malware that threatened to lock users out of state computers unless a ransom was paid. The state paid no ransom.

In an all-hands on deck situation, technicians shut down computer servers while the Office of Technology Services, Louisiana National Guard, State Police, LSU and other experts went over the entire system looking to see if the malware had spread. Technicians then recopied the programs onto tens of thousands of state computers. Most state agencies were offline for less than a week.

But the Office of Motor Vehicles has 40-year-old equipment and has more daily interactions with the public than most of the rest of state government combined. OMV was unable to process drivers’ licenses and car registrations for about two weeks. Two OMV offices were still closed on Wednesday.

 


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.