(ROB ENGELAAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A New York City-based college has been hit with a ransomware attack, and hackers are demanding the school pay roughly $2 million in bitcoin to free the infected computers.
The attack struck Monroe College on Wednesday morning, causing its main website and email system to go down, according to The New York Daily News.
It’s unknown which ransomware strain struck the college or how the attack was carried out. “The priority is to understand the extent of the intrusion and to ensure that when we do get everything back up and running, it’s done in the safest possible way,” college spokeswoman Jackie Ruegger told PCMag.
The incident occurs after two Florida cities were hit with ransomware attacks that temporarily shut down municipal IT systems. In both cases, the city’s insurers decided to pay the ransoms in bitcoin, which amounted to about $500,000 and $600,000, respectively.
The $2 million ransom demand facing Monroe College is significantly higher. Last year, the insurance company Beazley Group found that the median ransomware demand was a mere $10,310. However, it isn’t unheard of for a hacker to extort an obscene amount from a victim. “The highest demand received by a Beazley client was for $8.5 million—the equivalent of 3,000 Bitcoin at the time,” the company said.
For now, Monroe College is declining to say whether it’ll pay the $2 million ransom demand. “The good news is the college is still open and functioning,” Ruegger added. The college has hired outside security experts to respond to the attack. In the meantime, the 8,000 students at the school will have to attend class without the help of the college’s online systems. That can mean printing out assignments and handing them in personally to the teacher, Ruegger said.
The FBI and cybersecurity experts (like PCMag’s Max Eddy) advise ransomware victims to never pay the hackers because doing so can embolden the attackers to strike again. There’s also no guarantee the hacker will release the infected computers even when paid. Victims hit with a ransomware strain should first look online to check whether any antivirus company may have come up with a free decryption tool to restore their computers.