Security & Fraud

College Pays Off Hackers With $28K In Bitcoin

There are some downsides to life in the digital age, as a college in the U.S. state of California recently found out the hard way.

In late December, Los Angeles Valley College found itself to be the latest victim of a ransomware attack — when malicious software is used by to block access to files until demands are met. The college’s electronic files had all been encrypted and campus email, voicemail and computer system services had been interrupted.

The hackers sent the college a ransom note demanding payment in bitcoin within seven days for a private key to regain access to the files. The Los Angeles Valley College District decided to pony up and pay the digital ransom to the tune of $28,000 in bitcoin.

Francisco C. Rodriguez, the district’s chancellor, said in a statement on Jan. 6.: “In consultation with district and college leadership, outside cybersecurity experts and law enforcement, a payment of $28,000 was made by the district. It was the assessment of our outside cybersecurity experts that making a payment would offer an extremely high probability of restoring access to the affected systems, while failure to pay would virtually guarantee that data would be lost.”

Luckily, the bet paid off. Officials reported that the hackers made good on their part of the ransom. The college’s email and other information systems have now been returned to working order. Authorities in Los Angeles are now investigating the ransomware attack.

Joseph Moreau, vice chancellor of technology at Foothill-De Anza Community College District in Silicon Valley, was quoted as saying: “Ransomware has rapidly risen, from my perspective, to be one of the foremost threats we’re facing in information technology, anywhere, let alone in higher ed.”

In 2016, some 19 academic institutions disclosed data security breaches. Hackers reportedly hit the University of Virginia, the University of Central Florida, the University of Connecticut and Michigan State University, to name a few.


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