Columbia State’s five locations will reopen Wednesday after a computer virus brought the community college to its knees.
An employee opened an email with a virus attached Feb. 13, and it spread to the college’s communications network, President Janet Smith told The Daily Herald. No student data has been compromised, she added.
Columbia State’s campuses in Columbia, Franklin, Lewisburg, Lawrencburg and Clifton were closed Monday and Tuesday as the virus spread to the college’s communication networks, Smith said.
“Our information technology folks thought it had been contained, and by Wednesday evening, we thought all was well,” Smith said. “By Thursday night, it became active. We came in Friday, and computers became quirky.”
None of the state’s other 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology were targeted, Tennessee Board of Regents Director of Communications Richard Locker said. None have been closed in the past because of cyber attacks.
“This is the most serious thing that I am aware of,” Locker told The Daily Herald.
Smith said the virus continued to morph after being opened and has been hard to eradicate.
When students return to class Wednesday, they will not have access to campus WiFi. They can access college email through their own devices and personal WiFi.
“Some students will be taking midterms, so we will have to make accommodations about that,” Smith said. “For some, it may be more challenging than others.”
Students were told Friday not to use campus technology, but few of them knew the college was closed because of the virus. Most assumed it was for flooding over the weekend.
“Regarding the campus closing [Monday and Tuesday], why can’t you provide a clear explanation/reason? Why do we have to keep guessing what is going on?” one student wrote on Columbia State’s Facebook page.
Another responded: “I’ve heard it’s a computer issue. Friday all wireless devices had to be shut down.”
Locker said the decision to close Columbia State branches was in the interests of caution and safety.
“Because of the nature of the malware and the infection, it was a conservative move to close the campus for two days to ensure there was proper remediation,” Locker said. “The incident underscores the growing threat of such attacks on information systems of all kinds.
“Fortunately, Columbia State’s information technology staff and information security vendors and consultants were able to contain the spreading of the malware, with no breach of student data at this time.”
Students were being sent an email about the situation Tuesday afternoon, Director of Communications Amy Spears-Boyd said.
“Our information technology department has been working tirelessly with expert consultants around the clock to protect sensitive data and to eradicate the virus,” the email said.
Front-page columnist James Bennett is editor of The Daily Herald. His column mixes exclusive reporting, old-school storytelling and original commentary. He’s been a Tennessee Press Association first-place award winner for editorial writing, news reporting and public service since joining the newspaper in 2014. Contact him at [email protected]