MSU refuses to pay undisclosed ransom to hackers

Recent intrusion limited to Physics and Astronomy Department

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June 3 — Officials at Michigan State University will not pay a ransom recently demanded by hackers that are threatening to publish a trove of stolen university records online.

An email update was sent to students today from Melissa Woo, MSU’s chief information officer.

“Our information security and IT teams are working around the clock with law enforcement to put measures in place to clean the affected devices and return them to useful service,” she said. “This reinforces the need to take precautions and be aware of risks when working online.”

MSU officials announced last week that the university had been targeted by a ransomware attack where hackers threatened to publish sensitive student records and financial documents. Woo said today the intrusion was isolated to servers and workstations within MSU’s physics and astronomy department, all of which have been turned offline to prevent any potential exposure.

“We have also started to identify some of the information that was compromised and we will share more information about what was compromised as it is available,” Woo added. “Additionally, we will reach out directly to any individuals who may be impacted.”

The operators of NetWalker ransomware, sometimes referred to as Mailto, announced they had infected the MSU network and gave university officials a week to pay an undisclosed ransom demand to decrypt their files, according to recent reports from MLive as reported by ZDNet.

Woo also said with guidance from law enforcement, no ransom will be paid to anyone.

Students and staff should avoid risks like the possibility of phishing emails, creating effective passwords, using two-factor password authentication on devices and accounts whenever possible, and deleting files and data when you are done using them, Woo cautioned.

“We recognize that no matter how isolated these incidents are, they cause worry among our students, faculty, staff and the community at large,” Woo said. “While we may be limited in the information we can share to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation, our commitment to you is that we will keep you informed along the way and share facts as we can.”

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