Michigan restores internet after two-day security threat shutdown

Start-of-year outage affects 120,000 students, faculty and staff at major US institution with top cybersecurity programme

August 31, 2023
Discarded computers
Source: iStock

The University of Michigan said it had mostly restored internet services after a two-day shutdown at the start of the academic year due to an undisclosed security threat.

Michigan, one of the US’ highest-ranked public university systems, shut down its computer systems over the weekend, creating opening-week havoc for about 65,000 students and 54,000 faculty and staff at its three campuses.

Such threats and attacks have become commonplace in higher education, as in wider society. Nearly two-thirds of colleges and universities worldwide are hit annually by some kind of ransomware attacks, according to a survey last year by Sophos, a UK-based cybersecurity company.

The incident at Michigan was especially jarring, given the institution’s size and research prowess, which includes one of the nation’s top-ranked cybersecurity programmes.

“The loss of internet access and other business functions across the University of Michigan community cast an unfortunate cloud over an otherwise sunny and glorious start to the academic year,” Michigan’s president, Santa Ono, says in a note to the university community.

The service outage was most pronounced on Michigan’s main campus in Ann Arbor and its regional Dearborn campus. It had minor effects on the Flint campus and no effect on the university’s hospital system, which suffered its own cyberattack in January.

Professor Ono said university staff and other authorities were investigating the security threat that prompted it to shut down its internet systems but offered no other details. “We are not able to share any information that might compromise the investigation,” Professor Ono and Ravi Pendse, the university system’s chief information officer, say in a campus note.

Classes, which began this week for the autumn semester, generally met as usual. But the loss of internet service created a series of other complications and adjustments, including staff either working from home when they’re usually on campus, or coming to campus while normally at home.

The university also waived late fees in such areas as class registration, and warned of possible delays in distributing financial aid funds. Campus officials even noted that workers would manually lift gates in parking areas to allow for vehicle entries and exits.

“Faculty, staff and students rose to the occasion,” Professor Ono and Dr Pendse say.


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