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Central Piedmont Systems Still Down, Classes Canceled After Cyberattack

Bobby Brandon
Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0
Central Piedmont Community College has canceled online and in-person classes after a ransomware attack last week forced the shutdown of computers, phones and email.

Classes at Central Piedmont Community College in Mecklenburg County are canceled and other disruptions are continuing after a ransomware attack that forced the college to shut down its computer systems last week.

CPCC technicians discovered the attack late Feb. 10 and quickly shut down networks, phone systems and email servers.

Most classes are canceled through at least Wednesday, including all online classes. A few courses are meeting on campus, and instructors are notifying students.

Ransomware attacks are common and typically happen when a computer user clicks on an attachment or link in a bogus email. That can install software that locks up data on the computer or network. Hackers usually demand ransom in exchange for helping to unlock the files.

CPCC hasn't said exactly how this attack unfolded. College spokesperson Jeff Lowrance said so far there's no evidence that any personal data was stolen. But the attack has left the campus in chaos.

The FBI and state Department of Public Safety are investigating, as is the North Carolina Community College System Cyber Incident Response Team. Lowrance said once those investigations are done, the college will start restoring systems.

"We're hoping we're starting to see the light," Lowrance said Monday. "The investigations are still ongoing — both state and federal. Those will need to wrap up, then we'll be able to start bringing systems back online."

"We have to prioritize which ones we bring back first," he added.

Lowrance said some systems could be restored this week. But it could be a while before things are back to normal. CPCC has said it may have to rebuild damaged or compromised systems.

For now, CPCC is communicating with students and staff by text message, social media and its website.

The email and telephone outage also affects WTVI PBS Charlotte, which is owned by the college.

A similar attack in 2016 on Mecklenburg County computer systems took weeks to repair and forced the county to boost its budget for cybersecurity.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.