University’s Response to July Ransomware Attack

Julia Barton ® Staff Writer |

A ransomware cyber attack at a South Carolina-based data management company resulted in the loss of private information from Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Foundation.

The MSU Foundation had contracted with Blackbaud, a company that was hit with ransomware attacks between February and May. The company notified MSU of the breach in July, and MSU notified the university community of the breach in December. The MSU Foundation used Blackbaud to store fundraising information.

The cyber criminal who hacked Blackbaud’s system attempted to lock the users information and data until a ransom was paid. According to a statement issued by the university, breached MSU Foundation data may have included: country of birth, gender, last four digits of social security number, marital status, birth date, TechID, high school and years of attendance, ethnicity, and status as a first-generation college student, contact information, dates of birth, demographic data, philanthropic interests and donation history. 

“We take this very seriously and have spent months investigating this and making sure we knew what exactly was affected,” Michael Menne, chief information security officer at the University stated.

Blackbaud said it had regained access to the breached data after paying the ransom to the attackers. Blackbaud also stated it had the cyber attackers remove the information stolen from them with a strong belief they have no reason to believe that any of the data breached went further than this specific incident and cyber criminal.

Current students and those who had graduated in the fall semester of 2020 were not affected. 

Thomas Shelby, a freshman at MNSU, said, “Cyber attacks can be so dangerous especially now with everyone putting their information onto the internet through social media and other forms.”

“I think anonymous hackers are the most dangerous because no one knows the purpose and intentions of what they want,” Ahmed Abbasi, freshman at MNSU stated.

Information that may have been taken is information that is mostly available to the public already such as phone numbers, email, address, and name. The only private non-public data that may have been leaked is date of birth. 

“Social security numbers and banking information were not contained within the breached Blackbaud system. Therefore, we can confirm that your social security number, credit card or bank account information were not breached,” stated under the Blackbaud Security Incident on the MNSU website.

MNSU continues to work with Blackbaud to ensure the safety of the Foundation’s data security and privacy in hope these types of incidents will remain limited or not at all. 

MNSU was not the only Minnesota state college affected by this data breach. South Central College was also part of the ransomware data breach.

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