Tennessee State, Southeastern Louisiana universities hit with cyberattacks

Two universities in Tennessee and Louisiana are struggling with cyberattacks that have crippled campus services and left students scrambling to find alternative tools.

Tennessee State University — a public historically black land-grant university in Nashville — notified its more than 8,000 students on Wednesday that its IT systems were brought down by a ransomware attack.

In a letter, the school said it shut down all internet access on campus and planned to keep systems down until at least Friday. Students will still have access to their email accounts, Zoom and campus computer labs. But the campus VPN, wireless network and external websites like Google will not be accessible. 

“We take ransomware very seriously and protecting the integrity of your data is of the upmost importance,” the university’s IT team said. “Students should contact their instructors and/or advisor by email or phone if you have issues with accessing assignments and/or assessments.”

The school is the latest HBCU struck by ransomware after several others serving minority students — like North Carolina A&T University, Florida International University and more — have been targeted. Due to longstanding funding imbalances, these schools often cannot afford the kind of network security needed to protect student and faculty information.

Southeastern Louisiana

The attack on Tennessee State was preceded by another cyberattack on Monday affecting Southeastern Louisiana University, which initially reported network issues five days ago.

On Tuesday, the university confirmed in a statement that the incident was a cyberattack. The school did not respond to questions about whether ransomware was involved but noted that it had taken the entire campus network offline “as a preventative measure.”

“We also reported the incident to the Louisiana State Police, which is conducting an investigation into this matter. We ask that everyone please continue to be patient while this work continues as the University is steadily working to restore services for the University community,” the school said. 

“Once systems return to service, you will be prompted to create a new password the first time you login to the system, and you may then return to normal usage. We apologize for any inconvenience that this incident has caused.”

The campus police department said it is unable to receive emails, and Dr. Gabe Willis, dean of student life, told students they should email professors about missed assignments and tests. He acknowledged that students may also lack internet access.

The incidents add to a startling number of attacks on U.S. K-12 schools and universities in 2023. Multiple grade schools across the country have had to cancel classes this year due to cyberattacks or ransomware. 

At least 35 colleges and universities in the U.S. were hit with ransomware in 2022, including Savannah College of Art and Design and North Idaho College. One school — Lincoln College in Illinois — was eventually forced to close due in part to the chaos caused by a ransomware attack.

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Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig

is a Breaking News Reporter at Recorded Future News. Jonathan has worked across the globe as a journalist since 2014. Before moving back to New York City, he worked for news outlets in South Africa, Jordan and Cambodia. He previously covered cybersecurity at ZDNet and TechRepublic.