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Heartland Community College Budgets $1 Million For Cybersecurity After Ransom Attack

Heartland Community College sign
Flickr/Heartland Community College
Heartland Community College has created a new cybersecurity position and announced intentions to spend $1 million next budget year on computer system protections.

Heartland Community College's cybersecurity improvements continue in the wake of a ransomware attack Oct. 5 that encrypted more than 120 computer servers on the campus in Normal.

In a report to college trustees Tuesday, Heartland officials said the college has "made great strides toward adding to existing security efforts and enhancing those already in place." Trustees also received the latest accounting of costs related to the attack.

  • $190,000 to implement a new backup system (planned before the attack but moved up)
  • $60,000 additional security enhancements
  • $250,000 expenses tied to recovery to date (most of which would be reimbursed by insurance)

Heartland President Keith Cornille said the college has also planned to spend $1 million in the next budget year on further security improvements. And he said that level of expense may be a continuing item in the budget.

"For years to come we're going to have to constantly think about this as a maintenance of effort just as we do with our heating systems and our other systems throughout the college," said Cornille. "The key is to be as proactive as we can and mitigate the potential for future attacks through new systems with regard to filters for email systems that catch things quicker. More security with our hardware so we can identify exposures. The idea of working with external partners to continually scan our systems for opportunities that we may be seeing so we can get in there and fix them are all things that we will probably always do."

HCC has created a full time in-house position dedicated to cybersecurity.

Cyberattacks have become all too familiar occurrences for organizations globally, trustees were told.

"According to a report published by SonicWall, 'Almost 200 million ransomware attacks occurred in the first nine months of 2020 representing a large increase over the previous year,'" said briefing documents for the board.

Heartland has now begun to require periodic password changes for students and employees, something in place for years at Illinois State University.

And Heartland is beginning to require so-called multifactor authentication, or MFA, that involves staff and students using an app, emails, or other method to access validation codes to allow access to utilities on the college network.

"I would imagine that in time all employees are going to have to do some kind of MFA on a daily basis. If you are working remotely, we have started to implement those things," said Cornille.

MFA is also a measure Illinois State University has begun to use this year.

The extra hoops to use Heartland's systems require time and can be viewed as a hassle. Cornille said it's worth the inconvenience.

"If we are going to be secure we have to follow what the data is showing us, and the data is showing us that MFA is really a sound measure for us to take as a college to make sure we are keeping data and systems safe," said Cornille.

The college has also engaged a firewall consultant to review configurations and vulnerabilities and brought servers up to current software patches.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.