NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

NECC hit by cyberattack

An empty library at NECC's Haverhill campusPhoto courtesy of Kim Zappala

The library on the Haverhill campus was empty on Tuesday, March 6, as the college remained shut down due to an apparent cybertattack.

Students, faculty and staff are trying to get back on track after Northern Essex Community College was hit by an apparent cyberattack, which led to canceled classes and outages of email, Blackboard and other systems from March 3 to March 7.

On Thursday, March 2, students received an email saying that NECC would be closed March 3, at 6 a.m. through Sunday, March 5, due to proposed electrical work being done in the area that they were just made aware of. The email also said that due to this there would not be access to school emails, Blackboard and other systems, which left students unable to complete and turn in assignments as well as not be able to reach their teachers.

Over the weekend we were made aware that NECC was a victim of a cyberattack. Some were wondering why there was a lack of transparency from the school initially about the attack. According to the head of NECC Public Relations, Melissa Bouse, ” NECC was not trying to lack transparency, it was a matter of safety.”

“Whenever there is an ongoing criminal investigation, they have to be careful of what kind of information is revealed and what protections have been put in place, so other people don’t try to exploit that,” she said in an interview on Thursday. She added “You have to be careful of what you reveal and when, in case it’s (the schools’ systems) is still vulnerable.”

NECC had to close the school March 3 through March 7, which has put a strain on both students and teachers to get midterms completed before spring break. Since there was no access to Blackboard, the system the college uses for teachers and students to access and turn in class assignments, most teachers are adjusting their syllabus in order to give students the extra time they need to complete and turn in assignments.

NECC officials are working closely with both law enforcement and cybersecurity experts to investigate the cyberattacks.

“The college is conducting a full systems audit to determine exactly what systems may have been affected and what impact, if any, there is on students and employees’ information,” NECC said in a statement. “At this time, the College has no forensic evidence that this incident resulted in the unauthorized access to or acquisition of personally identifiable information. In the event that the investigation determines that personally identifiable information was compromised, appropriate notification will be made, including contacting impacted individuals directly with guidance and next steps”

NECC’s priority was to “try and keep the systems safely running to minimize the interruptions to students,” said Bouse.

“We are still working through details and continuing to put protections in place,” the school said in a statement on Monday.

It is still unclear what the hackers were trying to obtain, but it might have just been a test to see if they could get away with it before trying to hack bigger institutions for financial gain, Bouse said.

NECC has not been the only local school to be a victim of a cyberattack. Two years ago the Haverhill Public Schools was a victim of  a ransomware attack that shut down remote learning, email, telephones and other systems and forced cancellation of classes, according to WHAV.

Students should change all their passwords as well as monitor their credit. It is also important to not open emails from outside sources they are unfamiliar to.

Not much else is known yet since there is still an ongoing investigation. Hopefully we will be made aware of more information in the coming weeks.