Cyberattack Darkens Kansas State University, Network Disruptions Rampant

  • By Steven
  • Jan 19, 2024

Kansas State University

Kansas State University (K-State) is below Tuttle Creek Lake in northeast Kansas. The university serves 20,000 students, employs a complex faculty of emeritus, postdocs, and graduates, and offers over 50 programs. On Tuesday (January 16th, 2024), K-State published a statement concerning the disruption of some of its services; hours later, a preliminary investigation determined the cause of the disruptions came from a cybersecurity event. 

How Did the Attack Occur? 

It is unclear how the threat actors made the event possible; however, subsequent investigations should uncover this and more information. Based on the afflicted systems, the threat actor could have garnered access via a phishing scheme. If they had obtained network credentials, they could have moved laterally across the university systems—creating each disruption before jumping. Additionally, this would account for the criminal’s access to connected system elements. 

What Information May be Viewed or Stolen? 

The event significantly impacted K-state’s network and some connected elements. One of these elements was the university’s virtual private network (VPN); during this, students and faculty using the network may have had their data decrypted or unprotected while on the internet. K-State’s Today emails were also disrupted, potentially exposing the emails of all associates who receive those blasts. K-State’s Canvas platform (used for coursework and classroom announcements) and Mediasite profile (used for video resources) also had disruptions; if these system elements were compromised, it could have exposed the data of students, researchers, faculty, and associates. 

How Did Kansas State University React to the Breach? 

Officials at K-State reacted quickly to the threat, isolating the impacted areas of the network. Currently, the disrupted systems remain offline. They will stay offline until K-State’s cyber experts finish investigating the event. Additionally, K-State’s threat response includes severing shared drives and printers. Concerning threat continuity, downing these shared services is essential; it ensures the cybercriminal cannot creep into side doors to launch another attack when the systems return to normal. 

What Will Become of the Stolen Information? 

We do not know if any data elements became exposed in this event. Most likely, the threat actor gained some personal data, like names and contact information; however, elements beyond that are speculative. The more concerning aspect of this breach is the disruption of K-State’s VPN. Most high-level VPNs offer a security aspect called a “kill switch”; if the network goes down, the user is immediately disconnected from the internet, protecting their data. However, if the university had not implemented this security measure, users would have been exposed to the internet without protection. If this is the case, users’ private data could be compromised. 

What Should Affected Parties Do in the Aftermath of the Breach? 

Although investigations are ongoing, university associates should use caution moving forward when interacting with people online. Phishing schemes pose a significant risk to all associates, especially those who request account details. Additionally, users should strive not to use the university’s guest wifi options; any publicly available wireless connection puts a user at risk for data retention. Thus, they should avoid accessing personal accounts unless they are on a private, protected network. Lastly, associates must report suspicious events within their accounts; until investigations are complete, anyone may be in danger of data misuse and its consequences.

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