University of Winnipeg rebuilding services after cyber attack

Virtually all web services impacted by targeted criminal data breach

A cyber attack on the University of Winnipeg has resulted in a significant outage of web services.

Leigh Lugosi

University of Winnipeg (U of W) staff are working “day and night” to restore the school’s critical web services following what they’re calling a criminal cyber attack they discovered on Sunday, March 24. In the meantime, it’s clear that the outages will have significant repercussions for U of W students and faculty.

U of W classes were cancelled on Monday, March 25, when the school announced that internet and other online services would be experiencing a complete outage.

On Tuesday, on-campus internet was partially restored via a temporary wifi network. But U of W web services, including its learning management system Nexus, the online registration portal WebAdvisor, Colleague and VPN remain offline. The school announced that the outage had been caused by a “cyber incident” and that police were involved.

The university hosted a virtual town-hall event via Zoom at 4 p.m. on Wednesday to provide updates, address ongoing concerns and answer questions from the community.

One thousand people attended (the maximum allowed by Zoom) and submitted hundreds of questions to president Todd Mondor, provost and vice-president academic Pavlina Radia and Technology Solutions Centre (TSC) chief information officer Kim Benoit. Questions were moderated by associate vice-president Danielle Dunbar and vice-president of research and innovation Jino Distasio.

During the town hall, Mondor explained that the university took all of their systems offline after discovering the security breach to cut off access by the threat actor. He said that TSC staff have been working “around the clock” to fully understand the consequences of the breach and prevent readmittance of the threat actor. The university does not believe that any information was lost.

“Our objective is to have some critical services restored by early next week,” Benoit told the town hall. Radia acknowledged that, since many students don’t have access to their emails, the university will communicate with students through its website, the UW Safe App and social media, with FAQs on the U of W’s website being updated regularly.

As a result of the outages, the end of the academic year has been extended from April 5 to April 12, though Mondor emphasized that this extension isn’t mandatory. Individual instructors will decide whether to make use of the extension. The exam period has also been moved and will run from April 18 to May 2.

Radia acknowledged that some students may have already made travel or employment plans based on the old date, asking instructors to “exercise compassion and flexibility” when dealing with students, adding, “We do recognize that the extension is not going to work for everybody.”

In addition to cutting off access to course materials via Nexus, the outage has also impacted registration for spring courses via WebAdvisor, which was already underway, as well as access to transcripts. The library remains open, and eResources are available on campus but can’t currently be accessed off campus. Campus printing is also down.

Acknowledging that the lack of transcript access may impact grad-school applications for some students, Radia assured town-hall participants that the U of W is making accommodations.

“We are ready to issue a letter as an institution basically highlighting why there will be a delay in transcripts, and we have good relationships with other institutions, so that shouldn’t be a problem,” Radia said.

There is currently a “Campus services outage: updates and FAQ” banner atop the home page of Click “more information” to access regular updates, browse FAQs and learn how to access the services you need during the outages.

Published in Volume 78, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 28, 2024)

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