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Cyberattacks against colleges are on the rise, according to a recent report from credit agency Fitch Ratings, which notes increases in the number and severity of such attacks since 2020. The spike comes at a time when institutions are already under financial stress

The report notes that sensitive data such as intellectual property and personally identifiable information make institutions of higher education appealing targets for attacks, which are often carried out by hostile foreign powers. Citing data from the cybersecurity firm BlueVoyant, Fitch reports that more than 200 universities have publicly disclosed they were the victims of cyberattacks that stole research data and intellectual property in the last two years.

Though industrial and defense technology information is the primary focus of such attacks, the report notes that medical and biotechnology research are increasingly being targeted.

Ransomware attacks—instances where hackers demand financial payment to turn over stolen data—against higher ed institutions doubled through 2020, according to data cited in the report.

Recent examples reported by Inside Higher Ed include a ransomware attack on Kellogg Community College last week that temporarily shuttered all five campuses. Similarly, a cyberattack on Lincoln College that occurred in December 2021, coupled with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, was cited among the reasons institution decided to close.