SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Ozarks Technical Community College announced it was the victim of a cyber fraud incident that robbed the institution of nearly $900,000 this spring.
The college notified law enforcement authorities as soon as the fraud was discovered. Loss of the funds will not affect students, classes, or any college operations. The college never lost control of its data, and no personal information was lost.
OTC is conducting a thorough review of the incident and is continuing to cooperate with law enforcement, according to OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon, Ph.D.
“We can’t provide all of the specifics at this time,” Dr. Higdon said, “but it appears the criminals succeeded in impersonating one of our vendors online and directed payments from the college into a fraudulent account.”
Because the investigation is ongoing, law enforcement agencies have requested that OTC not disclose any details, including which agencies are involved.
“We will provide a more complete accounting of the incident as soon as we are able. Although the blame for this incident rests squarely on the criminals who committed this act, I want to assure you that we are doing everything in our power to ensure something like this cannot happen again.
“It is our hope that these criminals are swiftly brought to justice and that we are able to recover these funds. In the meantime, I want to express my profound thanks to everyone for the strong support we have received,” Dr. Higdon said.
He also pointed out his displeasure over the fact that the crime was committed against a public community college established in 1990 by a vote of Springfield residents and the support of 13 area school districts.
“This is an attack on every man, woman and child in southwest Missouri,” Higdon said. “We’re angry about it and embarrassed that it happened.”
However, there was some good news in the fact that the school’s computer system was not hacked nor was this a case of Ransomware where hackers shut down an entire system until they’re paid money.
“We’ve had other colleges in this state in the last five years who have lost control of the data and had to shut the college down,” Higdon explained. “It cost them millions of dollars. So we’re pleased that our cyber security that we teach worked well for the institution.”
Yes, ironically OTC just started a cyber security program this year. And this is just another example of why students who get a degree here will have no problem finding jobs.
“So it went from robbing trains to robbing banks to now it’s all digital where somebody from their armchair in the basement can do the same kind of crime,” said George Gibeau, OTC’s Computer and Networks Department Chair. “We’re training our students to go out and protect both the corporate and customer data and be able to do the cyber defense kind of jobs. Almost any company in town with a handful of employees is going to have an IT need. Everything is on-line these days. Just think of all the things you do like paying bills on-line, take a picture of your check with a phone and deposit it. You never have to physically send money to somebody anymore with PayPal, Venmo and all of that. So it just becomes a little more due diligence to make sure you’re sending it to the right person.”
“People need to realize there’s a lot of ways to get attacked,” Higdon added. “One way is to go through your computer system but there’s other ways.”
“Don’t click on random links that show up in your e-mail, don’t give people information over the phone,” Gibeau gave as examples. “Your bank is never going to call you and ask for your password.”
And as our society becomes increasingly dependent on the digital world, the chance of becoming a victim of a cyber crime keeps increasing.
“No one is immune and everyone should be aware,” Higdon said.
“You don’t leave your house without locking the door,” Gibeau pointed out. “So take those same precautions with your digital footprint.”
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