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University Issues Passwords by Hand to 38,000 Students and Staff After Cyber Attack

A German university is going 'old school' and issuing new passwords for the email accounts of all 38,000 of its students and staff ... by hand, leading to the unusual sight of people queuing 'around the block' on the university campus.

The Justus Liebig University (JLU) in the northern Germany town of Gie├čen was forced to take the measures after what the university has referred to as a 'suspected cyber attack' by unknown malware.

The university's network was taken down on December 8 and all computers were isolated from each other and disconnected from the internet. Once this was done, the process of scanning each computer could begin, using anti-virus software on USB sticks.

IT staff thought two scans would be necessary: the first with current anti-virus software and a second for the new malware. However, over the weekend of Dec 14-15, it was discovered that the scan for the new malware could be combined with the anti-virus software.

"This should make the second wave of scans at the JLU considerably easier," said the university in a statement on its website. Those scans were due to start on December 18 and IT staff have made 1,200 USB sticks available.

As an added precaution, the university computing center decided to issue new passwords for all 38,000 JLU email accounts. However, the university was unable to do this online because it had to comply with "legal requirements" of the German National Research and Education Network (DFN) which states that, in this case, JLU students and staff must obtain their new passwords in person from the university's IT staff.

The university says the current emergency is expected to last several weeks but hopes to "restore email communication skills for all members and members of the JLU before the Christmas break."

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