A cyber attack at Queensland’s second largest university left some students unable to receive Centrelink payments for weeks.
- The university suffered a cyber attack in December
- A range of online systems are still down
- The summer semester has been suspended
Two students at QUT have spoken to the ABC about the financial stress they suffered after a purported ransomware attack on December 22 saw the university shut down several computer systems.
Business student Nat, who asked for her last name to be withheld for privacy, had her welfare payments cut two days before Christmas.
Because of the cyber attack, she was unable to download a document from the university website proving that she was continuing her studies and still eligible for student allowance.
“All the bills, they were coming up that week. I was full-on stressing,” Nat said.
“With the rent and everything, luckily I had that saved up a little bit, but then still I wasn’t sure if I was able to get back that student allowance any time soon because I couldn’t get proof,” she said.
Another student Kate* was trying to prove to Centrelink she had changed degrees but was unable to obtain her certificate of enrolment because the student portal was down.
“Due to the cyber-security attack, I had some issues with Centrelink recognising that I was a student and was left without income for a fortnight,” she said.
“It was quite difficult because I had to pay out my rent and it got to the point where I couldn’t afford rent before the situation was fixed.”
Both students had their payments reinstated after visiting Centrelink offices.
Three weeks after the attack, during which hackers took control of QUT printers and made the machines spit out ransom notes in bulk, some university systems are still affected.
On Thursday morning some systems were restored, including Blackboard, which contains learning resources and assessment information.
An email to students on Thursday said “some limitations apply” to the website.
The email said the HiQ website, which is used for student administration, has been restored but some links were still broken.
Most summer semester units had been delayed until January 23, but now teaching activities will resume next Monday.
“Any assessment in these units will continue to be delayed until 23 January,” the university wrote in an email.
‘Weeks’ of disruption expected
QUT vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil declined to be interviewed.
On a frequently asked questions page on the QUT website, the university said it had told Centrelink about the cybersecurity incident and the “resulting delays”.
“You can request an extension with Centrelink to provide your confirmation of enrolment at a later date,” the university wrote.
QUT Student Guild president Zoe Davidson said the delays meant the summer study period would clash with semester one.
“With the postponement there will be a short overlap it seems … a couple of days to a week,” Ms Davidson said.
Ms Davidson said the cyber-attack’s effect on summer semester was causing worry among students.
“They’re not able to adequately have enough time to prepare themselves for another semester, another 13 weeks of teaching and learning,” she said.
“This clash has some massive wellbeing effects for students.
“There is a lot at stake for some students who really rely on summer semester to keep progressing with their degree.”
QUT’s website said students can withdraw from summer semester units without academic or financial penalty up until 20 January.
*Name changed for privacy reasons