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By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

MyLaw outage forced last-minute final exam changes, sparked security concerns: students

File Photo by Sophia Goedert | Staff Photographer
Officials said they installed “state of the art” protections to avoid similar threats in the future and implemented ongoing testing and analysis to detect potential vulnerabilities.

GW Law students said officials’ response to a recent cyberattack on the law school’s MyLaw platform limited access to course materials and forced last-minute changes to take-home exams late last semester.

In interviews, more than 10 law students said they have started downloading course materials to their personal devices to avoid depending entirely on the MyLaw system to be more prepared in the event of future cyberattacks. University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said officials restored MyLaw on Jan. 6 and reported the attack to the FBI after student and faculty members’ names, GWIDs and GW Law email addresses were potentially compromised.

“A team of experts dedicated to restoring the best possible service to the GW Law community has worked tirelessly to serve and protect data, privacy and the ongoing mission of our law school,” Nosal said in an email.

The FBI declined to comment. AppointLink, an education software developer that owns the platform, did not return a request for comment.

Students said the data the cyberattack may have compromised were relatively insensitive, so they were not particularly concerned about the potential breach. But they said professors have been hesitant to return to the platform and have turned to alternative platforms like Westlaw, even though MyLaw is up and running again.

The Student Bar Association Senate rejected a bill last week calling on officials to disclose whether GW had a planned response to potential outages before the cyberattack. Some senators called it “unnecessary” and encouraged students to send their questions to law school officials directly.

Nathaniel Kristel, a third-year law student, said he was unable to access study materials like class presentations last semester because of the outage. Although officials have restored MyLaw this semester, he said some professors are concerned about a future outage.

“I’d say some professors were more adaptive than others,” he said. “It really depended on where they have their documents stored so if they had them on MyLaw, they wouldn’t be able to send them to students directly regardless.”

Anne Marie Bullington, a third-year law student, said during the outage students were given the option to take exams in person amid rising COVID-19 cases last month or to wait until the spring to complete the exams virtually when the MyLaw service would be restored, the latter of which Bullington decided to do.

“We had an exam that was on one of the days where they emailed us and said they hit a certain amount of positive cases, and so it was that if you didn’t feel comfortable coming in then you could delay it and take it in the spring,” she said. “I’m pretty sure if the MyLaw had been up, you would’ve been able to just download it, so now I have to take an exam in a week and a half and I’m stressed.”

The SBA created a crowdsourced Google Drive folder in December where students and faculty could upload missing documents and study materials until the platform returned online. Bullington said the folder was helpful since it provided lost documents and materials to students in large classes.

“It worked a lot better for classes with a lot of students, and people who had smaller classes where there weren’t a lot of people that maybe didn’t know that you couldn’t access it, then it was a lot harder to get those materials than it was for most other classes,” she said.

Student Association Sen. Cody Ingraham, Law-G, said students could only upload the files to the crowdsourced folder that they already happened to download before the outage.

“It was definitely frustrating especially if professors didn’t have all the materials saved to their hard drive or if the materials were in different places that the professor couldn’t access them really easily,” he said. “Long story short, it was quite a ride.”

Ingraham said he had to schedule his take-home exam last semester with the law school’s Records Office instead of using MyLaw’s automatic system.

“The way that it affected things on my end was the law school created a system where you would have to schedule your exam in advance with the records office,” he said. “Personally, I had no problems with that, and there was only one woman in the records office who was responsible for getting everyone their take-home exams. She did an incredible job doing that.”

Ingraham said he would appreciate further outreach from law school officials in the future with guidance on how to protect personal data.

“I don’t know to what extent this has happened, but I think it would be useful for the administration to have a backup plan in case this were to ever happen again with MyLaw, or if we were to move from this portal to another type of site in the future, having a backup plan would be useful,” he said.

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About the Contributor
Erika Filter, News Editor
Erika Filter is a senior majoring in international affairs from Carson City, Nevada. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editors and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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