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Cyber attacks threaten open culture of universities

Cyber attacks

By Richard Perez-Pena

US research universities, among the most open and robust centres of information exchange in the world, are being subjected to millions of cyber attacks each week, most of them thought to be from China.

Campuses are being forced to tighten security and constrict their culture of openness.

University officials conceded some hacking attempts had succeeded, but they declined to reveal specifics other than those involving the theft of personal data such as social security numbers. They acknowledged they often did not learn of break-ins until much later, if ever, and they might not be able to tell what was taken.

”The attacks are increasing exponentially, and so is the sophistication, and I think it’s outpaced our ability to respond,” said Rodney Petersen, head of the cybersecurity program at Educause, a non-profit alliance of schools and technology companies.

”Everyone’s investing a lot more resources into detecting this, so we learn of even more incidents.”

The director of information technology policy at Cornell University, Tracy Mitrano, said detection was ”probably our greatest area of concern”.

She said that, while the largest number of attacks appeared to have originated in China, hackers had become adept at bouncing their work around the world.

The threat of hacking had forced many universities to rethink the structure of their computer networks and their open style.

The chief information security officer at Purdue University David Shaw said universities were different from corporations because they wanted to promote the free flow of information.

”The researchers want to collaborate with others, inside and outside the university, and to share their discoveries.”

Some universities no longer allowed staff to take laptops to certain countries, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington James Lewis said.

”There are some countries, including China, where the minute you connect to a network, everything will be copied … Academics aren’t used to thinking that.” (New York Times)

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