Known for their knowledge-sharing and openness, research universities in the United States are being forced to beef up security after a recent spike in cyberattacks that shows no signs of slowing down.
Of the millions of weekly hacking attempts universities deal with every week, most are believed to be from China and the successful hacks have involved the stealing of Social Security Numbers. However, because hackers are able to move their work all over the globe, it's hard to know their exact country of origin or whether they are governmental or private, university officials say.
Defending against such attacks, and protecting valuable research, is difficult as schools often don't realize they've been hacked, or what information has been pilfered, until much later.
"[That was] probably our greatest area of concern, that the hackers’ ability to detect vulnerabilities and penetrate them without being detected has increased sharply,” director of information technology policy at Cornell University Tracy B. Mitrano told the New York Times.
However, despite the challenges, universities are fighting back.
In addition to upgrading computer security systems and working with the FBI to improve security, some universities are using smaller vaults guarded by data encryption to store their most sensitive information. Professors from some schools are also banned from bringing their laptops to countries deemed a cybersecurity threat, something that goes against teachers' usual practices of sharing and collaboration.
“There are some countries, including China, where the minute you connect to a network, everything will be copied, or something will be planted on your computer in hopes that you’ll take that computer back home and connect to your home network, and then they’re in there,” James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the New York Times. “Academics aren’t used to thinking that way.”
But with schools getting thousands of cyberattacks each day–the University of Wisconsin gets 90,000-10,000 from China daily–it looks like U.S. universities' open culture will continue to become more closed as they struggle to contain this threat.
“The attacks are increasing exponentially, and so is the sophistication, and I think it’s outpaced our ability to respond,” Rodney J. Petersen, head of the cybersecurity program at Educause, told InTheCapital. “So everyone’s investing a lot more resources in detecting this, so we learn of even more incidents we wouldn’t have known about before.”
- With files from The New York Times and InTheCapital