Cyber spying on universities

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Cyber spying on universities is the practice of obtaining secrets and information without the permission and knowledge of the university through its information technology system. Universities in the United Kingdom, including Oxford and Cambridge, have been targets,[1] as have institutions in the US[2] and Australia.[3]

Universities are targets for cyber espionage due to wealth of personally identifiable information they possess on students, employees, people who buy tickets to sporting events, and, if the university has an academic medical center, on patients treated there; information about research projects with industrial or military application are also targets. The culture of information sharing within universities also makes them easy targets.[4][5][6]

Breaches can arise from people sharing credentials, phishing, web-crawlers inadvertently finding exposed access points, password cracking, and other standard hacking methods.[5] University credentials are bought and sold on web forums, darknet markets and other black markets.[7][8][9]

Stanford University advises its employees to take IT precautions when they travel abroad.[10]

The result of such efforts have included theft of military research into missile design or stealth technologies,[1][11] as well as medical data.[12]

In March 2018, the U.S. charged and sanctioned nine Iranians and the Iranian company Mabna Institute for hacking and attempting to hack hundreds of universities on behalf of the Iranian government.[2][13][14]

Credentials used by Sci-Hub to access paywalled scientific articles have been subsequently used by hackers seeking to breach university firewalls to access other information.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Yeung, Peter; Bennett, Rosemary (5 September 2017). "University secrets are stolen by cybergangs". The Times.
  2. ^ a b "Foreign Economic Espionage in Cyberspace" (PDF). US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (. 2018.
  3. ^ Koziol, Michael (8 June 2018). "Major universities hit by data breach affecting thousands of job applicants at top firms". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. ^ Thompson, Cadie (21 August 2014). "Hackers next big target: Your kids' college". CNBC.
  5. ^ a b Roman, Jeffrey (February 3, 2015). "Universities: Prime Breach Targets". Data Breach Today.
  6. ^ Campbell, Susan (28 August 2018). "Why schools are prime targets for data breaches". WPRI.
  7. ^ a b Pitts, Andrew (18 September 2018). "Guest Post: Think Sci-Hub is Just Downloading PDFs? Think Again - The Scholarly Kitchen". The Scholarly Kitchen.
  8. ^ Guilford, Gwynn (September 10, 2014). "For $390 you can illegally buy an elite university email account on China's biggest online marketplace — Quartz". Quartz.
  9. ^ "Public Service Announcement: Cyber-Related Scams Targeting Universities, Employees, And Students". FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. May 5, 2014.
  10. ^ Weed, Julie (November 13, 2017). "Foiling Cyberspies on Business Trips". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Blair, Dennis C.; Alexander, Keith (August 15, 2017). "Op-Ed: China's Intellectual Property Theft Must Stop". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Columbia Medical Center, Hospital To Pay $4.8M Fine for Data Breach". iHealthBeat. California HealthCare Foundation. 8 May 2014. Archived from the original on 7 February 2016. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  13. ^ Volz, Dustin (March 23, 2018). "U.S. charges, sanctions Iranians for global cyber attacks on behalf of Tehran". Reuters. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  14. ^ Carpenter, Todd A. (28 March 2018). "FBI Indicts 9 Iranians who Targeted Scholars to Steal Content". The Scholarly Kitchen.