Cyberattacks on large corporations and government organizations are nothing new. Over the past two decades, whole industries have been formed to stay one step ahead of the increasingly sophisticated and nefarious cadre of global hackers seeking information to gain advantage. Companies and government entities across the world view hacking as a top security threat and are continually on high alert for the next big cyberattack.
But now, hackers are increasingly taking aim at breaking down different walls: our top academic institutions. “America’s research universities, among the most open and robust centers of information exchange in the world, are increasingly coming under cyberattack, most of it thought to be from China, with millions of hacking attempts weekly. Campuses are being forced to tighten security, constrict their culture of openness and try to determine what has been stolen,” writes Richard Pérez-Peña in The New York Times.
Other countries where these hackers reside include Russia and Vietnam, though in far smaller numbers than China. In all cases, they’re going after intellectual property like patents for computer chips, fuel cells, medical devices, and prescription drugs.
Given that university systems often comprise thousands of students and professors logging in individually via their own computers, their systems are by nature more porous than those of corporations. Pérez-Peña explains that because universities encourage a free flow of information and collaboration, there’s an added layer of complexity when addressing the problem. “The increased threat of hacking has forced many universities to rethink the basic structure of their computer networks and their open style, though officials say they are resisting the temptation to create a fortress with high digital walls,” he writes.