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American universities reeling from daily assaults by Chinese hackers

American universities reeling from daily assaults by Chinese hackers


A culture of sharing ideas is being challenged by increasing security risks

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Hacker (STOCK)
Hacker (STOCK)

When Bill Mellon, an associate dean at the University of Wisconsin, set out to update the school's security system, he was blown away by the incredible number of cyberattacks being directed at his campus each day. "We get 90,000 to 100,000 attempts per day, from China alone, to penetrate our system," Mellon told the New York Times. "There are also a lot from Russia, and recently a lot from Vietnam, but it’s primarily China."

Mellon's case is not an isolated one. In a report published yesterday, The New York Times details how American universities are being forced to spend millions upgrading their security system to guard against a growing tide of cyberattacks. The threat is not only forcing schools to spend large amounts of money to beef up their defenses; it's also challenging the open nature of their networks, which educators say have been crucial to the sharing of ideas across campuses.

"Academics aren’t used to thinking that way."

Schools are beginning to isolate sensitive information — research around pathogens, for example — from the open campus network. Many are also beginning to require student and professors who travel abroad to have their computers scrubbed upon returning to school.

Foreign hackers have long targeted government and military systems in an effort to steal sensitive information about policy and weapons systems. By going after research universities, they are finding less well-guarded targets rich in intellectual property that could prove just as valuable down the road. "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."

It no wonder the Department of Homeland Security is not so subtly asking internet service providers to begin blocking the IP addresses of suspected hackers.