Universities in the United States are under cyber-attack with hacking attempts invading networks by the millions weekly. Many of the attacks have been traced back to China, and the theft of personal data is happening more frequently. In response colleges are bolstering security, constricting their formerly open exchange of information with the world, and trying their best to find out what has been stolen - and why.
Most schools have refrained from unveiling what was pilfered during hacking incidents, but some admit that they are unaware of the breaches until much later, if ever. Universities also acknowledge that sometimes they aren't able to figure out what was lifted from their networks.
The attacks are increasing exponentially, as is the sophistication, and malicious actors are outpacing institution's ability to respond. They are investing a lot more resources in detecting this, so they are learning of more incidents they would not have known about before.
The major concern is that hackers will be able to detect vulnerabilities and penetrate them without being detected - but there is also research that tends to be overlooked.
Colleges are known for their innovation, cutting-edge technologies and unique products that serve to advance. Other countries would benefit immensely from access to such valuable information.
While institutions certainly want to protect their computer networks, forcing them to transform from an open to closed style is a drastic move, one that doesn't correlate well with their initiatives.
A university environment is very different from corporate and government agencies with the kind of openness and free flow of information they are trying to promote. Researchers want to collaborate with others, inside and outside the university, and to share their discoveries.
So what can universities do?
The University of Wisconsin is receiving approximately 100,000 intrusion attempts daily, and that figure is growing with the persistent hacking which has not been traced back to one individual, one organization, or even a government of note - besides accusations concerning China.
At Purdue University, they are putting their most sensitive information into smaller vaults that are more difficult to gain access to thanks to data encryption. Other universities are following in their footsteps.
The University of Virginia was hacked in April by a user by the name of "Root the Box" who redirected UVA's main webpage to an image of a white pixelated skull for all to see.
How to stop the madness
Upgrading computer security programs, keeping systems updated and patched, increasing spending for digital safety, and working with the F.B.I. to figure out how best to tackle these potential digital threats is a recipe for information safety.