Chinese hackers targeted Penn State University attempting to obtain highly classified military intelligence, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Over a dozen universities, including Penn State, Duke and Washington, were hacked by the Chinese, aiming to obtain United States military Intel.
Penn State is just one of many universities that engaged in some level of research for the U.S. Navy, according to the March 5 report. In a statement, Penn State neither confirmed nor denied a security breach last week.
The Wall Street Journal reported the hackers specifically targeted Penn State's applied research laboratory, which receives funding from the United States Department of Defense.
Specifically, Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory was allegedly hacked. The Navy provides this institution with a research contract of $2 billion dollars over ten years to conduct research for the military.
The Defense Department, which includes the Navy, often contracts with universities like Penn State to conduct research for the military. But Penn State, like other research institutions, is the kind of academic environment where some experts believe sensitive information can be obtained by hackers because of the culture of trust and transparency that exists within such universities, according to Dustin Volz, the reporter at The Journal who broke the story.
Chinese hackers then sent hoax emails, acting as legitimate universities in order to try to have access to the sensitive information, he said.
Chinese hackers have become aggressive in attacking the American military and other systems in hopes of obtaining secrets that could benefit the country both militarily and economically. Volz reported that the Chinese consistently want U.S. military secrets to advance themselves, which includes trying to take control of the South China Sea, where China makes territorial claims to a series of artificial islands. Stealing secrets helps the Chinese to understand what the U.S. is doing.
Volz added they also have a deep interest in where the Pentagon will go in the future.
There are no indications if the government will refrain from delegating military work to universities, however.
“There certainly are people who believe there should be more oversight of federal dollars going out to research institutions,” Volz said.
This is not the first time Chinese hackers have attempted to obtain American secrets. The Journal reported on a similar situation in which China aimed to hack contractors and sub-contractors in the Navy.
Not only do the Chinese hack military Intel, they also have attempted to penetrate the corporate side of U.S. technology systems, to get ahead in the technological world, Volz reported.
Volz said that Chinese hackers attack the supply chain of the government where vulnerability is typically greater, and thus creating more of a chance of infiltration of intellectual property.
Possible ways for Penn State to help safeguard this information in the future is to have separate networks for information and to be vigilant with what they click on, Volz said.
But, in the end, it’s up to Penn State on how they will progress from here.