Wednesday, June 13, 2007

FBI Warning: Campus Research Information Theft Vigilance

Those entrusted with security responsibilities must remember that in addition to the physical, personnel and procedural security, the protection of information is also paramount to institutional as well as to national security.

The FBI is warning leaders at some of the top New England colleges (including MIT, Boston College and the University of Massachusetts) to be vigilant regarding foreign spies or terrorists trying to steal their research. This informational security awareness is a well-needed lesson not only for New England campuses but for all government, corporate and educational entities throughout the nation.

[Reprinted from the Boston Globe website –

FBI warns colleges of terror threat
Asks more vigilance on theft of research

"What we're most concerned about are those things that are not classified being developed by MIT, Worcester Polytech, and other universities," said Warren T. Bamford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office. He said colleges are vulnerable to those looking to exploit that information and use it against the United States.

The FBI's website says universities should consider the possibility of foreign spies posing as international students or visitors and terrorists studying advanced technologies and scientific breakthroughs on campus, as well as violent extremists and computer hackers.

"We don't walk in with the idea we're are going to stop the free flow of information," Bamford said during a meeting with Globe editors and reporters.

"The academic community is designed to be open, and we just have to make the community aware," he said. "There are people who would be willing to establish relationships to take secrets."

Dennis D. Berkey, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said he and several other university administrators met with Bamford about two weeks ago and welcomed the advice about protecting their unpublished research. For example, researchers shouldn't leave laptops unprotected in a hotel room in a foreign country, where they could be stolen. Berkey said he puts his own laptop in the hotel safe.

The agents also suggested that professors be wary about who contacts them to talk about their work.

"The general point was, if there is unnatural or unexplained interest in your research and you're nervous about it, here's how to be in touch with us," Berkey said.

He said it was useful to open lines of communication, although he didn't think WPI would take the FBI up on its offer to train faculty, because the university is already well versed in how to protect its research. He welcomed the FBI's interest, however.

"I think that in the era we're living in, we have to be more aware of what's going on around us, generally," he said.

Bamford also recently visited Boston College's president, the Rev. William P. Leahy, said Kevin Shea, Leahy's executive assistant.

"Boston College was very appreciative of their outreach," Shea said. He said BC probably would be taking the FBI up on some of its offers of support, but said he did not have details.


FBI Counterintelligence Domain Program Click here to visit site
Boston Globe Article Click here to visit site

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