Page last updated at 14:13 GMT, Friday, 20 November 2009

Hackers target leading climate research unit

Laptop keyboard (Image: PA)
Experts warn that universities' e-mail systems are vulnerable to attacks

The e-mail system of one of the world's leading climate research units has been breached by hackers.

E-mails reportedly from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), including personal exchanges, appeared on the internet on Thursday.

A university spokesman confirmed the email system had been hacked and that information was taken and published without permission.

An investigation was underway and the police had been informed, he added.

"We are aware that information from a server used for research information in one area of the university has been made available on public websites," the spokesman stated.

"Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm that all of this material is genuine.

"This information has been obtained and published without our permission and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from operation.

"We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved the police in this enquiry."

Researchers at CRU, one of the world's leading research bodies on natural and human-induced climate change, played a key role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which is considered to be the most authoritative report of its kind.

'Inside information'

Graham Cluley, a computer security expert, suggested that December's key climate summit in Copenhagen, which has made headlines around the world, could have increased the university's profile as a possible target among hackers.

"There are passionate opinions on both sides of the climate debate and there will be people trying to knock down the other side," Mr Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, told BBC News.

"If they feel that they can gather inside information on what the other side is up to, then they may feel that is ammunition for their counterargument."

Mr Cluley added that universities were vulnerable to attacks by hackers because so many people required access to IT systems.

"You do need proper security in place; you need to be careful regarding communications and make sure your systems are secure.

"I trust that they will now be looking at the systems, and investigating how this happened and ensuring that something like this does not happen again."



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