The e-mails of more than 10 academics who specialize in cross-strait relations at National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU) have been spied on for as long as three years, an academic colleague said on condition of anonymity.
The source said that since the second half of 2016, an unknown person disguised as a senior official at the school has been reading the e-mails of more than 10 academics, with the fake accounts able to be created due to loopholes in the university’s Open Webmail system.
Targeted academics include all the professors at the Institute of Political Science, as well as certain professors at the Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies and the department of political cconomy who are active in the realm of cross-strait affairs and public policy in Taiwan, the source said.
The hacker was discovered logging in from Internet Protocol addresses in the US, China and Hong Kong, the source said, adding that these addresses were possibly created via a virtual private network (VPN).
Hong Kong was the site from which most of the activity came this year.
The hacker did not infect computers with any malicious software, or tamper with any e-mail content or personal information, but simply read the e-mails, the source said, adding that even though the loopholes have been addressed and the fake accounts deleted, the next wave of surveillance is undoubtedly on the way.
“The hacker might have fully grasped the academic networks of these professors,” the source said.
“As Open Webmail is the e-mail system used by almost every university in Taiwan, other schools might also have been spied on, especially those in the fields of diplomacy, cross-strait relations, national security and high technology in Taiwan,” the source added.
Open Webmail is open-source software that is free on the Internet and has been widely adopted by schools in Taiwan.
At a news briefing in Taipei, Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said the council has contacted the Ministry of Education to gather more details about the case and asked schools to boost their information security on campuses.
The Chinese government has been suppressing dissidents and has started using surveillance systems at schools to monitor teachers and students, Chiu said.
Regarding China’s use of political leverage to interfere with the research of academic institutions across the world, the international community has expressed serious concerns and started to take measures, he said.
The National Center for High-performance Computing, affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology, has been working with the education ministry to maintain the Internet systems used by different schools, center Deputy Director-General Lin Hsi-ching (林錫慶) said yesterday.
Internet systems used in academia encounter thousands of cyberattacks every day, but he did not observe an abnormal increase in the attacks recently, he said, when asked if attacks have increased in the run-up to next year’s elections.
While the center regularly alerts schools to certain malware software being spread, each school has its own information security system, Lin said, adding that the Open Webmail system is not governed by the center.
Additional reporting by Lin Chia-nan
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