Four McMaster University computer servers hacked

University says much of the information accessed was old and mostly public already.
McMaster University says that most of the files accessed in a computer hacking were old or already public. (CBC Hamilton)

Four McMaster University servers were the latest in an internationally spread hack attack by a cyber-group dubbed Team GhostShell.

McMaster University was one of the 100 schools hacked in protest of the current state of education and the latest in "ProjectWestWind."

McMaster reported security breaches in servers at the Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research, the Origins Institute, the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

The hackers copied older data, much of which is already publicy available, said Gord Arbeau, McMaster director of public and community relations. This includes lists of people who attended some departmental events.

It did not include user names, passwords or credit card information, he said. It did include some student names and degree dates.

"We have notified the privacy commissioner that this has happened and shared with them the type of information that has been copied," Arbeau said. "We are keeping that office up to date."

McMaster technical staff discovered the hack last week after reading about other universities impacted, Arbeau said.

"The information that was copied was quite random in nature," he said. "It was pieces of information from individual servers that aren't connected to each other."

McMaster technology services staff will spend the rest of the week investigating how the hack happened and how to make servers more secure so it doesn't happen again.

"We'll try to learn as much as we can from this incident and try to determine how to shore up our servers and systems so that it would be more difficult to access or copy information in the future," he said.

Allegedly, the "hacktivists" associated with the "Anonymous" group of hackers are responsible for accessing more than 120, 000 computer accounts from a variety of universities from Tokyo to Melbourne and Zurich.

A New York City computer security company, IdentityFinder.com, said in a release that it could only confirm around 40,000 accounts exposed.

In an online post, Team GhostShell said:  "We have set out to raise awareness towards the changes made in today's education, how new laws imposed by politicians affect us, our economy and overall, our way of life. How far we have ventured from learning valuable skills that would normally help us be prepared in life, to just, simply memorizing large chunks of text in exchange for good grades. How our very own traditions are heard less and less, losing touch with who we truly are. Slowly casting the identities, that our ancestors fought to protect, into exile. - TGS. " 

Other hacked universities include John Hopkins, Cambridge, Harvard and Princeton University. The group is also responsible for hacking in August called "Project Hellfire" which involved breaches to Wall Street, banks and accounts of political advisors.