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Cyber spies to brief universities on ‘malicious’ threat to sensitive research

The Australian Catholic University has also been targeted and last year the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation said 26 Australian universities had been affected by an alleged Iranian-backed hacking campaign.

“Universities are high value targets for malicious cyber attackers because of the valuable intellectual property and personal information they hold,” Education Minister Dan Tehan has warned.

Universities are high value targets for malicious cyber attackers, Education Minister Dan Tehan says.

Universities are high value targets for malicious cyber attackers, Education Minister Dan Tehan says.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Mr Tehan said higher education and research institutions have a “responsibility to their students and staff to have the strongest defences in place to protect the information they hold”.

The meeting of vice-chancellors will also discuss the 13 Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes at Australian universities.

Mr Tehan put the institutes on the agenda for the meeting after the Herald and the Age revealed new details about the contracts governing the partnerships between host universities and the Beijing-based headquarters.

In intelligence and security agencies, China is viewed as the major force behind state-sponsored hacking against Australia and other countries.

In addition to hacks targeting governments, the large-scale theft of valuable intellectual property and commercial secrets held by companies and universities is a particular point of concern.

Many universities also conduct research in partnership with governments and militaries, giving them access to sensitive information.

Last year, Australia joined the US and Britain in attributing to Chinese intelligence services a “breathtaking” global campaign affecting major technology firms. China denied it was behind the attack.

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