FBI contacts local schools

By Kate Augusto

Universities are on the front line of the FBI’s top priorities in protecting the United States against foreign threats, said FBI officials.

The FBI recently warned local schools to protect their research from information theft that poses a threat to national security, said Gail Marcinkiewicz, FBI special agent and media spokesperson for the FBI’s Boston Branch.

According to the FBI website, foreign spies posing as students or visitors could try to steal sensitive university research or hackers could attack computer networks to steal secrets, research and identities. Federal agents have contacted leaders at top research universities, like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to warn against this threat. Northeastern has not yet been contacted so far.

“I think they have identified the top research facilities but it’s an ongoing process,” Marcinkiewicz said. She said she is not sure if the FBI will contact Northeastern officials but that it is possible.

Provost Ahmed Abdelal said he expects someone will contact Northeastern eventually.

“We expect that at some point somebody will talk with us about what are the issues and what are the strategies,” Abdelal said.

Abdelal said that because all research conducted at Northeastern is unclassified, its research done at Northeastern poses little threat to national security.

“If a university is working on classified research then it’s obvious that you have to protect security and actually most do so by having separate facilities where everything is ensured to be secure,” Abdelal said.

Jack McDevitt, associate dean for Research and Gradate Studies agreed with Abdelal about Northeastern ensuring the protection of research.

“There can always be a threat but [we] take a lot of precautions,” McDevitt said.

The Division of Technology Transfer works to make sure agreements between businesses and Northeastern protect intellectual property, according to their website. The Division of Research Integrity makes sure research conduct complies with federal, state and university guidelines, according to their website. Finally, Information Services has measures to ensure that the university network system is secure from intruders and that data residing on computers is adequately protected, Abdelal said

Gilead Tadmor, a professor and researcher for the mathematics and electrical and computer engineering departments, whose research is more theoretical than applied, said classified research dealing with something like rockets would be closely monitored.

“If I developed things that with only half a step could be used to kill a lot of people, I would be very careful with who was interested in that,” Tadmor said.

Tadmor also said one of the biggest motivators in protecting research is making sure the researcher gets appropriate credit.

“We do not usually speak widely about what we do before we write an article or publication when the name is attached to the publication,” Tadmor said.

Abdelal said student researchers are similarly motivated.

“There have been students that have been involved in patents at Northeastern

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