Stanford University has announced that its computer system was hacked, and officials are urging users of the school network to change their passwords.
School officials are working with law enforcement to determine specifics of the attack. They have yet to figure out how significant it was.
Although Stanford Chief Financial Officer Randy Livingston said the attack appeared to be similar to other high-profile cyber attacks against organizations and governments, Stanford does not conduct classified research, making it an odd target.
Not the First Time
As Livingston mentioned, Stanford does not conduct any secret research, meaning there is little political reason to attack the university. However, unlike some of the largest hacks in the past few months, this apparently was not a politically based hack.
Instead, there have been numerous tweets suggesting that an anonymous hacker who goes by the name of Ag3nt47 is responsible. Ag3nt47 previously claimed responsibility for attacks against Stanford, MIT and Harvard two months ago.
Along with universities, Ag3nt47 has claimed to have hacked multiple companies as well. A Pastebin.com document released by Ag3nt47 shows little information, but according to one of the hacker's tweets, he gained access to and downloaded all of Stanford's data.
While it is possible Ag3nt47 is the person behind this hack, he or she could easily be taking credit for another hacker's work. According to The New York Times, universities have to fend off millions of attacks each week, particularly from China, and since Ag3nt47 has yet to release information that is not already in the public domain, there is little to back his claims.
The Hacker Incentive
There tend to be two types of "black hat" hackers, the ones that carry out an attack for a "cause" or the ones that simply want attention. Based on previous attacks from Ag3nt47, it appears as though he is in between those groups, making it hard to determine whether he is behind this attack.
One of the growing concerns is in regards to hacks from China, in which young nationalists feel that attacking virtually any U.S. government organization or university is a sign of Chinese patriotism. These types of hackers also seek out media attention to further their cause, which leads them to attack universities like Stanford because they are frequently easier targets than government agencies.
Hacks originating from oversees are becoming more and more common now that some U.S. military officers have directly called out China for using these young hackers to ruin U.S. infrastructure and security.
Then again, the hacks against Stanford could have easily been carried out by Ag3nt47 or a similar hacker. The hacking group Anonymous is practically a "melting pot" of everyone from the politically minded hacker to the teenager who simply wants to cause trouble or become famous.