Computer Hackings Plague Harvard

Victoria J. Martin ’05 had to use her roommate’s computer to read the e-mail message from the Computer Security Coordinator telling her that someone had hacked into her computer.

Harvard’s computer security specialists had already removed her computer from the Harvard network and it would need to be reformatted and all of its programs reinstalled before the computer could be reconnected.

Martin’s experience, while rare, is part of a steady stream of computer invasions and hacking that hits Harvard’s computer system on a weekly basis.

Last week, FAS Computer Services received about a dozen calls from students students who received an e-mail saying their computers had been hacked.

All of their machines needed to receive the same treatment that Martin’s computer required.


Coordinator of Residential Computing Kevin S. Davis ’98, called this number of reported hackings “very typical” for any week.

Hacking, which he said was an extremely serious issue, has plagued Harvard systems steadily for the past several years.

“I have about a dozen systems each week that are compromised,” Davis said. “That dozen number holds pretty steady. It’s something that’s been an ongoing issue.”

Until recently, incidents of hacking were fewer and farther between and had come—for the most part—from outside the University.

But now, attacks are coming from inside Harvard’s computers and are more frequent.

Davis attributed this to a number of factors, including how easy it is to hack into computer systems.

“Script kiddies,” as Davis referred to hackers, “download programs through the Internet and they do the hacking for [the kids].”

They then can use the Harvard machines that they break into as bases of operations for exchanging pirated software, pornography, and other legal and illegal files, he said.

Hacking is also on the rise because students and faculty are lax about computer security, Davis said.

For instance, they often do not set administrative passwords, leaving their computers more vulnerable to malicious attacks.

Recommended Articles