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2010-02-22

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Chinese institute with 'U' ties accused of Google cyberattacks

By Stephanie Steinberg, Daily News Editor
Published February 21, 2010

Various news outlets reported that Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China — with which the University has shared a joint institute in engineering since 2005 — may be the source of recent cyberattacks targeting Google and other companies in the United States.

Last Thursday, The New York Times reported that the cyberattacks have been traced to computers at SJTU and Lanxiang Vocational School. SJTU is known for its computer science programs, while Lanxiang trains some computer scientists for the military, according to the article.

Despite the University’s partnership with SJTU, University officials say they have no new information regarding the cyberattacks.

In early January, Google announced that hackers had accessed information from Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists in addition to the accounts of 34 companies. It is speculated that the hackers were able to break through security systems and obtain corporate data. In response to the attacks Google shut down google.cn — the version of Google made to censor material as stipulated by the Chinese government.

Yesterday, representatives from SJTU and Lanxiang denied having any involvement in the attack.

An anonymous spokesperson from SJTU was quoted by Xinhua News Agency — an official press agency in China — and claimed that The New York Times article was not “objective” or “balanced.”

"We were shocked and indignant to hear these baseless allegations which may harm the university's reputation," the spokesperson said.

University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an e-mail interview that the purpose of the joint institute between SJTU and the University is to give engineers the opportunity to better understand what it means to work in a “globalized engineering work force.”

According to Fitzgerald, there are no University students studying at SJTU this semester. College of Engineering Prof. Jun Ni is currently serving as dean of the Joint Institute and is the only University faculty member at SJTU at this time.

David Munson, dean of the College of Engineering, wrote in an e-mail interview that he had heard about the news reports accusing STJU of initiating the attacks but had no further information.

“I do not have any indication that the (Joint Institute) is involved in the allegations,” Munson wrote.

Munson wrote that the University currently has more than 150 students from the Joint Institute majoring in College of Engineering programs. He added that about a dozen University faculty members teach at the Joint Institute and a few dozen University students study there each summer.

In 2005, University President Mary Sue Coleman visited SJTU as part of a trip to China to strengthen the University’s ties with faculty and students at Chinese institutions. During her visit, Coleman received an honorary doctoral degree from SJTU.

Last November, Coleman announced she was planning to return to SJTU this summer, according to a Nov. 12 article in The Michigan Daily.

“I’m going to be going to China again next June to solidify the relationship that we have there with several institutions,” Coleman told the Daily at the time.

The Joint Institute offers University students the opportunity to receive dual undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees from STJU and the University’s College of Engineering. In 2001, the University became the first non-Chinese institution to offer engineering degrees to students studying in China.

According to a 2005 University press release, more than 50 University faculty members visited SJTU from 2000 to 2005, and more than 20 University professors taught summer classes during that same time period.