Academic Publishers Get Their Wish: DOJ Investigating Sci-Hub Founder For Alleged Ties To Russian Intelligence
from the oh-come-on dept
We’ve written plenty about Sci-Hub over the years. The service, which was set up to allow free and easy access to academic research that is all-to-often hidden behind insanely expensive paywalls (often, despite being paid for with public funds), is the bane of academic publishers, though the hero to many academics. As we’ve highlighted, the big publishers keep playing whac-a-mole with the service as they try to take it down around the globe, and each time it just seems to get the site more attention. From the earliest days, it’s been clear that Sci-Hub works by getting academics with access to various collections to “donate” their login credentials, so that Sci-Hub can fetch any missing papers not in its collection (if it, and its associated site Libgen, already have it, they make that version available).
However, the Washington Post is now claiming that the DOJ has been investigating Sci-Hub founder, Alexandra Elbakyan, who started the site as an academic herself who found it nearly impossible to access the research she needed. But here’s the twist, apparently the DOJ is alleging that Elbakyan is somehow tied to Russian intelligence.
It?s unclear whether Elbakyan is using Sci-Hub?s operations in service of Russian intelligence, but her critics say she has demonstrated significant hacking skills by collecting log-in credentials from journal subscribers, particularly at universities, and using them to pilfer vast amounts of academic literature.
The investigation has both criminal and intelligence-gathering elements, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official said he believes Elbakyan is working with Russia?s military intelligence arm, the GRU, the same organization that stole emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton?s campaign chairman and then provided them to WikiLeaks in 2016.
Given the typical demonization of those who seek to open up access to academic research (see: Swartz, Aaron), I’d take this report with a pretty large grain of salt until some actual evidence is provided.
Some of the accusations — provided in the article by Elsevier’s lawyer, who has worked on cases against Sci-Hub — claim that rather than academics sharing their credentials willingly, Sci-Hub has resorted to phishing to get them. If true, that would be quite unfortunate. And, at one point in the article, Elbakyan might admit to as much, though it’s not clear if the full context of the question or response from her is included in the article:
?We?ve seen phishing, that?s most common,? he said, referring to the use of deceit to trick someone into providing a username and password. ?But also password-breaking,? Pitts added, suggesting Elbakyan uses more-aggressive hacking techniques.
?I do not deny that some accounts that Sci-Hub is using were obtained? in such a way, Elbakyan said, but she declined to elaborate on how she comes by credentials.
If true, that would be disappointing. But it still seems like a lot more evidence would be necessary to argue that it’s a tool of Russian intelligence.