Frequently Asked Questions

Scholarly Networks Security Initiative (SNSI) brings together publishers and institutions to solve cyber-challenges threatening the integrity of the scientific record, scholarly systems and the safety of personal data.

Members include large and small publishers, learned societies and university presses and others involved in scholarly communications.

We are keen to work with you if you are involved in scholarly communication and data security. We are currently working alongside academic libraries and data security teams within universities.

The higher education sector is particularly vulnerable to cyber-attack due to the large amount of personal and research data that universities, including library systems, routinely store. In the UK last year, the National Cyber Security Centre published its first report on the cyber threat to UK universities. The report noted that the university sector was the third most vulnerable to cyber attack. It also drew attention to some of the effects of state-sponsored espionage identifying damage to the value of research, notably in STEM subjects; a fall in investment by public or private sector in affected universities; and damage to the UK’s knowledge advantage.

It’s not always easy to tell who the perpetrators are, but the National Cyber Security Centre report identified two main groups: criminals seeking data for financial gain; and state-sponsored actors who seek personal data or intellectual property for strategic advantage. Of the latter, countries that are specifically identified as actors in this space include Russia, Iran, China and North Korea.

Sci-Hub may fall into the category of state-sponsored actors. It hosts stolen research papers which have been harvested from publisher platforms often using stolen user credentials. According to the Washington Post, the US Justice Department is currently investigating the founder of Sci-Hub, Alexandra Elbakayan, for links between her and Russian Intelligence. If there is substance to this investigation, then using Sci-Hub to access research papers could have much wider ramifications than just getting access to content that sits behind a paywall.

Sci-Hub, and similar pirate sites, have the potential to cause damage to the research process. Unlike publishers, they have no incentive to ensure the accuracy of research articles, no incentive to ensure research meets ethical standards, and no incentive to retract or correct if issues arise. Publishers, working alongside organizations like the Committee on Publication Ethics, take seriously their duty of care for the scholarly record and proactively work to correct inaccuracies, plagiarism or falsification of data and results when they occur in published literature. This work builds on a series of steps taken before publication to try to prevent inaccurate or false research being published.

Beyond this, publishers have invested heavily in tools to enrich metadata, including setting standards for how every research paper is interlinked through systems such as CrossRef. Carried to its logical conclusion, SciHub has the potential to entirely undermine the scholarly communications framework as it operates by stealing what others have invested in. This comes at a time when publishers of all stripes are working to create an even more open and effective research communications system.

There is no easy answer to this question, but what is clear is that we must work together to safeguard and manage a successful online researcher experience by ensuring institutional and individual access is enabled to high quality, licensed, peer review publications; that data is protected; and entitlements from licensed institutions are safeguarded.