“This past week, these public relations efforts were dialed up a notch or ten to a whole new level. At an SNSI webinar entitled „Cybersecurity Landscape – Protecting the Scholarly Infrastructure“, hosted by two Elsevier employees, one of the presenters suggested „develop or subsidize a low cost proxy or a plug-in to existing proxies“ in order to collect user data. That user data, it was explained, could be analyzed with an “Analysis Engine” to track biometric data (e.g., typing speed) or suspicious behavior (e.g., a pharmacology student being suspiciously interested in astrophysics). The angle towards Sci-Hub was confirmed by the next speaker, an Ex-FBI agent and security analyst.
Considering the track record of academic publishers, this reeks strongly of PR attempts to ‘soften the target’, i.e., to make installing publisher spyware on university servers sound less outrageous than it actually is. After the PRISM debacle, the publishers now seem to have learned from their PR mistakes. This time, there is no ‘pitbull’ around. This time, there is only a strange article in a major newspaper, a shady institute where it appears hard to find out who founded it, who is running it and who funds it.
SNSI is an apparent PR project aimed at compromising, not strengthening, network security at research institutions. However, unlike with PRISM, this time the PR effort may pay off.”