Police in the UK issued a warning over the weekend against visiting Sci-Hub, a website that offers over 85 million free research papers that are typically behind paywalls. Police claim that people associated with Sci-Hub are dangerous because they “steal” login credentials from students and faculty at universities, a claim the website’s administrators have previously denied.
“If you’re tricked into revealing your log-in credentials, whether it’s through the use of fake emails or malware, we know that Sci-Hub will then use those details to compromise your university’s computer network in order to steal research papers,” Max Bruce, London police’s cyber protection officer, said in a press release.
UK Police did not provide explicit evidence for claims that Sci-Hub steals login credentials, but did allege that “42 UK universities” have “been hacked by Sci-Hub,” through phishing techniques. Police also warned students that accessing the website from the UK is “illegal” because the site “hosts stolen intellectual property.”
Sci-Hub has been successfully sued twice in U.S. court but remains online tenuously and is often forced to change domain names. An active version of the website currently has a top-level domain name registered with the Dominican Republic.
Sci-Hub, founded by 32-year-old Kazakhstani programmer Alexandra Elbakyan, advocates against intellectual property protections as an impediment to the advancement of scientific knowledge. And whether or not you agree with Elbakyan’s desire to abolish all IP law, it’s pretty hard to argue that Sci-Hub is hurting content creators with its website. The only “victims” in this piracy scheme are publishers.
Academic journals are notorious for refusing to paying researchers and authors. In fact, some academic journals require authors to pay the publisher a fee. Those same journals then turn around and charge educational institution obscene fees to allow access to the knowledge created and provided to publishers without charge.
U.S. based social media has been unkind to Sci-Hub in recent months, with Twitter banning the site from the platform in early January. Sci-Hub’s Facebook page is still active, but hasn’t been updated since 2019.
Every hub of piracy online, whether it’s movies or music or academic research, is going to attract malicious actors. And while police haven’t released any evidence, it’s entirely possible that people associated with Sci-Hub are using stolen login credentials to obtain papers. But there’s also a community of people who believe in what Sci-Hub is doing and are willingly to help finance the endeavor.
The Sci-Hub website takes donations by bitcoin, and the address provided has received 4.05761683 BTC through hundreds of transactions. That’s over $230,000 at the current price.