An organised gang of thieves is believed to be responsible for a series of raids on Scottish universities that targeted high-value processors and memory boards from Sun Microsystems equipment.
The similarities between the raids on universities and colleges in Edinburgh and Dundee have raised concerns that specialised equipment may have been stolen to order by professional thieves.
In the first incident, thieves stole microchips and motherboards from Sun servers worth £500,000 from Edinburgh University's Science Complex. Raids at Dundee University, where systems worth £100,000 were stolen, and Dundee's Northern College followed.
Police believe the incidents are connected, and Lothian and Borders detectives are liaising with Tayside officers to track down the gang they believe is behind Scotland's largest ever theft of computer chips.
A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "We are liaising with Dundee about the break-ins and appealing for witnesses. There are a number of similarities between what happened at Dundee and at Edinburgh University."
David Muxworthy, administration officer at Edinburgh University's computing services, said that insurers believe the thefts are the work of an organised gang that has been active in the south of England.
He said he has no doubt that the thieves knew exactly what they were looking for because they ignored PCs to steal circuit boards from four different Unix servers.
"They used a sledgehammer to knock down the door of the machine room when the operator went for his evening meal," said Muxworthy.
"The library system for lending books was disabled and administrative machines were affected. High-performance computing used by researchers was also inaccessible."
IT experts at the university took several days to restore services.
Computer chips are now the most expensive commodity in the world, weight for weight, making them attractive to criminals. The raids on universities are by no means the first time gangs have targeted high-performance computers.
This is not the first time that Sun equipment has been targeted by thieves. Sources at a London NHS Trust told vnunet.com that criminal gangs have previously threatened staff with weapons before robbing Sun workstations and servers from hospitals. The problem became so serious that the trust issued a general alert to all staff using high-performance computers.
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