British universities are being hit by hundreds of successful cyber-attacks every year, reports the Times.
More than 1,152 intrusions into UK university networks had been recorded in 2016-17, it said.
And thieves were interested in defence technologies as well as research into novel fuels and better batteries.
The newspaper used data gleaned from Freedom of Information requests to gauge the extent of cyber-attacks on the educational institutions.
The requests revealed that Oxford, Warwick and University College London had all suffered breaches that sought to steal research data and documents.
The newspaper said thieves were either stealing on behalf of foreign powers or looking to get at valuable data they could sell to the highest bidder.
The number of recorded attacks had doubled in two years, it added.
“Universities drive forward a lot of the research and development in the UK. Intellectual property takes years of knowhow and costs a lot,” Carsten Maple, director of cyber-security at the University of Warwick, told the paper.
“If someone can get that very quickly, that’s good for them.”
Mr Maple said the digital defences deployed by UK universities needed to be tightened up.
The information received by the Times revealed attackers used many different techniques to extract either data or cash from the UK’s higher education organisations.
Ransomware, phishing and denial of service attacks, which bombard sites with data, had all been employed against universities, it found.
Some organisations were being hit by more than 1,000 attacks a month, it said.
“It is no surprise that universities are suffering from an increase in security breaches,” said Dr Anton Grashion, head of security practice at Cylance.
“Their network environments are some of the most challenging networks to manage, with usually smaller security and staffing budgets.”
The open networks many universities ran made them a “tempting and easily accessible” target, he added.