Forged emails carrying messages of hate were sent Tuesday night to several College of Engineering email groups from an anonymous email server.
President Mark Schlissel and CoE Dean Alec Gallimore quickly condemned the messages, which were “spoofed” to appear to come from an engineering faculty member and a doctoral student. They did not send the messages.
The University of Michigan Police Department and the FBI are conducting a joint criminal investigation into the incident. The university’s Information Assurance group also is involved in the investigation.
The university was alerted about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday regarding several racist and anti-Semitic emails. DPSS opened a criminal investigation in this matter and has increased patrols in the North Campus area where CoE is located.
At this point, it has been determined that the emails were forged or “spoofed.” Email “spoofing” is the forgery of an email header so that the message appears to have originated from someone or somewhere other than the actual source.
This is different from hacking, which involves a cyber attacker taking over an individual’s account by circumventing security systems. In this case, no one has circumvented any IT security protocols at U-M.
One of the emails was made to appear as if it had been sent by J. Alex Halderman, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and an election cyber-security expert.
“This evening many EECS undergrads received emails with racist and anti-Semitic content that appeared to be addressed from me or from my Ph.D. student, Matt Bernhard,” Halderman said.
“These messages were spoofed. Matt and I did not send them, and we don’t know who did. As I teach in my computer security classes, it takes very little technical sophistication to forge the sender’s address in an email. The content of these emails is contemptible and I’m sorry that the EECS student body was subjected to them.”