Racist and anti-Semitic emails sent to University engineering, computer science students

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Jeremy Mitnick/Daily

 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 10:46pm

Tuesday night, at least three racist emails were sent out to University of Michigan Computer Science and Engineering undergraduate students.

The subjects of the first two emails was “African American Student Diversity” and the third read “Jewish Student Diversity.”

The first two emails read: “Hi n*****s, I just wanted to say that I plan to kill all of you.  White power!  The KKK has returned!!! Heil Trump!!!!”

The third reads: “Hi you fucking filthy jews, I just wanted to say the SS will rise again and kill all of your filthy souls. Die in a pit of eternal fire! Sincerely, Dr. Alex Halderman.”

The emails were sent by three separate University uniqnames — all of which are administrators of the listservs, potentially indicative the listservs via the University’s online contact server, MCommunity, may have been hacked. 

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald could not provide further information, but confirmed the University had been apprised of the situation.

We are aware of an email such as the one you describe and our IT security team is looking into it,” he said. “I'm not even sure what names are that may be associated, but clearly that's one of the first things they'll be looking at, is whether someone's account has been compromised.”

The name of J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science and engineering, was used at the bottom of the third anti-Semitic email. Halderman acknowledged the incidents in an email statement to the Daily early Wednesday morning.

“This evening many EECS undergrads received emails with racist and antisemitic content that appeared to be addressed from me or from my Ph.D. student Matt Bernhard,” Halderman wrote. “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.”

Halderman also addressed this incident as in response to his position as an election security expert.

“This appears to be a cowardly action by someone who is unhappy about the research that Matt and I do in support of electoral integrity,” Halderman wrote. “We study cybersecurity and elections, and in recent months we were involved in efforts to recount the presidential election to confirm that the outcome hadn't been changed by a cyberattack.  I wrote about why these efforts were necessary shortly after the election. In any case, the content of these emails is contemptible, and I'm sorry that the EECS student body was subjected to them.  The university is aware of the situation, and I expect an official response soon.”

The University Division of Public Safety and Security also tweeted a message stating actions are being taken in an investigation of these incidents. 

 

In response to the emails, a post was made in the public Computer Science Facebook group for the University. Comments on the post speculated as to how and why the messages were sent.

“The uniqname is probably being faked to a moderator/owner on the group so the email will bypass moderation,” one comment reads. “The name is being set to the victim's name along with reply-to field so he receives the complaint."

Engineering junior Noah Martin-Ruben wrote in an email interview he would not speculate the named senders are at fault.    

“It looks like the person sending the emails is trying to anonymize themselves by using a fake, somewhat untraceable email,” Martin-Ruben wrote.

On the same Facebook page, it was speculated that the emails did not come from the senders they appeared to. Instead, posters believed the messages were routed from a fake emkei.cz email.