GMU hit by e-mail scandal

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November 7, 2008

2:34 AM

Around 1 a.m. Nov. 4, over 30,000 George Mason University students, staff and faculty received an e-mail allegedly from Provost Peter Stearns; it stated that Election Day had been postponed until Nov. 5. The e-mail turned out to be a hoax, which was distributed through the e-mail servers of a political advocacy group.

According to The Washington Post, the liberal organization wiredforchange.com has “tell a friend” pages so that people can send messages to their friends about campaigns. A computer in Germany used this feature to send out the fake e-mail.

“We are as pissed off as anyone about this incident, because our whole intention is to maximize turnout for election, not detract from it,” Chris Lundberg, chief technology officer at wiredforchange.com, said to The Washington Post.

Lundberg noted that the organization has measures of protection against spam, but that a single email from an address that had not already been flagged would not have been stopped.

Additionally, Lundberg stated the e-mail would have been stopped if GMU’s listserv allowed only e-mails from within the university’s network to be sent to GMU e-mail addresses.
Stearns, upon reading the fake message, sent out a university-wide e-mail with a correction.

“I am sure everybody realizes this is a hoax, it is also a serious offense and we are looking into it,” Stearns said in the e-mail.

“This is upsetting and embarrassing and has caused a lot of confusion and concern among people,” GMU spokesman Daniel Walsch said to The Washington Post.
While not commenting on the technical aspects of the situation, Walsch said that Federal Bureau of Investigations was working to identify the culprit.

There have been several other attempts to dissuade students from voting. According to National Public Radio, Drexel University students were informed that those with outstanding parking tickets would be arrested if they tried to vote.

The group Rock the Vote also found that students at Florida State University, Middle Georgia College, Missouri State University and other universities were being told that Democrats had to vote on Nov. 5.
Jonah Goldman of the Lawyers Committee told NPR that these measures seemed to be directed primarily at population groups more likely to vote for President-elect Barack Obama.

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