USA '08 More than 35,000 students, faculty, and staff at George Mason University in Virginia awoke on Tuesday to a find an urgent email purporting to be from their provost.
"Please note that election day has been move to November 5th," the message read. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."
Of course, it was a hoax. But according to Brian Krebs' Security Fix blog, it took the real provost, Peter Stearns, seven hours to set the record straight. "This is upsetting and embarrassing and has caused a lot of confusion and concern among people," a spokesman said.
The embarrassment didn't stop there. The spokesman went on to tell Krebs the perpetrators pulled off the mass mailing by gaining privileged access to the school's official email system and that security personnel were in the process of alerting law enforcement to the breach.
In fact, the phony message was sent through a campus listserv that didn't bother to filter out emails coming from outside the university's network. Reading the headers of the fraudulent email, it became obvious it was sent using wiredforchange.com, which provides email and fund-raising services to Democratic candidates.
Wiredforchange has safeguards in place to prevent its services from being abused to send spam, but there's nothing to stop a single message from a non-blacklisted computer from getting through. The computer that accessed wiredforchange was located in Germany.
Virginia is one of a handful of so-called swing states where polls show results could go either way and the outcome could tip the race in favor of Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama. ®