Steven Prohaska ’03 was one of a number of Yale students who received an e-mail this morning informing him that classes were cancelled. While Prohaska still went to class, most others went back to bed.
Prohaska was one of the thousands of Yale College recipients of a hoax e-mail sent at approximately 7:15 a.m. — allegedly from Yale Provost Susan Hockfield — informing them that classes had been cancelled. At approximately 8:45 a.m., University Secretary Linda Lorimer informed students that the e-mail was a hoax. The University is now reviewing the facts of the case and could consider legal action, Lorimer said.
Hockfield said it is unfortunate that students were negatively affected by the e-mail. She said she asked Lorimer to investigate the matter.
“It is the misappropriation of identity and it’s a very serious matter,” Hockfield said. “Some people might find it amusing; it’s disconcerting.”
In addition to Information Technology Services, the Office of the General Counsel and the Yale College Dean’s Office will investigate the matter, Lorimer said.
Director of Information Technology Services Philip Long said the e-mail could potentially fall under a state criminal statute that governs electronic fraud.
Alexander Clark ’04, founder of YaleStation.org, said if the sender’s identity is determined, he or she could be charged with defrauding students of tuition dollars. The sender could also be charged with identity theft. But he said he believes the matter will be resolved administratively.
Long said while the e-mail was sent through the SNET network, it does not necessarily mean the e-mail was not sent by someone affiliated with Yale.
Clark said he believes the originator of the e-mail was a Yale student. He said the IP address he traced is in a range of those located around the Yale campus, where many off-campus Yale students live.
Clark said the identity of the sender could be revealed if Yale subpoenaed SNET to disclose the account holder information. He said Yale could also use its own Web logs to match IP addresses if the user logged onto other Yale Web sites to check e-mail or grades.
Clark said that the headers in yesterday’s e-mail were similar to those in a hoax e-mail sent earlier this year, which told recipients that they could view a sneak preview of Rumpus’ “50 Most Beautiful People” issue online.
“Evidently, there were some striking similarities,” Clark said. “There appears to be a definite connection between the two e-mails.”
He said this does not mean the same person sent both e-mails, but that there is a likelihood that it was sent from the same computer.
Long pointed to the header of the e-mail as a source for information about the sender’s network and the computer name, “shitboxplayaz.” He compared e-mail headers to address information on mail sent through the post office.
“[The header] is in effect the postmark, and that suggests that [the e-mail] came from a network called SNET.net,” Long said. “And it looks like the computer gave itself that very nice name. Now, this is not always 100 percent correct but that’s what it looks like.”
Some people who read the e-mail said they noticed that while the e-mail address listed in the “From” field was Hockfield’s, the address in the “Reply-to” field was email@example.com. Zihal, a draper at the School of Drama’s costume shop, said she was surprised by the news that her address was used in the hoax.
“I didn’t hear anything about my e-mail address,” Zihal said. “So, the Provost and I say there’s no school. I’m the last one [to know]. I barely turned on the computer.”
Long said it is unlikely that Zihal is the source of the message.
“We would follow up all leads, but I would be extremely surprised if that were related to the person who was e-mailing the hoax,” Long said.
Long said there were a number of ways to determine that the e-mail was not authentic, but that to the uninitiated, it could appear entirely real.
Clark said one clue for those who read the e-mail headers was that the recipient list in the “To” field of the e-mail — firstname.lastname@example.org — is improperly formatted. Pantheon lists are formatted with a hyphen before the word “lists.” He said administrators like Hockfield would not use a Pantheon list, but an ITS list.