Undergraduate students at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering began to receive spam emails en masse on Jan. 30. Due to a flaw in the school’s mass email feature, many students received unwanted emails often regarding account confirmations.
Based on data collected by the UCSD Guardian, students connected to the Structures and Nanoengineering email groups received emails from various websites like LinkedIn, Tinder, and Christian Mingle. Purportedly meant for a person under the pseudonym of Joseph Hawk, these email confirmations caused a lot of confusion among the student body.
“I was a bit fed up with all these constant verification emails, so that is why I replied with a ‘this is not me,’” Thurgood Marshall student Alison Lao said to the Guardian. “After receiving over 20 emails from other Jacob Undergraduates saying ‘this is not me,’ I realize I am not the only one getting spammed by this LinkedIn verification email.”
The JSOE Office of Engineering and Computing, the school’s internal IT department, quickly acquired notification of the problem and began analyzing it. They discovered that there was an issue with the normal protocol for the school to send out mass emails to students. When emails are sent to email@example.com, they are automatically sent to all students in the Jacobs School of Engineering.
“[Since] someone started signing up to various websites purporting that their email address was firstname.lastname@example.org … this generated over 40 emails regarding various website accounts,” JSOE Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs Daniel Kane said. “The departmental undergraduate Google groups for Structures and Nanoengineering both had differing issues that resulted in these emails being successfully delivered to all of the undergrads in these two groups.”
In order to stop receiving further emails, some students took the initiative to reply to email@example.com stating that they were not in fact Joseph Hawk. However, as more students replied, it created a lengthy email chain. Students could see other students’ replies and the chain began to spam and become an even greater disturbance. This back and forth lasted for several days through the weekend following Jan. 30.
To circumvent the problem from further spiraling out of control, the Office of Engineering and Computing moderated, rather than allowing the automatic send feature, incoming email to firstname.lastname@example.org. By doing this, OEC was able to examine emails before they were sent out en masse. OEC began moderating on Monday, Feb. 3.
“The underlying moderation issues with the two undergraduate Google groups have been resolved, and the groups are now correctly moderated,” Kane said. “OEC analyzed each of the emails that were delivered and determined they did not contain any malicious code. OEC did NOT visit each of the websites to determine whether the websites contain malicious code.”
If there are any additional concerns regarding strange and possibly malicious emails, Jacobs School of Engineering IT Services recommends you contact them at email@example.com if you have an @eng.uced.edu account. If you have an @ucsd.edu account, contact the UCSD Service Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of the Jacobs School of Engineering.