An unintentional group chat started before spring break when an email with the subject line “Test,” and the content “Just ignore this” was sent to a majority of the senior class. The email was sent from Jeremy Plunkett, Senior Systems Administrator for TU to the address firstname.lastname@example.org.
With most widely distributed university emails, the ability to reply, even to the sender, is muted. However, the reply all option was available on this one, and it wasn’t long before someone noticed and took advantage of it.
Many of the responses were simply people asking to be removed from the list. One early respondent was Chris Borden who wrote, “Your test may have worked. Did you secure the email@example.com e-mail address so people can’t reply to it and broadcast to the entire school?” Along with the general annoyance of having emails buzz off the hook is the potential for security issues.
Senior computer science major Sam Chott noted two of these issues. First, “the risk of having a reply all-able email go out to so many people is that each reply all makes a lot of data, so the university actually running out of server room is plausible.”
Secondly, “you don’t have to log in to an email account to use that address in the ‘sent from’ field. It’s really easy to pretend to be someone else over university email,” Chott added.
Other responses included a Rick Roll by Grant Bohls, “Kevin Durant is a cupcake,” by Ryan Orland, “Beyonce was robbed,” by Albert Song, “School wide group chat. Let’s go, testfam,” by Amy Cairns, and “This is why God doesn’t talk to us anymore,” by Kyle Doud.
In response to request for removal, Ryan McCarthy posted, “Here’s a short tutorial for how to remove yourself from an email chain: https://youtu.be/dQw4w9WgXcQ.”
The harmless fun didn’t last long, though. Within less than an hour of the chat being made live, someone by the name Adolf, whose email address was firstname.lastname@example.org, wrote “Hitler did nothing wrong.” This phrase is commonly associated with an internet meme often used on the website 4chan.
Shortly after this email, people took to social media to express their outrage with this type of speech. Tara Grigson posted a screenshot of the email on Facebook saying, “when someone sends out an unsecured test email to the entire senior class at tu, which means anyone on the list can ALSO send an email to the entire senior class at tu #ithoughtourtruecolorswereblueandgold #turnsoutourtruecolorsareantisemitism.”
In the comments under that post Grigson, Whitney Cipolla and Kelsey Hancock each mentioned reporting the incident to various campus authorities. Jacqueline Caldwell, Vice President for the office of diversity and engagement, sent an email out to the senior class following the incident that read: “It has been brought to our attention that an inappropriate and concerning email was sent to the students earlier this week. The University’s IT Department has looked into this matter and has discovered that an email distribution list was compromised for a time, which made that particular list vulnerable to an attack from a spammer.”
Caldwell suggested, “should you receive any such emails in the future, please notify IT immediately at email@example.com.”
Caldwell concluded, “we regret this unfortunate incident and want to reaffirm the University’s commitment to maintaining our campus as a safe and welcoming home for all.”