'No silver bullet' to stop malicious email barrage at University of Moncton

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'No silver bullet' to stop malicious email barrage at University of Moncton

Students are calling on the University of Moncton to shut down the campus email system after two more malicious messages were received by students and staff Wednesday, the latest in the "revenge porn" that has targeted a female student.

"We can confirm that a seventh and an eighth malicious email from the same source were sent to members of the university community, March 1st," university spokesperson Ghislaine Arsenault said.

She did not respond to a question about what the university was doing to stop the emails.

The emails were deleted by the IT department, and Arsenault said the University of Moncton would not comment further because it doesn't want to interfere with the RCMP investigation. 

Roxann Guerrette, president of the student union FÉECUM, said students are extremely frustrated with the response from the university, and are demanding the email system be suspended until the "crisis" is over.

Faculty, staff and students have email addresses tied to a University of Moncton account.

But cybersecurity expert David Shipley, the director of strategic initiatives at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, said unfortunately there isn't a "silver bullet" or "simple fix" to stop the emails.

"It's cat and mouse — every time the team in Moncton is trying to adjust to this, the individual can try something new," Shipley said.

"I completely understand the frustration that folks on the campus must be feeling but I also can sympathise with the IT team who are just trying to constantly react and adjust."

'This is just the tip of the iceberg'

Shipley said the only possibility for stopping the emails is for the university to take the extreme step of not accepting any email messages from the internet, but he isn't convinced that would stop this attacker.

"Even if you were to stop accepting emails these crimes can be committed using social media or websites ... the bottom line is the technology is not the major focus here. We've got a person who is committing crimes from God- knows-where, supposedly internationally, that we can't shut down."

The IT community in New Brunswick is small, and everyone is trying to think of a way to stop the attacker, who appears to have some "sophisticated skills," Shipley said.

"We're not government, we're not private sector, we're not military or high security. These systems were set up to facilitate the exchange of information, so he's taking advantage of the university's very nature to commit heinous crimes."

Shipley said he is following the case at the University of Moncton closely and believes the only way to stop the emails is to arrest the individual responsible.

"This is an act of violence and power and the more attention we're giving this, I worry that this is feeding that individual," he said.

"Everyone should first and foremost still be thinking of the victim. This continues day after day after day and the toll that must be taking ... so we have to make sure that she knows that she's loved, supported, we're doing everything we can."

Police investigation continues

Shipley said the reality is that in 2017 you can figure out how to do a lot of terrible things to other people on the internet.

"If someone wanted to just absolutely devastate any individual, the tool sets are there ... this is just the tip of the iceberg.

​"People need to get mad — but not mad at the University of Moncton and its staff. ... They need to get mad that we've walked into a world where we don't even have the resources to deal with this stuff.

"We need to start going to our MPs and saying, 'If this dude is in whatever country why the hell aren't we pushing for laws where we can go get people like this?'"

RCMP Sgt. André Pepin said Thursday that police are working closely with the administration at University of Moncton.

Codiac RCMP said earlier this week that a suspect had been identified but no arrests have been made.

Pepin wouldn't say where the suspect lives because it is part of the investigation, but said if the suspect were outside Canada it would be more difficult to make an arrest.

"Before we can arrest we have to put everything together and have the charge approved ... but everything is still under investigation — we're trying to figure out exactly what can be done."