MONCTON, N.B. — The University of Moncton says it is "working non-stop" to block malicious emails targeting a female student being sent to students and staff, although a ninth did make it through to thousands of addresses on its system.
They say the email was sent late Thursday and was quickly deleted from the university's server.
The series of mass emails, some of which contained naked photos of a female student and a threat toward the university, started arriving last Saturday.
"Teams in our IT department have been working non-stop keeping watch in order to intercept the messages coming from this individual," university president Raymond Theberge said during a news conference on Friday.
"The messages are difficult to block because the perpetrator uses several identities. Progress has been made over the past two days."
Theberge said the school won't discuss how the messages are being intercepted for "public safety reasons." He said doing so would open up the university and the victim to more attacks.
Theberge called the attacks a type of cyber-terrorism, but said the school wouldn't shut down its email server because that would be letting the perpetrator win.
"It's never a good thing to give in to these kinds of attacks," he said. "If you give in once there will be other attacks and there will be other demands made on the institution — not only us but other institutions like us."
Roxann Guerrette, president of the university's student union, said Friday she wasn't buying Theberge's reassurances about the email system or his rationale for keeping it up and running.
She said the school is looking out for its own interests instead of students and the victim.
"We received a ninth email last night — I do not believe they are on top of this," said Guerrette. "The email from last night had explicit photos again, so we are talking the student's dignity versus the university's ego."
Guerrette has said the emails appear to be a form of blackmail or "revenge porn.''
She said the university has to shut down its email system to "buy time" until the attacker is found. She said the school's backup message system should be used in the meantime.
IT department director Andre Lee said in general terms the school is following common protocols to limit the number of spam emails delivered to the campus.
He said Thursday night was a busy one for officials monitoring email traffic.
"It was a very, very active night for our services," said Lee. "We kept seeing the individual trying different techniques and mechanisms to get messages through."
He said one message did get through to 2,000 addresses and was erased.
Officials said an ongoing investigation had determined that this is a matter of identity theft, but that data and the personal information of students and staff are secure.
Theberge said the university would reevaluate its position about using a possible backup over the next few days. He also said a 24-hour, toll-free psychological helpline would be set up for staff members and students.
"It is a very difficult time for students . . . and collectively we have to work towards a solution."
Speaking in Fredericton, Premier Brian Gallant said the provincial government would do what it can to support the efforts of police and the university.
"Certainly anything that we can help in terms of cyber security we will do," said Gallant, although he didn't elaborate.
Earlier in the week, RCMP confirmed that they had interviewed the victim and have identified a possible suspect.
Sgt. Andre Pepin said Friday that no arrests have been made, but he provided no other details.
"It is progressing good for us so far, but the investigation is ongoing."
- By Keith Doucette in Halifax
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said 2,000 emails were blocked when in fact a ninth email was erased from 2,000 addresses.