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Data Sets Part of UMass Hunt for Source of Racist Emails

A leading national cybersecurity firm hired by the University of Massachusetts Amherst to find the culprit behind racist emails and online messages will use custom tools, and both proprietary and commercial data.

UMass Amherst statue.jpg
The Minuteman statue and Old Chapel at the University of UMass Amherst, May 10, 2018.
Greg Saulmon | gsaulmon@repub.co/Greg Saulmon / The Republican fi
(TNS) — The investigation into who sent a string of racist messages to Black student organizations at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is progressing through its initial stages, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said Wednesday evening.

Beginning in late August, Black student groups received disparaging and racist messages from an anonymous party telling them they did not belong on the campus and that they should consider sterilization. At least one email was signed by the “UMass Coalition for a Better Society.”

As part of the investigation, the university is working to determine if the emails were an isolated incident or part of a larger campaign by white supremacists, Subbaswamy said.

The school has hired Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics, a leading national cybersecurity firm, to investigate the matter, the chancellor said last week.

In his email Wednesday, Subbaswamy said the probe remained in its initial stages. While he avoid providing detailed information — “for fear of tipping off the perpetrator” — the chancellor said that the Stroz Friedberg investigators were assessing the targeting of UMass students “across multiple sources, including dark websites.”

The firm, he said, “will leverage custom tools as well as proprietary and commercial datasets in their probe,” and will try to determine whether a “larger white supremacist campaign” was behind the messages.

UMass still does not know whether the emails came from a member of the school community, Subbaswamy said. But he assured students that any information identifying the person responsible for the messages would be shared with law enforcement.

“If the source is someone in the campus community,” the chancellor said, “that person will face severe university sanctions, up to and including expulsion or employment termination, as well as a referral to the District Attorney for criminal prosecution.”

Subbaswamy also said that recent meetings with Black students provided insights into how his administration could more fully support those affected by the emails and other racist incidents that have occurred this semester.

In September, an unidentified motorist yelled a racial slur at a group of Black students walking on campus. In other incidents, anti-Black symbols were found alongside anti-Semitic symbols drawn in the dust on a student’s car, and anti-Black epithets were found written in a residence hall.

“I pledge to you that we will do everything within our power to alleviate the burden that these racist acts have placed on our Black students,” Subbaswamy said. “In doing so, we will redouble our efforts to foster a campus community grounded in justice, equity, dignity and respect.”

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