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UCL launches investigation into ‘bellogate’ email hack attack

ByIlinca Barsan

Oct 10, 2014

University College London (UCL) has launched a cyber security investigation into an email sent from Provost Michael Arthur’s account.

The one-word email sent from provost@ucl.ac.uk, simply saying ‘bello’, was addressed to the entire student population of almost 29,000 students.

As the mysterious email was sent to an ‘all-students’ address on Thursday night, many students took the opportunity to “reply all”.

Messages sent to the entire student body included a reference to a Lionel Richie song, asking: “Bello? Is it me you’re looking for?”

The ‘all-students’ email address was then signed up to a range of online services, including GayPornTalent.com, membership to Sarah Palin’s website, UKIP online, as well as the official Coldplay newsletter.

The email hack began trending on Twitter as #bellogate.

A statement issued by the university’s director of communication at 9.15 am on Thursday October 9 said: “I am sorry to inform you that overnight, multiple emails (perhaps up to 1,000) have been received by students on an all-student email list.

“Some of these purport to come from the UCL President & Provost, Professor Michael Arthur via the previous Provost’s e-mail address, provost(at)ucl.ac.uk.

“However, unfortunately, the problem was compounded because replies were posted to the list, and the email address was used to subscribe to various sites. “

The “all-students” email list was closed down at 9.31am on Thursday morning.
By this time, students had already received 3000 to 4000 spam emails.

The UCL Information Services Division (ISD) published a full statement regarding the “Spamming of UCL students incident” on October 10.

It explained that the email was not sent by the Provost but that “their email was spoofed to make it look that way”.

As no moderation was set up on the ‘all-students’ email, anyone could send an email to the entire list.

ISD stated: “During the night the number of calls to the out of hours service desk did not indicate a significant problem.

“At about 06:00 we became aware of the magnitude of the problem. A critical incident team was formed immediately and began to work on the issue.”

Students are offered technical support if they struggle to delete the spam emails.

The email sent from the Provost’s previous email address originated from an anonymous account and could not yet be traced.

By Ilinca Barsan

Ilinca Barsan is a 4th year Sociology and Politics student. Formerly News Editor for The Student, she is now Editor-in-Chief. Ilinca also has a passion for smoked salmon, vintage shopping, all things digital, and puns beyond good and evil.

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