Man alleges student sent internet threats

A 39-year-old substitute teacher from Brooklyn, N.Y., claims a GW student has been threatening him through postings to an internet newsgroup and violating University internet usage policy.

The man, who requested to remain anonymous because of ongoing legal proceedings, said he sent a complaint to Information Systems and Services last month but GW officials failed to act.

Yale Beverly, security server administrator for ISS, said ISS looked into the case and it was referred to University Police.
Beverly replied to the man in an e-mail, saying that the University had “taken appropriate action.”

“I think you’ll find that the (accuser) has a lot of issues,” Beverly said. “We looked into his complaint, and it was handled by UPD.”

UPD was unavailable for comment.

The Brooklyn man, who said he also operates a small software business, said he has been forced to change his phone number because of online threats of assault such as this one and will be moving in the near future.

The man said some Usenet users have been harassing him for posts in a Beatles newsgroup three years ago. He said the language in these groups is often derogatory and mean because people can post anonymously.

“I got into a few fights with people on Usenet, just name-calling,” he said. “They decided to up the ante.”

He further claims the people who originally began threatening him convinced others to write negative posts about him in a Pink Floyd newsgroup.

“They’re kind of like (Osama) bin Laden, they find idiots like (the GW student) who they can manipulate and make them do these kind of things,” the teacher said. “They’re telling thousands of people every day that (I am) responsible for all the evil things that are going on here.”

He has also threatened legal action against the University, claiming Beverly did not take his complaints seriously.

Despite cases like these, a growing student population and increased internet capabilities at the University, technology staff said abuse of the internet has remained low.

“It’s been pretty steady,” said Michael Walker, senior assistant dean of students who currently heads Student Judicial Services. “We hear some complaints but not a disproportionately high amount.”

Walker said GW handles fewer than 20 internet abuse (including e-mail abuse) cases per year, mostly dealing with e-mail “spamming” and “very few” hacking cases.

All GW Resnet and Novell users agree to a Code of Conduct, much the same way users of an internet service like America Online have to agree to that provider’s terms of service.

The Code of Conduct states GW computing services “are to be used in a manner that supports the mission of the University in fostering an overall academic climate.”

While the University does enforce this code through ISS, Resnet, SJS and other organizations, GW staff do not monitor individual e-mails.

“We pride ourselves on academic freedom,” said Krizi Trivisani, assistant director of the Internet Security Office at ISS. “We do not monitor what people are looking at, what sites they are going to.”

Trivisani said her office has had to deal with the Brooklyn teacher several times, and he is a known “flamer.” She said the office contacted the user and took appropriate action.

A “flamer” is a Usenet user who attacks or threatens other members.
Trivisani said most internet abuse reported to her office comes from outside the University. Hackers or spammers on computers outside GW sometimes use a University computer to “bounce” from. For example, a person receiving e-mail might think it is from a GW student, while it is actually from a user completely outside of the system.

“We recently had a case where someone’s ID was being spoofed, and we had to deal with that,” Trivisani said.

Outgoing violations do occur, she said. Most of these have to do with inappropriate use of e-mail; out of 48 cases last year with students or other people with registered access to GW computers, 40 had to do with e-mail abuse.

The Office of Internet Security even has an e-mail set up to deal with complaints, Users from inside and outside the GW system can use the address to file a complaint against a user or to report abuse. The ISS office then investigates the reports. Trivisani said most reports the ISS receives are about users outside GW.

She said the University takes steps to protect its users. The ISS office, for example, installed a “trend virus filter” in August. Between then and the end of December, the system filtered 206,410 viruses, processing 17.6 million messages.

ISS detected 46,378 hacking violations coming from non-GW users in 2001, most of which were stopped with the aid of a firewall, a program that protects systems from being compromised.

Charles Spann, manager of internet technology services technical support, said there is a limit to how much the university can control. Once someone has access to the internet, a user can view any site and use any service available.

“There is no limit to their abilities to communicate with any tool that is available on the internet,” Spann said.

The Brooklyn man remains unsatisfied with how the University handled his situation. He said since he notified GW of the problem, officials have “absolute responsibility to act.”

“What is appropriate action? Appropriate action could mean nothing, if doing nothing was considered appropriate,” he said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.