At least three Massachusetts colleges were targeted by hackers Thursday who sent anti-Semitic fliers through campus printers, in what appeared to be part of a coordinated attack on universities around the country, according to a civil rights group.
Among the schools hit by the hackers were the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smith College, and Northeastern University in the Commonwealth, and Princeton University, Brown University, DePaul University, and the University of Southern California, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Hackers infiltrated the computer systems to send fliers that included swastikas and anti-Semitic text above a link to a website classified as a hate group.
Robert O. Trestan, the league’s New England regional director, said in a phone interview that hacking is a new tactic by anti-Semitic agitators, who have historically taped up fliers around campuses or placed them on cars in school parking lots.
“This is a bigger concern than traditional fliering, because there’s a breach of security, and it’s apparently a nationally coordinated attack to spread anti-Semitism,” Trestan said. “It’s always a concern when people are exposed to hate material and lies about other groups.”
Trestan said the Anti-Defamation League has spoken with law enforcement about the hacking and that there is no indication of any public safety threats to Massachusetts students. He said it is not clear who sent the fliers.
An FBI spokeswoman said her agency could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, per US Justice Department policy.
Northeastern spokesman Michael Armini said the university’s data security staff indicated that the hacking, which affected more than 20 Northeastern printers, originated from overseas.
He said the school “quickly put a firewall in place to block further attacks. This should substantially mitigate this kind of risk, but our experts say it cannot be completely eliminated.”
At UMass Amherst, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a note to the school community on Thursday that the flier was sent to several printers and fax machines, and that campus police and IT officials were investigating.
“As a campus community, we condemn this cowardly and hateful act,” Subbaswamy wrote.
Officials at Smith, in Northampton, are also investigating, the college said in a campus-wide e-mail, which stated that the flier “and its contents have no place in our community. We reject its hateful message as well as its intention to shock and intimidate.”
Princeton said Friday in a statement that several network printers were targeted at the New Jersey campus, and that its Department of Public Safety is investigating.
“These flyers are offensive and contrary to the values of the University, which is committed to creating and maintaining an environment free from discrimination and harassment,” said Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and inclusion, in the statement. “Princeton attaches great importance to mutual respect, and we deplore expressions of hatred directed against any individual or group.”
At DePaul, where students were on spring break this week, the university president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, told faculty and staff in an e-mail on Thursday night that the fliers appeared in “numerous output [printer] trays” on the Illinois campus.
“We are currently investigating the breach as well as the source and origin of this despicable act, which certainly is not reflective of DePaul’s values nor of our campus culture where ALL are welcome,” he wrote.