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Hoax voting e-mail targets George Mason University community

It appears someone hacked into George Mason University's e-mail system late last night and sent out a hoax message intending to deter the Northern Virginia school's voters from going to the polls today.

The short message, which looked as if it came from the office of Provost Peter N. Stearns, was addressed to the Mason Community at large: "Please note that election day has been moved to November 5th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you."

George Mason officials said this morning that the message went to approximately 35,000 people at the school's three campuses in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William County, including about 30,000 students and 5,000 employees. University officials do not know who is responsible for the hack but said GMU is working with University police and the FBI to determine the source.

"Somebody was able to access a closed list, and the question we're trying to answer is how was that person able to get in there and do that," said Daniel Walsch, a George Mason spokesman. "We are working with authorities to try to locate the source, and hopefully we can identify the source, as we are taking it seriously and will prosecute if we find the person."

Stearns, the provost, sent out a message to the University community shortly before 1 a.m. to try to debunk what he called "troubling rumors" about the election. He wrote that the election is on Nov. 4 for both political parties and that it is untrue that any student jeopardizes their financial aid package by voting, a reference to earlier hoax e-mails that have circulated.

Walsch said it is unclear what the motive of the hoax was, whether it was just a joke or whether it was aimed at preventing students from voting.

"It caused some disruption," Walsch said, adding that students and parents have been calling about the rumors. "We're trying to get out notices that this is not true and we are working with police authorities to find the source of this. And we're trying to be as open about it as we possibly can be."

By Josh White  |  November 4, 2008; 10:35 AM ET
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