Anti-Semitic, racist flyers raised questions on cybersecurity and discrimination

Photo by Jen Zhu '18 | Anti-Semitic flyers recently printed on campus printers, bringing into question cybersecurity on campus.

Sunnie Yi Ning '18 Assistant News Editor

On March 23, printers across campus printed racist and Anti-Semitic flyers. “Weev” Andrew Auernheimer, famed hacker, impacted at least a dozen other colleges, including neighboring Mount Holyoke College and the University Massachusetts Amherst, which also received the white-supremacist message.

That weekend, additional flyers were sent to unshielded printers at Smith. That Monday, in an apparent copy-cat incident, anti-LGBT flyers were printed at the University of California Berkeley and UMass Amherst.

Smith College Information Technology Services and Campus Police immediately blocked involved printers from off-campus access. Only the printers whose addresses are not known and previously blocked from off-campus access were affected. These printers now have been identified and added to the list to prevent future abuse of this sort. ITS also blocked the most common print communications method, or printing protocol, at Smith’s Internet gateway, to prevent further misuse.

The incident has drawn attention to cybersecurity on campus. Since the white supremacist hacker merely sent print jobs to the networked printers, it is hardly an illegal act. The open nature of college campus networks renders them vulnerable to this type of misuse, and printers are generally more susceptible to attack or misuse as more of them now allow for remote printing and can easily be found with a network scan of public Internet addresses.

Ben Marsden, Information Security Director at Smith College said, “This also serves as a reminder to everyone that as we put an ever increasing variety of devices on the internet, we need to take care and protect them from misuse or attack. This increase in the ‘Internet of Things’ comes with some real concerns for both security as well as privacy, and everyone should keep that in mind.”

Marsden said ITS is currently engaged in a large scale printing project that looks at several aspects of institutional printing on campus, including moving all printers into a printer-only network so that Smith can better manage both the administration and security of printers on the its network.

Some students, though, think that in an age of open internet, messages like this are inevitabe. “Hate mails are sent all the time; this incident is nothing more than just a spam in email,” an anonymous Jewish exchange student said.

Smith has also addressed the racist and Anti-Semitic content of the flyer. The Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, Dwight Hamilton, said in the email response, “Our work to create an inclusive Smith community, where each member is safe, valued and respected, will not be derailed by this cowardly act nor the hateful mindset that drove it.”

“Like so many on our campus, I struggle to understand what would motivate someone to spread hatred in this way,” said President McCartney. For those targeted by the flyers, this incident served as a reminder that Anti-Semitism and racism still exist and are exacerbated by the Internet. Jewish Student Advisor Rabbi Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser said, “Cyberspace enables anonymity and there are those who seem to be emboldened by that anonymity — by the avoidance of actually facing another person as a human being.”

The Smith College Jewish Community said in a statement to The Sophian, “Although this blatant Anti-Semitism may be a surprise for some, for others it is a potent reminder that our collective position of privilege in this country does not negate the presence of Anti-Semitism in our communities. We ask the Smith community as a whole to join us in moving forward without malice, but with intentional compassion to educate and humanize members of all communities.”