MIT Students Not Enthusiastic About a Mass Email Prank

A student impersonating the president told everyone class would be cancelled today.

At around 1 a.m., MIT sophomore Delian Asparouhov sent an e-mail to his entire campus impersonating MIT President L. Rafael Reif and alleging that Wednesday classes would be cancelled due to threats related to the Aaron Swartz case. This has, uh, not gone over well among Asparouhov’s peers (in part because some students received the email over 100 times).

Asparouhov is being fairly candid about his motivations. As MIT students tried to figure out whether indeed they needed to go to class, the sophomore told an MIT Tech reporter, “Sorry, that email from Rafael Reif was really from me. I was just trying to joke around, and did not mean to bring in such a serious matter like Aaron Swartz. Sorry, just a kid messing around.” Apparently realizing that this sounded a bit flippant, he followed up with a longer blog post apologizing and explaining the reasoning behind the email:

This prank all started as a simple argument between friends at 12:45 AM. I was trying to explain how email is a completely insecure protocol, and that it was very easy to spoof an email to be sent from anyone. My friend didn’t believe me and challenged me to send him an email as if it was President Reif.

He explains some of the mechanics behind his plan and then addresses the rather large logical leap in which he jumped from sending his friends the prank email to sending his entire school the prank email:

I initially sent it out to just my friend, and then a minute later, I decided to send it out to the whole living group, and then all of the dorms. At that time, the only thoughts that were going through my head were “This’ll be really funny when people think there aren’t any classes tomorrow.”

Asparouhov seems to have realized too late that with a Swartz-related gun scare a few weeks ago and a decision on Tuesday not to release names of those involved in the Swartz investigation because of concerns for their safety, his e-mail might have actually worried some of its recipients. Not to mention it spread misinformation about whether students had class and (perhaps the greatest crime of all in an MIT community that prides itself on successful hacks) clogged their inboxes with hundreds of messages, thanks to a vulnerability in the method he used to send the message.

Despite his apology, comments on an MIT Tech article about the snafu are, shall we say, unsympathetic? Turns out people don’t like being told they have the day off when they don’t. They especially don’t like being told this 100 times.