Iowa State University staff and students targeted by ‘vile’ cyberattack
UPDATE: This version has been updated to include a statement from Equity Prime Mortgage.
Nearly 4,900 Iowa State University-affiliated email accounts received a racist message from an email sender claiming to be Equity Prime Mortgage, the university says.
In a separate statement, Equity Prime said it was not the source of the email.
The email, according to ISU officials, made references to white supremacy and lynching. ISU said university police were working with the FBI to determine the identity of the sender of the message.
In a letter to the ISU community on Monday, the university said the message reached various university-affiliated email accounts, with a “vast majority” belonging to faculty and some to students. It said the university’s Information Technology Services Department was able to remove 70% of the messages before they were opened and blocked the sender.
“We understand how upsetting this was for those who received the email, especially our Black colleagues and students. Iowa State University condemns this repugnant hate-filled message and the racism and white supremacy it aimed to spread,” the letter said.
“These were spam emails that looked like they were coming from Equity Prime Mortgage,” said ISU Police Chief Michael Newton. “Luckily our folks through our information technology were able to intercept and make sure those weren’t delivered to many of the intended recipients.”
Though the university has dealt with spam emails before, Newton said the one claiming to be from Equity Prime contained “horrid, blatantly racist comments that are very inappropriate.”
In its letter, the university said the racist email also had been sent to accounts at Harvard and Stanford universities.
Angela Hunt, ISU news director, told the Tribune the university did not have any additional statement about the email.
Equity Prime, in its statement, said an entity it did not name but that was not associated with the company apparently used an email list obtained from an unknown source to populate a loan prequalification form on the company’s website. That then resulted in a “hateful and racist message to each recipient,” it said.
The company said the large and rapidly executed attack may have involved some form of automation, such as a web script or bot, and that it is working with the FBI to investigate the source. It also said it did not know where the email list came from, but that there were indications it had been used in connection with previous racist emails.
Equity Prime said any receipt of one of the emails by an existing customer of the company was purely a coincidence.
“It’s very unfortunate that this incident took place and by no means is this occurrence reflective of (Equity Prime Mortgage’s) values,” the company’s statement said. “We are completely against any malicious, racists attacks and are doing everything in our power to find the organization responsible for this heinous act.”
The New York Times reported that the Atlanta-based home mortgage company had recently been in the news when it fired human resources director Melissa Rolfe, the stepmother of an Atlanta police officer, Garrett Rolfe, who was fired and charged with murder in the shooting death of a Black man June 12. The killing set off several nights of unrest in Atlanta, including the burning of a Wendy’s restaurant where the shooting occurred, and prompted the resignation of the police chief there.
The home page of the company’s website on Tuesday featured a message saying “Melissa Rolfe’s termination was a direct result of her actions in the workplace and violation of company policy. While working with Melissa as she transitioned to a leave of absence granted by our organization, we discovered she violated company policy and created an uncomfortable working environment for many of our employees.
“As an HR director, she ultimately lost the confidence of her peers, leadership, and many employees who no longer felt comfortable engaging with her. We value diversity of thought and respect Melissa’s personal views and the views of all employees; however, when those views create a hostile working environment, we must make difficult decisions to part ways.”