Canadian university administrators say online threats a growing concern

Universities are being urged to put resources into monitoring online threats in light of a spate of incidents at North American institutions that intensified after the fatal mass shooting at an Oregon college in October.

See Full Article

Threats against several Canadian universities have been posted on blogs and online forums in recent months, including one case at Wilfrid Laurier University that triggered an hours-long lockdown of the Waterloo, Ont., campus just a couple of weeks after the carnage in Oregon.

The University of Toronto, McMaster University in Hamilton and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., have also been targeted.

Administrators at several universities across Canada say online threats are a growing concern, and stress campus security and police have been working to keep up with emerging risks and harness technology to keep students, faculty and staff safe in case of emergencies.

But William Taylor, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said it's an uphill battle, particularly as social media grows more pervasive.

"There's always new technologies and new things coming online and frankly, law enforcement and institutions are always a little bit behind that in learning how to deal with it," he said.

And while copycat hoaxes largely account for the surge in online threats, it remains critical to quickly assess the credibility of each message, he said.

Officials at the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, McGill University, and the University of Toronto all say they take every threat seriously and continuously review their security protocols.

Each school has a system in place to get the word out during a crisis, often a mix of opt-in text alerts, email warnings, university-specific apps and websites, electronic signs and Twitter posts.

And most have tasked a few employees, typically in the public affairs department, with keeping an eye out for online threats and flagging them for police when spotted.

Taylor said that's no longer a realistic approach.

"If you have somebody just sitting there watching it, it's not a highly efficient system. They're not there 24 hours a day and they're not data mining broadly; it's usually very close to the campus... and it's usually specifically those things where it's addressed to the college," he said.

Many institutions south of the border now hire data-mining services to comb the Internet for concerning posts, which he said is much more effective -- but also more expensive.

"There is a cost, there is, and it's unfortunate but you have to put resources toward things in order to address them," he said.

At Dalhousie University in Halifax, administrators rely on a combination of outside data mining and internal social media engagement.

"None of us could pay attention to all the -- you know, Facebook, and Twitter and LinkedIn and Yik Yak and all these things, but there are aggregator services that will look for any mention of your university...so that when those are mentioned in any social networks you get forwarded a response," said Dwight Fischer, the university's chief information officer.

Social media also plays a role in responding to online threats and combating misinformation, university officials said. But knowing how much information to release can be a challenge.

The University of Toronto faced criticism in September after it chose not to disclose details of a threat that was posted on a local blog. Images of the post quickly circulated online and the union representing teaching assistants at the university said the threat targeted the sociology and women's studies programs.

The university made the decision after consulting police, which deemed the risk low, said spokeswoman Althea Blackburn-Evans. Security was nonetheless beefed up on all campuses, she said.

The issue of online threats is on the radar of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators, to which the university belongs, Blackburn-Evans said.

"In the new year, this group will be coordinating efforts to address online threats and best practices of response and action," she said in an email.

The recent incidents likely flow from a similar trend in the U.S, said Taylor of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

While cyber crime has been a growing concern for years, there has been an "onslaught" of online threats levelled at American universities since the Oct. 1 shooting that resulted in 10 deaths at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and Canadian universities aren't immune to the phenomenon, he said.

"It's different than we've had any other year before," Taylor said.

A 4chan post that preceded the Oregon shooting read: "Don't go to school if you are in the northwest. happening thread will be posted tomorrow morning."

A similar message was posted on the forum weeks later warning people not to go to Wilfrid Laurier's science building. A 22-year-old man in London, England, has been charged with malicious communication and released on bail.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Father of Strasbourg attacker said son backed ISIS group

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- The man described as the father of the 29-year-old suspect in this week's deadly Christmas market attack in Strasbourg says his son subscribed to the beliefs of the Islamic State group. The interview with Abdelkrim Chekatt by the state-run France 2 television channel was shown Saturday night, two days after the son was killed in a confrontation with three police officers in his childhood neighbourhood in Strasbourg following a massive manhunt. Source
  • Everything you need to know about the new UN climate agreement

    World News CTV News
    On Saturday, officials from nearly 200 countries agreed to a set of guidelines to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change at the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. Here’s what you need to know about the agreement, which is being called the Katowice Climate Package. Source
  • Police now have private health files found in N.W.T. dump, says health authority

    Canada News CBC News
    Hundreds of patients' health records found at a dump in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., are now with the RCMP and will soon be en route to Yellowknife. Once there, the police will hand over the files to the territory's information and privacy commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts, according to a N.W.T. Source
  • Punches thrown during anti-immigration protest in Edmonton

    Canada News CBC News
    A fist fight broke out during an anti-immigration protest in downtown Edmonton Saturday afternoon, before police moved in to separate protesters and counter-demonstrators. There were only a few police officers present at Churchill Square when the altercation started, but more arrived after the first punch landed. Source
  • Allstate tried to cut off auto insurance sales to drivers in Brampton, Ont., lawsuit claims

    Canada News CBC News
    An Ontario woman is taking one of the province's biggest insurance providers to court, alleging she was fired for pushing back on the company's "discriminatory" effort to stop selling plans to drivers who live in Brampton. "It's just wrong, there is no other word for it," said Medha Joshi. Source
  • Migrant child who died in U.S. custody had food and water before being picked up by Border Patrol: lawyer

    World News CBC News
    Lawyers for the family of a seven-year-old girl who died while in U.S. Border Patrol custody say she did not suffer from a lack of food or water before being picked up by authorities. Their account disputes earlier information released by U.S. Source
  • Loyalty, rapport: Why Trump chose Mulvaney as chief of staff

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Demonstrated loyalty. Political savvy. Personal rapport. And, as a bonus, a decent golf game. U.S. President Donald Trump had long made clear the qualities he was looking for in his next chief of staff. Source
  • Why Trump chose Mick Mulvaney as chief of staff

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Demonstrated loyalty. Political savvy. Personal rapport. And, as a bonus, a decent golf game. U.S. President Donald Trump had long made clear the qualities he was looking for in his next chief of staff. Source
  • 'Intoxicated' man dies after falling from Victoria bridge: police

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA - Police in British Columbia's capital say a man has died after climbing the railing of a bridge and losing his balance. Victoria police say they received multiple calls early Saturday morning reporting an "intoxicated" man had climbed the Johnson Street Bridge and fallen into the frigid water below. Source
  • Quebec's anti-corruption unit blames media coverage for recruiting troubles

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Seven years after it was created, Quebec's anti-corruption unit is having difficulty recruiting members and filling a number of positions. Frederick Gaudreau, the interim head of the agency known by its French acronym, UPAC, admits unflattering coverage in the media hasn't helped. Source