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

  • Historic eclipse darkens skies across U.S.

    World News Toronto Sun
    Millions of Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and disposable protective glasses Monday as the moon blotted out the sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly a century. Source
  • Canadian man's body found along Appalachian Trail in Maine

    World News CTV News
    WYMAN TOWNSHIP, Maine -- Authorities say the body of a Canadian man has been found along the Appalachian Trail in Maine. WABI-TV reports that the body of 55-year-old Gerald Gabon, of Ontario, was found Sunday evening by another hiker along the trail in Wyman Township in Franklin County. Source
  • Chilean court upholds measure legalizing some abortions

    World News CTV News
    SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's constitutional Court on Monday upheld a measure that would end the country's absolute ban on abortions. The court's 6-4 vote accepted the constitutionality of a measure to legalize abortions when a woman's life is in danger, when a fetus is not viable and in cases of rape. Source
  • Guam official says the island is calm despite North Korea threat

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- The lieutenant governor of Guam reassured Japanese on Monday that the U.S. territory is calm amid the recent tension between the U.S. and North Korea. Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio said at a news conference with the president of the Guam Visitors Bureau in Tokyo that Guam remains in a "state of normalcy. Source
  • Jury awards $417M in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    World News Toronto Sun
    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company’s iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. Source
  • Judge shot, wounded near Ohio courthouse; gunman killed

    World News Toronto Sun
    STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — A judge walking from his car into the county courthouse was shot by a gunman Monday morning but managed to fire back before a probation officer stepped in and ultimately killed the suspect, authorities said. Source
  • Quebec police hint at arrests after anti-immigration counter-rally turns violent [Photos]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    MONTREAL — Quebec City police are saying there is a very strong possibility there will be more arrests in connection with violence during duelling demonstrations over the weekend. A right-wing group called La Meute gathered Sunday to protest what it claims is a too-charitable refugee and immigration policy by the federal and Quebec governments. Source
  • Ottawa wants info on impact of nuclear-waste bunker on Indigenous community

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Further information on how a proposed nuclear-waste bunker near Lake Huron might affect area First Nations peoples is needed before the government decides whether to approve the project, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Monday. Source
  • U.S. Embassy in Russia stops issuing tourist visas for 8 days

    World News CTV News
    MOSCOW -- In a step that could affect hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists, the U.S. Embassy in Russia said Monday it would suspend issuing non-immigrant visas for eight days from Wednesday in response to the Russian decision to cap embassy staff. Source
  • Attorneys believe Marcellus Williams is innocent

    World News Toronto Sun
    ST. LOUIS — Attorneys for a condemned Missouri inmate warn that the state is preparing to execute a potentially innocent man. Marcellus Williams, 48, is scheduled to die Tuesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre for stabbing to death former St. Source