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RF impersonated to report fake coronavirus case in FloMo

Resident fellow’s email account impersonated or hacked

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For 21 minutes on Tuesday night, residents of Florence Moore Hall were led to believe they were in the proximity of the first confirmed case of coronavirus on campus.

An email that appeared to have been sent from resident fellow John Barton at 9:52 p.m. a FloMo resident stated that a resident in one of the complex’s seven dorms had contracted COVID-19, but “to remain calm as the case has been controlled.” A screenshot of the email was then circulated among students. Barton sent an email to FloMo residents afterward to clarify that he had not sent the first email and was unaware of any coronavirus cases in FloMo. Stanford’s Health Alerts website states there are no cases of COVID-19 at any Stanford location. 

Barton declined to comment to The Daily further on the matter. His email indicates he reported the hoax to “the authorities,” though Stanford Public Safety spokesperson Bill Larson said no report had been filed there. University IT (UIT) has not responded to The Daily’s request for comment. 

The incident comes as the University moves to increase two-factor authentication to access Stanford email accounts. Beginning last month, University IT started to require two-step to external email clients using Office 365, such as Outlook. The transition, however, is not set to be complete until October. The change followed what UIT termed “an unprecedented volume of phishing attacks, leading to hundreds of compromised user accounts,” in December 2019. 

Meanwhile, concern about the outbreak’s potential impact on campus grows as students petition for Stanford to take further action to prevent the virus’ spread to campus. Nearly 1,900 students have signed the petition as of Wednesday afternoon. Eleven cases have been confirmed in Santa Clara County.

It’s unclear what action the University will take should a case of coronavirus actually be confirmed on campus. Stanford did not respond to repeated inquiries on their plan over the last two days, while student group Stanford Against Coronavirus, which started the petition, has released a draft contingency plan it believes the University should follow. On Tuesday, Associate Vice Provost for Environmental Health and Safety Russell Furr announced that Stanford has launched an “emergency operations organization,” though it is unclear what that entails.

This article has been corrected to reflect that the fake email was sent to one resident, not multiple, and a screenshot was circulated among other students. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Julia Ingram ’21 was The Daily's Volume 256 editor-in-chief. She is a New York City native majoring in English literature and working toward a career in news reporting. Contact her at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.