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Penn State Apologizes For Alarming Anti-Phishing Email

Penn State is apologizing for causing panic among students after sending out a message appearing to come from the Department of Transportation as part of a “self-phishing campaign” from the Office of Information Security.

The email claimed to have photo evidence of recipients running a red light while driving in Centre County.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused,” the Office of Information Security said in a follow-up email. “If you have any questions about the legitimacy of future emails, please do not hesitate to contact the Penn State Office of Information Security: [email protected] or visit our website at: https://phishing.psu.edu.”

The email was sent this week to a large group of students. And apparently many of them called PennDOT, university police, and other government agencies. Penn State is now telling students not to do this, explaining the message was not legitimate and requires no action.

Here’s the original email sent to students:

From: Department of Transportation <[email protected]
Date: November 13, 2018 at 8:59:56 AM CST 
To: (user id) 
Subject: FINE DUE: Motor Vehicle Violation

Hello (user), 

Pursuant to Pennsylvania Title 75, Subsection § 3112., Traffic Control Signals, you or someone in your vehicle did not stop for a red light on Friday, October 19, 2018, in Centre County, Pennsylvania. Your vehicle’s photo, attached, was captured via red-light camera.

Please click here to view or dispute your fine.

You will need your driver’s license information and your vehicle’s registration to proceed. 

Sincerely, 
Brandon, Regional Traffic Management Center Operator 
Department of Transportation

The email was intended to be part of an effort to help the Penn State community “recognize and avoid phishing attempts, which can compromise your computer security and more.” The campaign also includes other emails coming from illegitimate senders. If you mistakenly click the phishing link, you’ll reportedly be redirected to a page that says something along the lines of, “You failed the test.” Yikes.

This particular email won’t be sent out to any additional people in the campaign.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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