A man has confessed to accidentally sending a bizarre message to more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff at the University of Florida via the school's emergency alert texting system, university officials said.
The former employee of Mobile Campus, the commercial provider of UF's emergency mass text-message notification system, said he was "showing off" to two friends that he still had access to the messaging system, according to a statement on UF's Web site.
The UF community received the message, "The monkey got out of the cage," Tuesday evening at approximately 8:45 p.m.
"We are withholding the name at this point because it is an ongoing police matter and [we are] trying to determine, as we work with the state attorney's office and the Gainesville Police Department to find out exactly whose jurisdiction the incident falls within so we can decide who will pursue criminal charges in this case," University Police Capt. Jeff Holcomb said.
In a statement, University Police Lt. Darren Baxley said the man could be charged under a state law that prohibits using someone else's computer network without authorization, a third-degree felony. Holcomb said officials hope to have charges filed by the end of the week.
The meaning of the message remains unclear, but some students thought the message, which was sent on Inauguration Day, had a racial undertone.
UF junior Devon Grimme was watching a replay of Tuesday's inauguration when he received the message on his phone.
"I looked up and it clicked that they were probably talking about President Obama," he said.
"It is just more proof that this country has a long way to go, and came on a day when the message was one of acknowledging these shortcomings, and [highlighted the need to be] coming together as a people to overcome an obstacle," Grimme said.
UF junior Carley Wyche said, "I think if the university doesn't ... punish them, then they're just encouraging racism because it's not funny. People can laugh it off as a joke. But it really isn't."
But despite the speculation, Baxley said the man told investigators the message was not meant to be racial in nature. In fact, the man said he is an Obama supporter and voted for him in the November election.
Investigators don't yet know how the former employee gained access to the messaging system, which has some students worried about the security of their personal information.
UF spokesman Steve Orlando said only he and the dispatcher on duty at the University Police Department have the ability to send out a mass text message to the university community. He explained authorized users must enter a user name and password on a Web site in order to gain access to the text messaging system.
Orlando described the case-sensitive password as being "fairly strong," containing letters and numbers.
UF junior Kari Beckerman said the fact that an unauthorized person could send a message through the system is "absolutely terrifying." She worried that her personal information could be accessed, as well.
Mobile Campus subscribers must give out a cell phone number and an e-mail address when they sign up for the service. UF's emergency contact form, however, also asks for a street address. Mobile Campus users also have the option to opt-in to receive special offers via text message from local businesses and restaurants.
David Liniado, CEO of Mobile Campus, said, "No information was extracted from our system or could have been."
He added this is the first incident of this kind the company has had since it was launched in 2005. Mobile Campus has about 10 employees in its Atlanta headquarters, as well as representatives at some of the universities they serve. According to the company's Web site, it currently serves 16 campuses across the country and has more than 150,000 cell phone numbers in its database.
In the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting, UF began requiring students to submit their cell phone numbers for emergency notification purposes.
Many universities across the country also use text-messaging as a means for notifying students and staff of campus emergencies.
Wednesday night Virginia Tech used their messaging system to warn students to stay put while police investigated a fatal stabbing on campus.