Professor deals with elaborate cyber-attack

University professor Hamid Arabnia speaks at a conference in Las Vegas. An individual has been sending harassing emails accusing him of ‘cheating the public.’ Courtesy UGA

A distinguished University computer science professor of 25 years has come under cyber-attack.

An unidentified individual is harassing Hamid Arabnia and his conference WORLDCOMP in an elaborate cyber-harassment campaign spanning two years, according to documents obtained by The Red & Black.

Using various fake names, the individual has sent thousands of emails meant to tarnish the professor’s reputation.

The University is now conducting an investigation through the Franklin College Dean’s Office regarding the allegations against Arabnia.

“I really feel that I am left to be on my own,” Arabnia said. “I feel like my hands are being tied behind my back while an ‘invisible person’ continues punching me.”

Harassment began in January with a Google site named worlddump1 that denounced WORLDCOMP as a “fake” conference and attacked Arabnia’s character. As evidence, the individual posted two papers exhibiting multi-level plagiarism accidentally published by the conference in 2010. Through legal action, Arabnia knows these papers were submitted by the same individual.

The individual has also sent emails containing defamatory information about Arabnia to thousands of recipients, including University faculty and students and academic professionals worldwide. University President Michael Adams, Provost Jere Morehead and Georgia Board of Regents Chancellor Hank Huckaby have also received the emails, according to documents.

The emails accuse Arabnia of “cheating the public for over ten years and for accumulating millions of dollars” and ask, “How is he still qualified to teach at UGA (because it is already proven that Hamid Arabnia has no moral and ethical standards and he has done whatever is possible to collect the registration fee)? We ask UGA on what basis they are keeping him in the job? ... Even high school students know about this fake conference and they are laughing!”

The allegations were attributed to computer science researcher John Levine who co-authored “The Internet for Dummies” and “Mobile Internet For Dummies.” Levine said in an affidavit he had no knowledge of WORLCOMP and has never investigated it, according to documents.

The worlddump1 site, including the “investigation,” the unoriginal papers and attribution to the researcher, was posted on many blogs, including one where the comments had to be turned off because of overflowing harsh language and personal attacks from both sides. Anonymous letters detailing bad experiences with the conference were also sent to blog editors, many of which were published.

Because of fear of harassment, at least three sponsors and one speaker have dropped their commitments to WORLDCOMP, according to documents.

Arabnia said the harm he has suffered convinced him to switch his research focus to investigating cyber-harassment and ways to counter it.

“It just sucks the life out of me to describe this,” Arabnia said. “When I walk outside, I feel someone’s going to come after me with a knife because these are just a bunch of lies.”

The person harassing Arabnia could not be reached for comment despite multiple email attempts. In one of his many emails to Arabnia, however, he asked Arabnia to say hello to the reporter and to tell her to “take rest.” The email arrived shortly before Arabnia and the reporter were to meet in his office.

“Stop these cheap tricks and traps... You didn’t know that we are cleverer than you! ... Ha, ha! Of course you will never get our details. We send communications from remote locations!” the individual also wrote in an email dated March 9.

Legal Investigations

Arabnia has begun legal action against his harasser and is confident the individual will be discovered. An Athens-Clarke County judge has issued a restraining order to the individual and emailed it to the addresses used to send harassing emails. Arabnia’s legal team has subpoenaed Internet giants such as Google and Yahoo to obtain more information.

Arabnia has also hired a cyber-investigator who successfully obtained the individual’s IP address after sending him to a trap site called The Truth About WORLDCOMP 2012. The address points to Tallahassee, Fla.

Although Arabnia has been advised by his legal team not to speculate the identity of the person who is harassing him, he said the individual may be a disgruntled former conference tract chair who was let go and never reinstated.

The Franklin College dean’s office is also conducting an investigation, according to a statement from the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs. The office will review evidence against Arabnia. Hugh Ruppersburg, acting dean of the Franklin College, declined to comment on the investigation.

An email from Ruppersburg to Arabnia asks him to remove any evidence of a connection between WORLDCOMP and the University including UGA email addresses, phone numbers and local addresses, and asks him to add a disclaimer that “WORLDCOMP is neither sponsored by nor affiliated with UGA.” The email also asks Arabnia to submit explanatory material surrounding the allegations against WORLDCOMP and calls for him to halt all activities related to the conference for the time being.

The University has not offered Arabnia legal assistance in discovering who is behind the campaign, Arabnia said.

“UGA has not offered any help (eventhough [sic], they have the resources to do so),” he said via email. “I am a proud faculty member of UGA for abut 25 years — I was expecting a little more support.”

A UGA Professor

Arabnia is a leader in multi-disciplinary applications to computer science and is frequently invited all over the world to speak, give keynote lectures at conferences and evaluate computer science programs at other universities. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Supercomputing.

The trophies of his success in computer science lay in three overflowing bookshelves and a dozen three-foot high stacks occupying a corner of his spacious office in Boyd Graduate Studies. For Arabnia, these books and copies of WORLCOMP publications represent his academic reputation, conference and research — all under attack.

“Do you know how many people have used this book?” Arabnia said, pulling one familiar WORLDCOMP book from its home in the bookcase.

Arabnia said he holds the life work of educating young people above his reputation and above that of his conference. The individual attacking Arabnia has also sought out the professor’s graduate and doctoral students in the cyber-bullying campaign.

“Every time I go to class to teach, I don’t age for the period because I enjoy it so much,” Arabnia said. “They are like my kids. They move onto responsible positions and send me emails every few years thanking me for what they have learned. This is so good. This fuels me. These guys sending emails to my graduate students is so hurtful.”

Apart from support from his students, Arabnia has received hundreds of emails and phone calls from international professionals encouraging him and his conference, some of whom he doesn’t remember meeting. Emails pledge support, affirm his approach to computer science and denounce the unnamed individual heading the smear campaign, according to documents.

“It is during these times that one starts valuing friends,” he said. “I have received nothing but expressions of support from email and phone because they see through it.”

Major events

2010: Plagiarized papers published in WORLDCOMP

January 2012: Worlddump1 site created

Feb. 14: Unidentified individual began sending emails

February: Arabnia hired cyber-investigator

Feb. 23: The individual sent email to hundreds of recipients with link to a blog that posted the allegations

Feb. 26: Arabnia received the email from the tract chair about how plagiarized papers were published

Feb. 29: The individual sent emails pretending to advertise the conference

Feb. 29: The Red & Black begins investigation

March: Arabnia notified of University investigation

March 1: Levine sent notarized affidavit to Arabnia

March 2: Dean Ruppersburg sent emails to Arabnia

March 2: Cyber-investigator sent trap site to the individual via email

March 6: First IP address linked to the individual obtained from a registered user of Embarq

March 6: The individual sent emails to hundreds of list-servs

March 7: Second IP address obtained from a registered user of Comcast Cable Company

March 8: Three sponsors withdrew their support for WORLDCOMP for fear of harassment

March 9: The individual sent email to University administrators

March 12: Deadline to submit papers for WORLDCOMP 2012

March 15: Arabnia opened a case against the individual

March 26: Restraining order issued to the individual by Athens-Clarke County court

March 27: Response to the anonymous emails sent concerning WORLDCOMP and its coordinators posted on WORLDCOMP site

March 29: The individual sent email using fake name pretending to answer allegations against WORLDCOMP to ”defend my longtime friend Professor Hamid Arabnia”

July 16-19: WORLDCOMP conference scheduled to take place in Las Vegas

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