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Data Communications and Computing officials are investigating claims that a racist message posted on the Internet last week originated at Penn. But Associate Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing Dan Updegrove said it is possible that Penn's computer system had nothing to do with the posting. He added that the best way for e-mail users to prevent such incidents in the future is to protect their passwords carefully. The message, entitled "Why All Blacks Should Go Back to Africa," appeared to have been sent from an e-mail account at the University of North Carolina. The owner of the account denied sending the message. UNC officials said records from their computer system suggested that someone logged into the UNC account from Penn and posted the racist note. Updegrove said DCCS has begun investigating UNC's allegations, but that the investigation is in a very preliminary stage. "We're cooperating with UNC," he said. "We are absolutely looking into it. But typically it takes some work to determine what the chain of break-ins is." Henry Liang, a College senior and regular user of the Internet, said it is fairly simple to break into a computer system on the network. "There's a lot of ways to 'hack' into a computer system," Liang said. "It's not hard to do." He said although security on the Internet has improved recently due to new programs and techniques, it is still impossible to prevent unauthorized logins. Updegrove said DCCS is looking into the possibility that someone broke into both the Penn and UNC computer systems to send the message. He added that the records UNC sent him pointed to several other possible computer systems that could have been used to post the message -- meaning Penn's system might not have been involved at all. "The origin of the message is absolutely ambiguous," he said. "We are investigating whether something originated here or passed through here." Liang said tracking forged messages or security breaches is complicated. The process of sifting through computer records can take hours of hard work, he explained. Updegrove said he could not comment on the exact status of the pending DCCS investigation. If a Penn student is found to be responsible for breaking into the UNC computer system, that would constitute a "fairly serious" violation of the University's Internet policies, Updegrove said. But regardless of the outcome of the University's investigation, he said it is much easier for security failures to occur if e-mail users do not keep their passwords secret. "The integrity of the whole network depends on people behaving responsibly with their passwords," he said. "If you're careless with your password, you're more subject to having something embarrassing come from your account." In order to prevent others from breaking into their e-mail accounts, users should choose passwords that are difficult to guess, and not share them with anyone for any reason, Updegrove said. He added that users should also report any suspected security problems to their system administrators at once. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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