Hackers attempted to discourage staff and students at a US university from voting by sending an email late Monday night, which claimed yesterday's presidential election had been postponed.

The email, which was created by an unknown hacker who managed to gain access to a university list server, was sent to around 35,000 students, faculty and staff at George Mason University in Virginia, and said the election has been postponed until November 5.

It generated a flurry of calls from parents and students wanting to know what happened, said GMU spokesman Daniel Walsch. For the most part, those who called were not fooled by the hoax but wanted to know why it was sent out, Walsch said.

"We did get a number of calls from students and parents wondering what was going on," he said. "Some of the people were not sure if the message was legitimate," because it appeared to be coming from the provost's office, the spokesman said.

The matter has been turned over to local law enforcement authorities and the FBI, Walsch said. "We do not know who was involved," Walsch said, "But if we find out who did this, we intend to prosecute that person or persons to the fullest extent of the law".

According to Walsch, the list server used to send the bogus email is typically used to send out alerts relating to issues such as weather-related closures. Only a "handful" of people at the university have access to the list server, he added. Whoever sent the hoax email didn't appear to have hacked into the system. Instead, the person appears to have used the provost's credentials to gain access to it and send out the email, he said.

GMU is certified as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency. In January 2005, it was the victim of a hacker attack in which the names, photos and Social Security numbers of more than 32,000 students and staff were compromised in an intrusion into the school's main ID server. The intruders also installed tools on the ID server that allowed other campus servers to be probed.

See also: The 12 dirtiest web tricks used by politicians