An email storm (also called a Reply Allpocalypse) is a sudden spike of Reply All messages on an email distribution list, usually caused by a controversial or misdirected message. Such storms start when multiple members of the distribution list reply to the entire list at the same time in response to the instigating message. Other members soon respond, usually adding vitriol to the discussion, asking to be removed from the list, or pleading for the cessation of messages. If enough members reply to these unwanted messages this triggers a chain reaction of email messages. The sheer load of traffic generated by these storms can render the email servers inoperative, similar to a DDoS attack.
A related phenomenon occurs when a subscriber to a mailing list emails the mailing list to "UNSUBSCRIBE". People will reply to the hapless individual on the mailing list, half of them advising on how to unsubscribe, the other half referring to the manual of the mailing list manager. More subscribers will reply to the previous round of respondents, again to the list, this time about mailing list etiquette.
Some email viruses also have the capacity to create email storms, by sending copies of themselves to an infected user's contacts, including distribution lists, infecting the contacts in turn.
- On October 14, 1997, a Microsoft employee noticed that they were on an as-yet unknown email distribution list 'Bedlam DL3', and emailed the list asking to be removed. This list contained approximately a quarter of the company's employees, 13,000 email addresses. Other users replied to the list with similar requests and still others responded with pleas to stop replying to the list. A Microsoft employee estimates that 15 million emails were sent, using 195 GB of bandwidth.
- On October 3, 2007, an email storm was generated at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, causing more than 2.2 million messages to be sent, and exposing the names of hundreds of security professionals.
- U.S. State Department employees were warned they could face disciplinary action for taking part in a massive email storm that "nearly knocked out one of the State Department's main electronic communications systems".
- In November 2012, New York University experienced a reply-all email storm due to an older listserv-based mailing list. There were 39,979 subscribed addresses affected.
- On 11 March 2013, over 8952 students from Imperial College London were subjected to an email storm after a final year medical student requested to be removed from a mailing list, resulting in over 3.5 million email messages being sent. The mailing list was created, without permission, to advertise a campaign in the Imperial College Union Elections.
- On 18 September 2013, a Cisco employee sent an email to a 'sep_training1' mailing list requesting that an online training be performed. The list contained 23,570 members. The resulting storm of 'unsubscribe', 'me-too' requests, sarcastic facepalm images and recipes for broccoli casserole resulted in (by the time the list was closed) over 4 million emails and generating over 375GB of network traffic.
- On 23 October 2013, an email was sent in Cisco to a group containing 34,562 members. The thread was flooded with "remove me from the list", "me too", "please don't reply-all", and even a pizza recipe.
- On 07 March 2014, Cisco employee wrote a Poetic explanation for Email Storm which was started today by replying "unsubscribe" to an alias within Cisco:
- Unsubscribe is a Stormin
- A new day is formin
- Some people say More man,
- Exchange needs a Corpsman,
- It’s a flood like new Orlean
- It aint nothing importan
- I blame Michael dvorkin
- Its all bork bork a borkin
- Till my bottles uncorkin
- Cause this storm is a horkin
- Gets me high on endorphin
- Till im passing out snoring
- Typical Friday mornin
- "You Had Me at EHLO." Microsoft Exchange Team Blog. Retrieved January 17, 2009 from MSexchangeteam.com
- Lisa Vaas, DHS Injects Itself with DDos, eweek.com, 4 October 2007
- Reply-all e-mail storm hits State Department. Retrieved January 17, 2009 from Boston.com
- Retrieved 2012-11-29 from 40,000 NYU College Students Realize They Can E-Mail All 40,000 People at Once
- How an e-mailstorm happens, University of Michigan
- Virus-induced email storms, University of Michigan
(Note: as of 0ct 23, 2013, both these links are broken)