Email storm

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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.

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.

Examples[edit]

  • On 14 October 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 traffic.[1]
  • On 3 October 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.[2]
  • 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".[3]
  • 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.[4]
  • On 18 September 2013,[5] 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. The following month on 23 October 2013[6] a nearly identical email storm occurred when an employee sent a message to a Cisco 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 18 March 2014, a Capgemini employee sent an internal mail to an erroneously generated mail group containing 47,212 members in 15 countries. The subsequent wave of over 500 reply-alls requesting removal from the list, asking for people to stop replying, along with the expected jokes and humour (in multiple languages) etc. lasted for approximately 6 hours and generated a total traffic estimated at over 1.5 TB spread across over 21 million total emails.[citation needed]
  • On 8 October 2014, an email storm of over 3,000 messages, including both spam and student comments, reached University College London's 26,000 students. The email chain was started by a prank email sent from an anonymous user pretending to be the provost.[7]
  • On 26 August 2015, Thomson Reuters, a media and information firm, experienced a "reply all" email storm reaching out to over 33,000 employees.[8] Seven hours later, the original email resulted in nearly 23 million emails. The storm was initiated by an employee located in the Philippines requesting his phone to be re-activated. Employees from all over the globe took to social media trending the hashtag #ReutersReplyAllGate.
  • On 2 October 2015, Atos, a European IT services corporation, experienced a "reply all" email storm. In about one hour, 379 emails were sent to an email distribution list with 91,053 employees, leading to more than 34.5 million emails. The storm was initiated by an employee located in India, requesting a password reset for a machine.[9]
  • In late August 2016, the New York Times internal email system experienced an email storm; this resulted in an article published in the September 2nd edition, titled When I’m Mistakenly Put on an Email Chain, Should I Hit ‘Reply All’ Asking to Be Removed?,[10] and where the content was only:

    No.

  • On 14 November 2016, the UK National Health Service NHSmail system experienced an email storm when an IT contractor at Croydon NHS sent a “test email” to everyone in the organisation; approximately 840,000 people. This resulted in an estimated 500 million email messages sent between 08:29 and 09:45 on 14 November 2016.[11]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "You Had Me at EHLO." Microsoft Exchange Team Blog. Retrieved 17 January 2009 from MSexchangeteam.com
  2. ^ Lisa Vaas, DHS Injects Itself with DDos, eweek.com, 4 October 2007
  3. ^ Reply-all e-mail storm hits State Department. Retrieved 17 January 2009 from Boston.com Archived 1 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Retrieved 2012-11-29 from 40,000 NYU College Students Realize They Can E-Mail All 40,000 People at Once
  5. ^ Cisco email accidentally sent to 1000s of employees - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/19/cisco_reply_all_email_wastes_tons_of_man_hours/
  6. ^ Reply-all email lightning storm STRIKES TWICE at Cisco - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/23/reply_all_email_storm_strikes_twice_at_cisco/
  7. ^ Wakefield, Lawrence (9 October 2014). "#Bellogate trends after pranksters target UCL students' email". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Perlberg, Steven (26 August 2015). "Reuters Employees Bombarded With Reply-All Email Catastrophe". Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  9. ^ "[Nouveau record] Une "petite" erreur donne lieu à 38 242 260 mails". 5 October 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  10. ^ Victor, Daniel (2 September 2016). "When I’m Mistakenly Put on an Email Chain, Should I Hit ‘Reply All’ Asking to Be Removed?". New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2016. 
  11. ^ "NHS Digital Agenda: Part 1 (Public Session )" (PDF). p. 38. Retrieved 21 April 2017.