The curious case of the 5000 emails



  • From James Tweedie ...

    Mid Monday afternoon we received about 20 identical emails from a local college advertising their Accredited Microsoft training courses.  One hour later this had risen to 500. By early morning on Tuesday this was over 5000, swamping our mail box (Took us 2.5 hours to clear the thing). We had been told by the college that their email server had been switched off the previous day. Some clever person must have switched it back on again Tuesday morning for a further flood of these emails.

    However, there were two other amazing aspects that made this a total WTF for me.

    1) That he had sent a *unsolicited* marketing mailshot by email in the first place - this should be a total no-no for switched on people (in the UK at least).

    2) He had sent to several hundred local businesses and included all the email addresses in the "To" field. Resulting in large emails (about 50K each one) and everyone on the list being able to see everyone elses email address (a breach of Data Protection terms in the UK).

    Of course, some displeased people replied to the email - strangely, none resorted to swearing or threats of violence. Yes, you guessed: They copied to all the addresses - this resulted in more multiple emails appearing (they're still appearing 2 days later).

    I reckon this little "cock-up" has cost the local economy at least £100,000 (about US$180,000) in time to clear out the emails from companies servers, may also have lost a lot of genuine contacts (as it effectively became a Denial of Service), has lost the college it's IT credibility as well as knocked out its entire email system (with flood of replies to the mailshot email).

    Still received no reason why this happened.



  • @Alex Papadimoulis said:

    Yes, you guessed: They copied to all the addresses - this resulted in more multiple emails appearing (they're still appearing 2 days later).

    Bedlam DL3 replays for the win ;)



  • That's hysterical! A similar thing happened at my job:

    Someone started a rumor that my company was sponsoring a high school and was paying to have a new sign board installed. These are the sign boards you see when you drive by a school that say "Parent teacher conferences Weds 8 pm" or "School is out for the holidays - be safe!" There is absolutely no reason why my company would sponsor such a thing, and no reason why they would pick this one particular high school considering it's an international corporation. The email was sent to several thousand employees. The aftermath was...hilarious.

    The original email was probably about 100 KB, and it was addressed to a corporate-created mailing list, so when you see it in Outlook, you only see the mailing list alias, not individual addresses. Only a handful of people have the power to add or remove people from that list, and this is an important detail.

    One or two people responded to the original message asking if there was any truth to this. They included the mailing list in their reply. Then the flood began. Everyone started replying with requests like "Please remove me from this list". No one could do this, and more and more people were getting tired of the emails so they started saying "Please remove me from this list". The replies, which included the original message, were getting up to 200 KB apiece, and we were getting 20-40 an hour.

    The flood got worse when the know-it-alls chimed in to tell people about not using the "Reply To All" feature, but it was useless because people typically read their oldest messages first. They see that some people are requesting to be removed, so they make the request too. Only later do they find out how inept they are.

    It got so bad that our company put a message on the internal website saying that these emails were not a result of a virus (though it was generating just as much traffic), and if anyone receives these, don't request to be removed from the list, just delete the message. As people got back from vacation, we got more emails up to a week later. It's still a great inside joke with some of my coworkers that's guaranteed to pull a couple laughs.



  • @Manni said:

    The original email was probably about 100 KB, and
    it was addressed to a corporate-created mailing list, so when you see
    it in Outlook, you only see the mailing list alias, not individual
    addresses. Only a handful of people have the power to add or remove
    people from that list, and this is an important detail.

    One or two people responded to the original message asking if there was any truth to this. They included the mailing list in their reply. Then the flood began. Everyone started replying with requests like "Please remove me from this list". No one could do this, and more and more people were getting tired of the emails so they started saying "Please remove me from this list". The replies, which included the original message, were getting up to 200 KB apiece, and we were getting 20-40 an hour.


    I can top that. I once got spam (real, intentionaly, commercial spam) where the spammer had used real mailing list software to send it... which sends any replies it recieves to everyone on the list and sets a Reply-To: header to the list address. Not only were dozens of people requesting to be removed from the list, they were threatening legal action or even bodily harm. And of course the spammer had disabled the list management functionality through which people can unsubscribe themselves.


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