E-mail Storms

E-mail Storms

Updated Aug 27, 2015 at 08:56PM EDT by Brad.

Added Aug 27, 2015 at 02:38PM EDT by Brad.

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An e-mail storm (Reply Allpocalypse) refers to a spontaneous chain reaction of many-to-many messages in a group discussion that is usually triggered by an individual unintentionally sending one's message to all users within an e-mail distribution list, instead of only addressing a select group of recipients. Once initiated, many recipients often tend to prolong the discussion by replying to all users on the list, typically with requests for unsubscription or pleading others to stop replying to all.


Reply all is one of the two primary modes in group e-mail communications and a function intended for one-to-all communications (i.e., sending a response to every subscriber in the e-mailing list), where as the Reply function sends the message to one or more e-mail addresses specified in the recipient field. In many cases involving an e-mail distribution list with a massive number of subscribers, replying to all in a group discussion often can be superfluous and therefore seen as a faux pas. Since as early as 2010, a number of blogs and news sites have published etiquette guides to using the reply all function, including the Couch Manager[17], Gawker[15] and The Huffington Post.[16]


Blind Carbon Copy (Bcc)

In order to prevent the accidental use of reply all_, the sender may transmit the message as a blind carbon copy (_Bcc), which enables one-to-all communications without disclosing the e-mail addresses of the recipients.

Notable Examples

1997: Microsoft

The earliest notable instance of an e-mail storm on a massive scale dates back to October 14th, 1997, when a Microsoft employee erroneously used the "reply all" option to unsubscribe himself from an obscure company e-mail distribution list labeled Bedlam DL3, which contained more than 13,000 e-mail addresses (approximately a quarter of the company's employees). Soon, other employees who received the e-mail response began replying all in the thread with similar requests to be removed from the list, and some pleading others to stop responding to the thread. As a result, an estimated 15 million messages were sent by Microsoft employees, using roughly 195 GB of traffic in the process.

2007: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

On October 3rd, 2007, an unnamed subscriber to the United States Department of Homeland Security's Open Source Intelligence Report, a daily e-mail newsletter sent to hundreds to thousands of recipients, unknowingly replied to all subscribers on the list with a request for a change. Within the next hour, several dozens of other subscribers joined in on the discussion with a wide range of responses, including pleas to cease replying all, spams of job offers and political advertisements and humorous messages with status updates on local weather, which amounted to more than 2.2 million messages by the end of the day; according to the Department of Homeland Security and Defense officials, the thread unintentionally triggered a minor scale DDoS event and exposed the names of hundreds of security professionals and government contractors,.

2009: U.S. Department of State

In January 2009, yet another e-mail storm nearly knocked out one of the U.S. State Department's main servers after several American diplomats began replying all to a blank e-mail that was accidentally sent to thousands of subscribers on a global email list. Soon, a similar chain reaction unfolded, generating an extensive volume of e-mail communications which ultimately prompted the officials to issue a cable warning disciplinary actions for using the "reply to all" function.

"Department staff hitting 'reply to all' on an e-mail with a large distribution list is causing an e-mail storm on the department's OpenNet e-mail system. Anyone who disregards these instructions will be subject to disciplinary actions."

2012: NYU Bursar's Office

In November 2012, New York University Bursar's Office sent a school-wide e-mail asking students to opt for paperless forms. Upon receiving the message, NYU sophomore student Max Wiseltier accidentally replied all to an outmoded Listserve system while trying to forward the e-mail to his mother for advice, which resulted in all 39,979 undergraduate students receiving his message.

2013: Imperial College

On March 11th, 2013, Imperial College student James Bromley sent an e-mail to a group called ICBS-UG Business Imperial, an unauthorized mailing list created to advertise a campaign in the Imperial College Union elections, in trying to verify whether the address was still active. Bromley's message was received by over 8,952 students at the Imperial College campus in London, UK, triggering a total of 3.5 million e-mail messages being exchanged.

Reply Reply All Forward Ψ.t_岶 掌鲞ㄨ髪. Bromley, James To: ICBS-UG Business Imperial 12 March 2013 15.3 Does this still work?

THE GAME! Carlos, Elwin 15:55 BIG DEAL BOP Yash Verma 15:55 Dolphins Horn, Joachim How to unsubscribe Edward White Again :) Khas, Muhammad Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please STOP!!!Please ST... Chong, Ping I WANT TO STAY ON THIS LIST Khas, Muhammad Something BIG Hassani Chandershekhar, Hitesh Entreprenuerial Opportunity Suddle, Ai 15:54 15:54 15:54 15:53 15:53 15:51 15:41

2013: CISCO

On September 2013, a CISCO employee sent a message to a mailing list called 'sep_training1' with a request for an online training session to be held. The message was received by 23,570 subscribers in the mailing list, prompting a flurry of subsequent reply-all messages, many asking to be unsubscribed from the group, while others who were more bemused by the thread responded with sarcastic reaction images, including facepalm, and even recipes for broccoli casserole. By the time the list was disabled, the thread had generated more than four million e-mails taking up 375GB of network traffic. Just over a month later, another employee sent to a message to the entire CISCO group containing 34,562 members, creating a nearly identical e-mail storm, including a pizza recipe.

2015: Thomson Reuters

On August 26th, 2015, a Thomson Reuters employee assigned in the Philippines sent a message to a company-wide e-mail list
with a request for his mobile phone to be re-activated, which was seen by more than 33,000 employees of the news agency. Within seven hours of the initial transmission, the accidental e-mail generated nearly 23 million reply-all messages and even a trending hashtag on Twitter, #ReutersReplyAllGate.[14]

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