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State Dept E-mail Crash After "Reply-All" Storm

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the forward-this-story-to-all-your-friends-in-triplicate dept.

Communications 384

twistah writes "It seems that a recent 'reply-all storm' at the State Department caused the entire e-mail infrastructure to crash. A notice sent to all State Department employees warned of disciplinary actions which will be taken if users 'reply-all' to lists with a large amount of users. Apparently, the problem was compounded by not only angry replies asking to be taken off the errant list, but by the e-mail recall function, which generated further e-mail traffic. One has to wonder if capacity planning was performed correctly — should an e-mail system be able to handle this type of traffic, or is it an unreasonable task for even the best system?"

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Exchange, huh? (1, Troll)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404261)

*Can* one adequately capacity plan for that hunk of crap?

Re:Exchange, huh? (0)

GraffitiKnight (724507) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404281)

RTFA. They were using OpenNet, not Exchange. "the department's OpenNet e-mail system".

Wrong(?) (5, Informative)

kriss (4837) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404469)

OpenNet, by a very quick look on google, seem to be their network name for the non-classified bits and pieces. Supposedly Microsoft + Cisco stuff.

Feel free to disagree, but please provide a URL reference to the OpenNet email server software vendor if doing so.. ;-)

Re:Exchange, huh? (3, Informative)

machine321 (458769) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404511)

According to this [74.125.45.132] article, they were migrating to Exchange in 2001. If it was set up by admins who knew what they were doing, they could have set the perms on the distribution list so only authorized users could use it.

YES it's Exchange and yes it crashed... surprised (5, Informative)

johnjones (14274) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404641)

yes its exchange internally

openNet is what they brand it as

feel free to correct me with evidance that it was not the case any more but I know 2 exchange servers there and this say's otherwise [74.125.45.132]

exchange has the recall ability and so does lotus notes
most other servers do not have this feature for very good reasons l

regards

John Jones

www.johnjones.me.uk my blog about email and digital communication [johnjones.me.uk]

Re:Exchange, huh? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404893)

Jesus-fucking-Christ. Do you have difficulty in life being a complete idiot. OpenNet is an exchange based system. Maybe if you had taken 30 seconds to do even a trivial amount of research you would know that. OpenNet is a name the State Department gave the system to make it easier to keep the classified system separate from the unclassified system. Instead you decided to post total BS and waste all our time with your lies.

Do us all a favor and try to have some idea of what your talking about the next time you open your mouth.

Re:Exchange, huh? (1, Informative)

atrus (73476) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404289)

Nope :)

Bedlam... (5, Interesting)

ghostis (165022) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404285)

http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2004/04/08/109626.aspx [msexchangeteam.com]

Again...

-Ghostis

Re:Bedlam... (4, Insightful)

DeadPixels (1391907) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404365)

Sounds like nearly the exact same situation. The problem here is that the average user is just going to click the first "reply" button he sees, and if that happens to be Reply All, nothing's going to stop him. Perhaps the mail client should have a feature enabled by default that warns if an exceptionally large number of messages are being sent and allow the option to cancel.

Re:Bedlam... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404547)

read bedlam. in annoying pathological cases, the user(agent) can't know who's on the dl or how big it is.

for some cases, it's probably possible for the user agent to do something slightly more intelligent. but it's a hard problem.

Re:Bedlam... (3, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404549)

Perhaps the mail client should have a feature enabled by default that warns if an exceptionally large number of messages are being sent and allow the option to cancel.

Change that to 'that warns if an exceptionally large number of messages are being sent and smack the user over the head with a LART if they don't click cancel' and i'll agree with you.

A large company should have an internal mailing list and/or intranet system that individual users can post messages to. Letting individual users send email to more than a few thousand users in one hit is madness. Especially if they are anything like our customers where they think it is a good idea to send a 10MB attachment to 500 users...

Re:Bedlam... (5, Funny)

The Dobber (576407) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404609)

I remember 10 or so years ago a disgruntled employee managed to send a heartfelt "Fuck You" to the entire 27,000+ employees as he was being given the heave ho.

That one tied up the network for some period of time. I always wonder who the bright star was how had composed the distribution list for the entire company directory.

Re:Bedlam... (5, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404805)

That one tied up the network for some period of time.

Thats why I always use qmail for my Fuck You messages.

Re:Bedlam... (0, Troll)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404651)

The problem here is that the average user is just going to click the first "reply" button he sees, and if that happens to be Reply All,

You know, it occurs to me that there is an easy fix.

Install Thunderbird, right-click on the toolbar and choose 'Customize', then remove the Reply-all button. In fact, I'm going to go do this on all the machines I administer ASAP.

Re:Bedlam... (1)

speedingant (1121329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404773)

Which in some peoples case could be thousands.. Not exactly well spent time?

Re:Bedlam... (5, Informative)

solafide (845228) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404849)

So he can just append a line to his users' .mozilla/thunderbird/chrome/userChrome.css and all works well.

Re:Bedlam... (1)

speedingant (1121329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404885)

That's still no substitute to having a properly setup mail server, unfortunately. You're right though.

Re:Bedlam... (4, Informative)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404661)

This is a configuration error, not a newsworthy event.

    For sendmail [sendmail.org] , it would be a configuration directive in their sendmail.mc (or whatever theirs is:

confMAX_RCPTS_PER_MESSAGE("100") ... or a modified line in sendmail.cf:

O MaxRecipientsPerMessage=100

    In MSExchange [microsoft.com] it would be a registry change

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\MSExchangeIS\ParametersSystem\Max Recipients on Submit

DWORD Value 100

Re:Bedlam... (1)

speedingant (1121329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404753)

This thing just shouldn't happen in the first place. What sysadmin would trust an employee when you've told them not to do something? I configure all of our lists with permissions, so only certain people can post to large mailing lists. I also set the default "reply to" field to send only to the list admins.

Seriously, it's not that hard..

Re:Bedlam... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404403)

Haha, sex change team.

Re:Bedlam... (5, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404423)

http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2004/04/08/109626.aspx

What's the M Sex Change Team? People who still haven't gotten over Judi Dench playing M? Come on, folks, M is a title, not a person; it's not a sex change!

Re:Bedlam... (0, Flamebait)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404471)

huh?

you are quoting a sex-change team for email issues?

is this a san francisco based server, by any chance??

Re:Bedlam... (4, Informative)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404687)

dude, transsexualism has nothing to do with being gay. most homosexuals aren't transsexuals. they're just males/females who are attracted to their own sex.

the city you are looking for is Trinidad, Colorado [wikipedia.org] , which has been dubbed the Sex Change Capital of the U.S. [cbsnews.com]

Re:Bedlam... (2, Funny)

vmxeo (173325) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404499)

Me too!

Re:Bedlam... (4, Insightful)

Snowblindeye (1085701) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404765)

So they create large distribution lists (which is normal), but they don't secure them in any way or lock them down where only certain users can use them.

And then they threaten disciplinary action if someone uses them the wrong way. Wouldn't it be so much easier to just lock them down? It's what most companies do.

And in other news... (-1, Troll)

cthulu_mt (1124113) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404317)

The government does a task less adequately than private enterprise.

I look forward to them managing my health care.

Re:And in other news... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404425)

If, like approximately 1/2 of the American population, you currently had no health care at all, your attitude would probably be different.

And you might want to remember that the current financial and industrial collapse was given to us by the finest and most highly educated examples of stupid, greedy, incompetent, short sighted, overpaid, negligent, and possibly criminal management that private enterprise has been able to produce and promote.

Re:And in other news... (0, Troll)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404529)

And you might want to remember that the current financial and industrial collapse was given to us by the finest and most highly educated examples of stupid, greedy, incompetent, short sighted, overpaid, negligent, and possibly criminal congress.

Fixed that for you.

Re:And in other news... (3, Funny)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404633)

The really good thing though is that you are not bitter at all.

Re:And in other news... (4, Funny)

Spasemunki (63473) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404523)

Good to know that rigorous competition in the marketplace has totally eliminated misuse of 'reply-all' in the private sector. I look forward to continuing to have a lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than Canadians and Swedes.

Re:And in other news... (4, Interesting)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404637)

And in even further news, corporations are not perfect.

I take it you're not familiar with how enterprises plan. They plan for regular load, not aberrant once-in-a-blue-moon load. This is bog standard behavior for a system responding to people doing stupid things. If you think this is restricted to the US government, you've never worked in corporate IT.

Re:And in other news... (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404719)

I just received an amusing outside-contact reply-all storm from a private company (the company's customer/vendor contact list was accessible from outside), but it only made 200 messages. So I'd say that the government can make much better reply-all storms than private enterprise, based on a sample size of one.

Down with U.S. Imperialism! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404335)

Build Bolshevik-Leninist Workers Parties for new October revolutions! Smash imperialist barbarism with world socialist revolution!!!!!! Drive U.S. butchers out of Iraq and Afghanistan!

Re:Down with U.S. Imperialism! (0, Offtopic)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404845)

What about when the Communists butchers invaded Afghanistan?

By Storm, I think you mean... (1)

dmomo (256005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404337)

Like rain on your wedding day.

Re:By Storm, I think you mean... (2, Funny)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404789)

No, this is more like a free ride when you already paid.

surprise surprise (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404351)

affirmative action president elect Barack Obama has announced that he's not actually going to do any of the things he promised to do. Which isn't surprising, since he didn't actually do anything in the two years he was a senator. While not doing anything would be an improvement, unfortunately, he will do something -- cripple the country with debt via a multi-trillion pork package.

sigh (4, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404355)

What an irony that they decided to mass mail when they've warned their employees not to do so. What they should have done if they were concerned about their load [which evidently they should have] was to warn their employees in blocks, perhaps 10% at a time with space between to take care of the massive response... However, judging by the nature of their work [it is the state department after all] I don't believe it unreasonable that there could be events in their future requiring such mass mailings again and having the whole system crash under the load would be no doubt very bad in emergencies.

Thsi is a test... (5, Funny)

Robin47 (1379745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404411)

Of the reply all button. Please do not respond with the reply all button. What they need is a reply some button.

Re:Thsi is a test... (4, Insightful)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404615)

The problem is the morons who send email with "everybody.all.everwhere" (or whatever) in the To: or CC: list. If they were smart enough to put them in the BCC: field, it would be impossible for people to clog up the system with Reply All. Alas.

Re:sigh (5, Insightful)

AngryElmo (848385) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404503)

Maybe someone could introduce them to the concept of a BCC.

Re:sigh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404643)

Oh hell no!!

I'm still getting BCCs from people I've never seen before because of AOL emails sent BCC.

Re:sigh (1)

asifyoucare (302582) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404675)

No, just use BCC for mass mailings.

A simple and complete fix.

Re:sigh (5, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404701)

What they should have done if they were concerned about their load [which evidently they should have] was to warn their employees in blocks, perhaps 10% at a time with space between to take care of the massive response...

No. What they should have done was installed a mailing list manager, created a read-only list called "employees", and posted to it. Voila - n-thousand workers get announcements with no ability to reply to the whole list. Problem solved.

Re:sigh (3, Informative)

aolsheepdog (239764) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404899)

You assumed that they mass emailed the notice and are incorrect.

As the article states, the notice was sent by "cable" which is the old telegram system and still the only official means of communication between the Department and US Missions overseas.

The cable system is on a completely separate classified network.

As the unfortunate recipient of the mail storm emails I will say that many people included information in their replies that referenced the cable (and subsequent Department Notice) telling people to stop hitting reply to all so you are not entirely incorrect. It is just that the Department was smart enough not to send out a blanket email to everybody.

The other thing that seemed compound this problem was that the To: line didn't have any names or mailing list groups listed. People (idiots) didn't realize that they emailing almost everyone in the Department.

I would also point out that the email servers slowed but I never experienced any lost email or service interruption. Some emails were delayed by as much as two hours.

Re:sigh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404933)

...or put their email in the to: and all the employees in the bcc: section.
Easy fix, don't ya think?

The mail admins are the problem (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404371)

Why do they have people sending to a list that anyone can reply to in the To: or Cc: lines. It should work one of three ways:

1) it limits the number of receipients (after list expansion) in the To: or Cc: lines, so those mailing a large list must put it in Bcc:

2) it should only allow certain people to send to large lists (implemented as a whitelist)

3) it should massage things on the server so that a list called 'all-company-list' would show up in the To: or Cc: lines of receipients as 'all-company-list-reply' and the list admin and sender are the only ones who see the replies to all

Honestly, mailing lists are not new technology and this has been a solved problem for years. Because they are incompetent mail admins they are forced to threaten employees!

Mod Parent Up! :) (1)

PaulBu (473180) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404541)

Yes, tricks like this would work!

(But I am wondering, how many of their Admins have heard of Bcc: ? :( )

Paul B.

Should not allow email to All in the 1st place (1)

cyberspittle (519754) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404373)

Being able to send email to everyone is stupid. Imagine being able to hack into *any* account on a system and then automate emails to everyone to create a Denial of Service attack.Emails should be from the big boss, then disseminated to the little bosses and onwards down to the lowly employee.

Not the first time this has happened... (1)

rwven (663186) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404383)

I worked at a college using the groupwise e-mail system and the same thing happened. Someone sent out an information email to all students and instead of BCCing the entire list of addresses, they were all plopped into the "To" field. It bounced around forever and everyone was completely confused.

Luckily it wasn't my department and I didn't have a student email account, so I was immune.

Long story short, the system did survive unscathed....

Re:Not the first time this has happened... (5, Funny)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404907)

I saw a weird variant on that back in university.

One of the engineering departments had a room full of (at the time) fairly high end sun workstations, and these were used both interactively and for people running longer compute jobs overnight.

To facilitate overnight jobs, the admins had set up a round robin dns alias that updated every couple of seconds to point to the machine reporting the lowest load average.

One of the students in my class had the bright idea of "If put 'ssh lowest' in my bashrc file, every time i open a terminal window it'll automatically pick the least loaded machine".

Fast forward a few minutes and we've got 80 sun workstations which have all systematically ssh'd to each other and none of which will accept any new connections...

Server wipe (0, Troll)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404413)

How unfortunate for the outgoing administration that the best fix for the Bedlam will be a complete server wipe.

Incorrect Headline (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404419)

Whoever wrote the headline for this summary needs to have their slashdot editor privileges revoked.

TFA states "an e-mail storm nearly knocked out one of the State Department's main electronic communications systems", and "a major interruption in departmental e-mail". The problem is clearly spelled out as "e-mail queues, especially between posts, back up while processing the extra volume of e-mails".

This is simply the queues backing up, not the servers crashing. Nowhere does TFA state anything to suggest that there was a "State Dept E-mail Crash", which the summary's headline boasts. The proper headline should read "Large E-mail Queues at State Dept After Reply-All Storm".

No, I'm not new here. That's why I'm fed up with the sensationalist "journalism" that is getting worse and worse here.

Re:Incorrect Headline (0)

twistah (194990) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404461)

The headline has nothing to do with "editor privileges", it was by submitted by a user (me). I agree that there was no server crash; perhaps I should have said "DoS" (there is a character limit you know), but the effect was about the same:

He said the result was "effectively a denial of service as e-mail queues, especially between posts, back up while processing the extra volume of e-mails."

No, the servers didn't crash, but the e-mail system (i.e being able to communicate over email) did. Don't take things so literally; headlines are meant to capture one's attention in a short amount of time.

President-Elect Obama Assassinated! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404731)

Don't take things so literally; headlines are meant to capture one's attention in a short amount of time.

This just in, President-Elect Obama Assassinated! Oh, don't take it so literally. I was just trying to capture your attention in a short amount of time. Obama wasn't killed, silly. There was just some CHARACTER assassination against him on a late night talk show.

Re:President-Elect Obama Assassinated! (1)

momerath2003 (606823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404851)

I would give you mod points if I had them.

Mail to 'everyone', [click] (5, Funny)

vawarayer (1035638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404421)

I remember my first year of college when I wanted to send Xmas greetings to 'everyone'. I remember, the IT director of the college running from computer lab to computer lab looking for student number xxyz.

Fun times.

Re:Mail to 'everyone', [click] (5, Funny)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404855)

Back in, oh, probably '90, the company I was working for had dumb terminals everywhere connected to a mainframe. They had just added a messaging feature, and one supervisor was messing around with it. She tried to send a message to her group, but accidentally sent it company-wide. The message was "IF YOU CAN READ THIS, RAISE YOUR HAND."

I was supervising the call center at the time, and I saw hundreds of hands tentatively raising. The message probably went to two thousand people.

Two questions: (4, Interesting)

drolli (522659) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404441)

a) Maintaining large list by copying all recipients into the hrader is a fucked up idea at best (because there is no way this list will be kept updated), and a informaiton leak at worst (because somebody eralier on a non-updated list may get information which he should not get - e.g. former employees). Why do governmental institutions still us it?

b) Why in the world do modern e-mail clients still allow reply all to hundreds of recipients without an additional safety question. I would expect my program would warn me before sending an emails to thousand people.
 

Re:Two questions: (0, Offtopic)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404491)

You know, firefox has a built in spell checker. That way your posts are automatically spell checked as you type.

Re:Two questions: (1)

ag0ny (59629) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404605)

Unfortunately, some people don't care. And even worse, they often get angry when you tell them that they mispelled a word.

Re:Two questions: (2, Funny)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404617)

Eh, spelling, grammar, correct configuration of your mail system... who can be bothered with trivial things like those?

Re:Two questions: (2, Funny)

arb phd slp (1144717) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404763)

Unfortunately, some people don't care. And even worse, they often get angry when you tell them that they mispelled a word.

Don't you mean "they loose there temper when you tell them they misspelled a word?"

'recalling' email - laugh! (1, Insightful)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404447)

I was at a company that used 'exchange' for their mail (sigh). most users did windows but I run freebsd and used imap and local ascii client for my mail.

one day a marketing person sent out mail and sent the wrong thing. they then sent some kind of 'recall' message.

the thing is, my ELM user agent didn't listen and neither did my IMAP puller ;)

recalling an email. yeah, right. pretty laughable.

Re:'recalling' email - laugh! (4, Insightful)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404627)

Why is that funny?

Exchange has a feature your email client didn't support. Ha ha ha!! IT'S HILARIOUS!!!!

Re:'recalling' email - laugh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404759)

Let me pull out the crayolas for ya here so you'll get it.

Say that this person had sent out a message that was talking trash about their boss and accidentally sent it to everyone on their bulk list including the boss. Then they tried to recall the email but the boss used the setup described that ignored the recall.

Get it now? The boss did.

I had a boss who did the opposite, she sent an email to the person she was trashing and then called me into the office to declare a "virus has been found" so I could then erase the email from the guy's computer and he wouldn't know any better.

Re:'recalling' email - laugh! (1)

codepunk (167897) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404919)

What is really funny is that the dumb windows users press the recall button thinking it is actually going
to work.....har har

Re:'recalling' email - laugh! (1)

schon (31600) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404937)

Exchange has a feature your email client didn't support.

Since when was "pretend something didn't happen" a feature?

Mail list software anyone? (5, Informative)

MEsSWorks (544458) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404449)

Dear state department

I'm sorry to hear about your recent trouble

There is a brand new invention on the internet which have the ability to ease the strain on your mailservers. it is called maillist managers. one is called mailman and can be found at: http://www.gnu.org/software/mailman [gnu.org]

There are several others, some free, and some non free, but they exist for most server platforms. If you don't have the expertice in house to set it up corrctly, you can get any number of consultancy companies to help you out.

Yours faithfull
Almost anonymous coward

Admins could have handled it better? (1)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404465)

The article mentions e-mail queues "becoming backed up" from the extra volume imposed the reply-all messages. I would think the mail administrators could have simply dumped these messages from the queue to get mail flowing again, then disabled the list temporarily to prevent further damage.

Ban the Reply All Function (3, Insightful)

Cassini2 (956052) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404485)

No good ever came from the Reply All button. It is like adding "Press this button to be fired" function to your corporate email system. You know someone is going to press the button, you know trouble will ensue, so why create the button?

To all the mods, please don't destroy all my Karma. I really do hate that Reply All button.

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404509)

The reply-all button is kind of like that big red button in your server room labeled "data center wide kill switch."

You are not sure why that is there either but you know someone is going to push it with all sorts mayhem ensuing.

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404513)

It is like adding "Press this button to be fired" function to your corporate email system. You know someone is going to press the button

Yes: The guy who wants to quit but doesn't because he'll only get unemployment benefits if he's fired :)

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

DeadPixels (1391907) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404527)

Well, how else are we supposed to crash the network?

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

thesaurus (1220706) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404693)

If you can't think of ways to crash the network, then you're not doing your job correctly. No matter what your job actually is.

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

tcolberg (998885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404563)

This is an excellent idea. Why aren't these enterprise versions of email software preventing the use of reply-all by default? Perhaps the email clients should by default have "reply-all" unless the IT department chooses to have that option turned on for some or all terminals?

Another option to removing the "reply-all" button would just to have the email client warn users by default if they try to send an email message using the "reply-all" button or a message that has more than say... 10 recipients?

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404587)

Rather than put the onus on the client application or the client desktop you could just limit who can send to company wide distro-lists or do some sort of server side throttling on how the server responds to submissions to these lists.

This is the sort of thing that listservs seem to do pretty well.

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (4, Funny)

Joe U (443617) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404647)

This is the sort of thing that listservs seem to do pretty well.

I just wish I could convince more of my users to use them. I have one winner who sends a list using 300+ CC's. The anti-spam system on the mail server slows that list to a crawl (deliberately). They wonder why it takes 3 hours to send, and I tell them to use the list server that we set up, but it's different and they don't want to be bothered. I think I'll make it take 6 hours next time.

it's useful for some stuff (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404801)

I use the reply-all button frequently, for ad-hoc small group discussions. If I have a document I want two people to review, I send it to both of them, and they send their comments back to both me and the other person I sent it to with reply-all, so we're all on the same page.

If the same group of people is frequently collaborating you can set up a mailing list, but it's a real pain in the ass to set up a mailing list every time you want a group of 3 or 4 people to exchange 5-10 emails.

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404853)

Says the guy who apparently doesn't participate in email conversations between small groups of people.

Re:Ban the Reply All Function (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404879)

When I worked in management the Reply All button got a lot of use because I needed to keep higher up people in the loop on discussions I was having. Of course, I always checked recipients before sending.

software enforces policy (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404535)

One of the cool things that software can do is enforce policy. This is the one way that the software pays for itself. For instance, in accounting the software can be programmed to keep audit trails and prevents records from being erased, thus reducing the dependence on accountants Likewise, email software is often programmed, at least at the enterprise level, to automatically set appointments and set confirmation emails.

It is interesting to me how the computer is used less and less to enforce policies to help users that might make an occasional mistake, or discourage users that might want to commit intentional fraud, and more more to make jobs simply enough so that incompetent people can be hired to do a job.

The fact is that if a email comes from a send only address, then the server with that address should simply ignore all emails to that address. If a user is not supposed to be able to reply all, then the enterprise client software should not allow that functionality for those messages. Policy enforcement is nothing new. It is why enterprises pays for software. If employees are using reply all and crashing the system, that is management issue.

In any case, this is mostly a case of untrained managers who thinks everything is a nail so always uses a hammer. It reminds me when managers used to use spreadsheets to write letters. There are many ways to distribute information, and email is only on of the tools. Managers could, for instance, use instant messaging.

The key words are "graceful degradation" (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404567)

No email system should ever "crash" under any reasonable load. Back in the late 90's, I was involved in designing and implementing email systems for some of the largest (at the times) ISP's as a consultant for a company that an NDA forbids me to mention. One of the things we did was limit the number of simultaneous connections, such that a "reply storm" (or, more often, a DOS attack) would hit a speed bump fairly quickly. Sendmail has done this for 25 years, by cutting off acceptance of new messages when load average goes above a certain (configurable) limit.

The point is that the very fact that a simple "reply all" storm could take down a mail system is, itself, an indication that the mail system is poorly implemented. Anyone taking bets on the system in question? [wikipedia.org]

Re:The key words are "graceful degradation" (1)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404601)

Do no rule out the impact of poor implementation either. Even a decent system can be me made to respond poorly if mis-configured.

ccpeople 4-eva! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404583)

Anyone here part of the great ccpeople fiasco just over a decade ago?

C'mon, represent!

Mboxes and the 100MB limit (1)

master_runner (958234) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404621)

When I worked at a small nonprofit, mail was handled via unix mboxes. For reasons unknown, the system completely ground to a halt every time an mbox got bigger than about 100MB. To avoid this, emails older than 2 months were automatically archived. Well, one day the executive director managed to get 100MB of email in two months... It took us a few hours to track down the problem. The solution? set the archive script to 1 month and run it on his mailbox. Problem solved!

Doesn't Sound right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26404673)

Doesn't sound like they know what they are doing. Some business have a 24/7 exchange support group.

Is it me or the confirmation image to summit message is deranged. Keeps telling me it failed that I'm not human. Technology logic and common sense epic fail.

idiot proofing (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404679)

"should an e-mail system be able to handle this type of traffic...?"

Any system should be designed in such a way that a mere clueless user should not be able to bring it down accidentally. If an e-mail system can't handle "reply-to-all" when used carelessly, then it shouldn't have that function.

BCC plus reply-to plus BASIC TRAINING! (1)

Thad Zurich (1376269) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404699)

1. In its effort to ensure that your taxpayer dollars are conserved, the government rarely wastes money on esoteric concepts like "capacity planning". 2. In the effort to avoid Microsoft technology, the State Department apparently used an email system that allowed reply-all to massive distribution lists. Exchange Server allows use of such lists to be restricted. 3. The BCC field should have been the obvious and correct first line of defense. The fact that the BCC is normally suppressed by default is probably a factor. State would not have wasted money training personnel to use the BCC field (see #1, above). 4. Having done #3, the "reply-to" field should have been redirected to a bit bucket. Same as #3 and #1. 5. Threatening employees with adverse action for something you should have trained them to make impossible: priceless.

Re:BCC plus reply-to plus BASIC TRAINING! (1)

gustar (125316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404791)

5. Threatening employees with adverse action for something you should have trained them to make impossible: priceless.

Exactly, they should have deployed the "invisible fence" shock collars used to discipline dogs to all employees along with a webcam to monitor employee activity. Each successive use of the reply-all feature delivers a more substantial shock until *ZAP* ... you are toast!

Now that is negative reinforcement training that would work!

Reply All Insanity (2, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404709)

I've seen it so many times over the years. I wonder why it's so hard to add an administrative setting that limits Reply All to a certain number of users? Set at 100, it would only send the first 100, then ask the user if they wanted to send the next 100. Or 300 or 400 or whatever.

I can't count the number of people sending a hasty and blistering reply to thousands of people. Not only committing public suicide but accounting for who knows how many unproductive man hours while the entire organization stopped to read their spew. It's just crazy.

Get a better mail server... (1)

Temkin (112574) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404717)

A modern email system really should be able to handle this. High performance messaging systems will store one copy of the message, with n number of pointers to it per back end store. Sending a message to 10k users results in one store insert event and a 9,999 cheap pointer operations. The MTA will have to perform directory look ups for the recipients, but should use LMTP to insert them into the store and prevent redundant directory queries, etc... Sun's big mail server will even "relink" duplicate messages in the store that arise from user migrations, and free up disk space.

~300 - message per second insert rates with 50 kbyte average sizes is possible on modern workgroup class servers and disk arrays.

Disable Reply to all and Forward in Outlook (2, Informative)

n0dna (939092) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404727)

http://www.hanselman.com/blog/HowToEasilyDisableReplyToAllAndForwardInOutlook.aspx [hanselman.com]

2 simple lines that you can include in your Outlook client to prevent this action internally on your exchange server.

Note this does not include any macros in the email.

Exchange file store limit bites again? (1)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404781)

Seeing that we've established that this was OpenNet which uses public-available systems and in this case that means Exchange, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that as we're approaching the end of the error.. er.. era of the Bush admin there would be an uptick in "Goodbye, here's where to reach me" mails to entire address books? From there, it'd take no time to hit the hard limits in Exchange for file storage... talk about ungraceful failures that we've known about for years. (Wait, that's another Bush reference!)

Bcc? (0, Redundant)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404803)

I'm surprised noone else has mentioned BCC. BCC works like To and CC (AFAIK the only difference between THOSE is to indicate who the message is intended for) except recipients don't see the BCC list. So they only see themselves as the recipient, thus no reply all.

At least, that's my understanding of how it works. IANAEmailExpert.

(I'm the one who added the bcc tag fyi)

Use bcc for mass emails (1)

hughperkins (705005) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404819)

We used to use bcc for mass emails, with a note at the bottom to inform users that they had been put in bcc to avoid the problems associated with reply to all.

Pretty simple solution, worked really well, zero additional hardware/software etc required.

Only certain departments (secretary of department heads typically) had the ability to create mass emails, so training was easy.

Reply All isn't the problem (4, Insightful)

taustin (171655) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404827)

The problem is the message replied to having - RTFA - several thousand addresses in the To: and CC: fields. This is what BCC is for . Allowing people to put several thousand addresses in to the headers will eventually result in a mail storm, whether someone hits Reply To All or not. The first time someone opens a virus laden attachment that goes through their (archived by law, this being a federal agency) emails, it will send itself out to thousands of equally clueless people. One of them will run the attachment, which will send another copy to several thousand people. And so on. This happened where I work once, by people who should have known better. Before it was done, I was getting two hundreds copies of the virus per day.

Whoever sent out the message replied to should be fired and criminally prosecuted for deliberately sabotaging the State Department's email system. But since the article doesn't mention this at all, I'm assuming it was some dumbass boss somewhree who is immune to any form of disclipline for anything, up to and including murder.

Run Sendmail (1)

jchawk (127686) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404901)

Sendmail can slow to a crawl but it doesn't generally crash. Run sendmail and you can handle this sort of nonsense.

If only we could do CAL properly...

Limit the number of recipients in one email (1)

stonetony (464331) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404905)

In this day and age there is no excuse for this. I work for a company that has over 300,000 Exchange 2003 mailboxes. We ran into this problem back in the Exchnge 5.5 days, but squashed it post E2K by setting a relatively low threshold for the maximum number of recipients allowed in a single email (I think we have it at 50). For legitimate mass mailings we use an internal isolated app that routes its email to the Exchange org via SMTP. Only a very few people have access to use it and all recipients are BCC'd.

Please learn... (1)

bytethese (1372715) | more than 5 years ago | (#26404929)

Reply All should be used sparingly. Nothing annoys us IT folks more than Reply All for NFR. "So and So received a promotion. Congrats." and the rampant Reply All'ing ensues.

It's called Netiquette. Perhaps along with normal training (please PLEASE tell me they train their new hires), proper Netiquette should encompass a normal training routine.
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