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People responding to a promo run by delivery firm DHL were bombarded with a deluge of hundreds of emails this week.

Firms responding to an offer of a free Blackberry in return for opening up an account with the packet delivery outfit were subjected to a packet storm because of flaws with some of the recipients' email systems, triggered by DHL's misguided decision to send out a message to 1,000 people directly instead of as blind carbon copies.

An email sent out to the list generated a message storm. Glitches in email systems of three of the recipients generated a blitz of replicated emails.

Meanwhile the exposure of private email addresses allowed spammers to get into the act, as one Reg reader explains. "The message arrived again. And again and again. In a few hours we’d all of us on the list had the message almost 100 times and it didn’t look like it was stopping. Some people were getting angry and telling the whole list what they thought of DHL. And then spam started arriving – very amateur spam from people who were on the list eager to sell their good and services to almost 1,000 live email addresses," our correspondent (let's call him Dave) explains.

Dave contacted DHL staffers, who at that point had already pulled the plug on their own email servers, to assist them in bringing three "rogue" third-party servers to heel. "All of the servers were running a Microsoft SMTP service, but what version (Exchange or just Win2K SMTP) I couldn’t tell from the examination I’ve done. It seems whatever version they had objected to a 1,000 long list of recipients and broke with a weird effect," Dave explains.

"The deluge has now stopped, but the legacy is 1,000 people with their email address revealed by DHL at least to each other and if any recipient had a compromised PC then probably to some general spam target lists."

A DHL spokeswoman confirmed that the email deluge had happened. We asked on Wednesday to speak to someone more technically knowledgeable about the incident but DHL is yet to respond to this request.

DHL's experience highlights the perils of mishandled email marketing that will be all too familiar to subscribers of the UK mailing list of Bang & Olufsen (B&O), the upmarket Hi-Fi firm, which experienced a similar message storm back in January. B&O, unlike DHL, at least tried to send out messages as blind carbon copies so is less to blame for the resulting chaos.

DHL has promised to furnish recipients of the spam emails with an explanation, we understand. There's nothing to suggest the message storm was related to a computer virus outbreak. Human error seems the more likely culprit.

"I had a call from DHL saying a full written explanation will be sent to us all next week by post. I suppose that’s safer than letting them loose on email again," our informant Dave tells us. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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