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Spam Brings Down Major E-Mail System

January 15, 2001

E-mails to one million internet users have been jammed after one of the world's biggest web companies was hit by a tidal wave of electronic junk mail. Engineers at Cambridge based UUNet were today still trying to clear the backlog after the system received an estimated two million e-mails from the same source in "a matter of minutes".

It has brought many businesses in Britain to a grinding halt as normal e-mail traffic remains stuck in the jammed up system.

UUNet supplies an e-mail service to customers using a number of internet service providers including Pipex, Gateway, MSN and Manchester United.

The company has refused to reveal the precise source of the e-mail but said it arrived last Thursday morning and appeared to be a commercial offer.

It originated from North America and was the e-mail equivalent of junk mail.

Richard Woods from Cambridge-based UUNet said: "This is the biggest problem we've ever had to confront in terms of e-mail. It is a very serious incident.

"We know it came from North America but we don't want to be more precise than that.

"We don't actually know the individual who sent it but we know which network it came from and we are taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"We received more than two million e-mails in a matter of minutes which simply backed everything up.

"The good news is that no e-mails have been lost but they have been backed up for around 36 to 48 hours.

"We don't know if this was done intentionally or accidentally. It's almost impossible to say because the result is exactly the same.

"From the customer point of view they are not going to care whether it was deliberate or not, just the fact that their e-mail has been affected.

"We are doing everything we can to sort through the system but we still have around half a million e-mails backed up." "Spamming" is also a technique used by computer hackers to overwhelm internet sites with multiple messages. Safeguards can be built into e-mail systems but because multiple messages are used as a legitimate source of advertising it can be difficult to stamp out completely.

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