This document provides a general overview of problems associated
with electronic mail bombing and email spamming. It includes
information that will help you respond to and recover from this
- I. Description
- II. Technical Issues
- III. What You Can Do
- IV. Additional Security Measures That You Can
Email bombing is characterized by abusers repeatedly sending an
email message to a particular address at a specific victim site. In
many instances, the messages will be large and constructed from
meaningless data in an effort to consume additional system and
network resources. Multiple accounts at the target site may be
abused, increasing the denial of service impact.
Email spamming is a variant of bombing; it refers to sending
email to hundreds or thousands of users (or to lists that expand to
that many users). Email spamming can be made worse if recipients
reply to the email, causing all the original addressees to receive
the reply. It may also occur innocently, as a result of sending a
message to mailing lists and not realizing that the list explodes
to thousands of users, or as a result of a responder message (such
as vacation(1)) that is setup incorrectly.
Email bombing/spamming may be combined with email spoofing
(which alters the identity of the account sending the email),
making it more difficult to determine who actually sent the email.
For more details on email spoofing, see
II. Technical Issues
- If you provide email services to your user community, your
users are vulnerable to email bombing and spamming.
- Email spamming is almost impossible to prevent because a user
with a valid email address can spam any other valid email address,
newsgroup, or bulletin-board service.
- When large amounts of email are directed to or through a single
site, the site may suffer a denial of service through loss of
network connectivity, system crashes, or failure of a service
- overloading network connections
- using all available system resources
- filling the disk as a result of multiple postings and resulting
III. What You Can Do
- If your system suddenly becomes
sluggish (email is slow or doesn't appear to be sent or received),
the reason may be that your mailer is trying to process a large
number of messages.
- Identify the source of the email bomb/spam and configure your
router (or have your Network Service Provider configure the router)
to prevent incoming packets from that address.
Review email headers to determine the true origin of the email.
Review the information related to the email bomb/spam following
relevant policies and procedures of your organization.
- Follow up with the site(s) you identified in your review to
alert them to the activity. Contact them to alert them to the
- When contacting these sites, keep in mind that the abuser
may be trying to hide their identity.
We would appreciate it if you sent a copy of your message to
email@example.com; this facilitates our work on incidents and helps us
relate ongoing intruder activities.
If you have a CERT reference number (e.g., CERT#XXXXX) for this
incident, please include it in the subject line of all messages
related to this incident. (NOTE: The CERT/CC assigns this reference
number, so if you do not have one, one will be assigned once we
receive the incident report.)
To find site contact information, please refer to
- Ensure you are up to date with the most current version of your
email delivery software (sendmail, for example) and increase
logging capabilities as necessary to detect or alert you to such
- Unfortunately, at this time, there is
no way to prevent email bombing or spamming (other than
disconnecting from the Internet), and it is impossible to predict
the origin of the next attack. It is trivial to obtain access to
large mailing lists or information resources that contain large
volumes of email addresses that will provide destination email
addresses for the spam.
- Develop in-house tools to help you recognize and respond to the
email bombing/spamming and so minimize the impact of such activity.
The tools should increase the logging capabilities as well as check
for and alert you to incoming/outgoing messages that originate from
the same user or same site in a very short span of time. Once you
identify the activity, you can use other in-house tools to discard
the messages from the offending users or sites.
- If your site uses a small number of email servers, you may want
to configure your firewall to ensure that SMTP connections from
outside your firewall can be made only to your central email hubs
and to none of your other systems. Although this will not prevent
an attack, it minimizes the number of machines available to an
intruder for an SMTP-based attack (whether that attack is a email
spam or an attempt to break into a host). It also means that should
you wish to control incoming SMTP in a particular way (through
filtering or another means), you have only a small number of
systems--the main email hub and any backup email hubs--to
configure. More information on filtering is available from
- Consider configuring your mail handling system(s) to deliver
email into filesystems that have per-user quotas enabled. Doing
this can minimize the impact of an email bombing attack by limiting
the damage to only the targeted accounts and not the entire
- Educate your users to call you about email bombing and
- Do not propagate the problem by forwarding (or replying to)
IV. Additional Security Measures That You Can Take
- If you have questions concerning legal issues, we encourage you
to work with your legal counsel.
U.S. sites interested in an investigation of this activity can
contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Information
about how the FBI investigates computer crimes can be found
For information on finding and contacting your local FBI field
Non-U.S. sites may want to discuss the activity with their local
law enforcement agency to determine the appropriate steps for
pursuing an investigation.
- For general security information, please see