The Internet Collapses! No Film At 11.

Fake News written by James Baughn on Saturday, November 25, 2000

from the it's-the-end-of-the-world-after-all! dept.

Unable to withstand an unexpected deluge of spam, "meta-spam", off-topic posts, and spontaneous flame wars, the vast majority of the Internet is currently offline. Mail systems on Windows NT were the first to crash under the strain, but within minutes even Linux and FreeBSD systems were quicking melting under extreme network conditions 500,000 times worse than the dreaded Slashdot Effect.

It all started on a low-volume humor mailing list when some evil spammer sent a messag entitled "Make $$$ Fast From Sending Bulk X-Rated Email! Not MLM!". Almost every subscriber sent a response asking, "Why am I getting spam? How do I unsubscribe from this list?" These messages were immediately followed by more messages demanding, "Why I am getting all of this meta-spam? Will everybody please shut up! And how do I unsubscribe from this list?"

Under normal circumstances, the flood of messages would quickly dry up. But not this time. One list subscriber was on vacation and had an auto-responder configured to respond to each and every email he received. This set up a positive feedback loop; within minutes over 10,000 meta-spams, auto-responses, and meta-meta-meta-auto-responses had circulated through the list.

Unfortunately, the mailing list administrator was glued to his cable television watching every movement in the Florida Election From Hell(tm) and didn't have time to check his email. Meanwhile, list members, sick and tired of receiving 125 messages per second, sent thousands of messages to other mailing lists asking for help in stopping mailing list recursion.

It all went downhill from there. Another evil spammer sent a message to the list, this time containing a huge list of To: addresses. The auto-responder responded to every address on that list, causing several thousand more netizens to be inundated by meta-meta-messages. These people sent knee-jerk responses -- to every address listed in the meta-spam, of course -- thus creating a virulent meme that rapidly took on a life of its own.

The torrent of meta-messages propogated at an exponential rate, spreading across the globe in a matter of milliseconds. And then the meme hit Usenet, IRC, and the Web -- and everything devolved into a state of chaos that would make South Florida's election woes look like a picnic.

Servers crashed. Routers exploded. Computers burst into flames. It was not a good day.

Approximately 32.5 minutes from when the first spam message had been sent, the majority of the Internet was toast.

And that wasn't the end of it. After the servers went down, countless geeks received urgent pages and phone calls from their bosses demanding to know just what the [expletive] was happening. Meanwhile, ISP customers, upset that their Internet access was down again, were frantically trying to call tech support. (At the time, the TV networks were busy showing arguments over "pregnant chads" in Florida, so most people weren't aware that the entire infosphere was on fire.)

These phone calls overloaded the US phone network, which died a quick death. It didn't take long for all other wide-area networks to go kaput, an event that sent most television and radio stations offline. Indeed, there will not be a film at 11.

Experts -- at least those we were able to contact via smoke signals -- agree that the Internet and other modern conveniences should be up and running within a matter of days (or, depending on who you ask, years).

Said one tech pundit we contacted, "In a way I'm sorta relieved. I stockpiled thousands of dollars worth of stuff for Y2K, and now I might be able to actually do something with it."

"Still," he continued. "To think that all of this chaos was caused by one spammer and one errant auto-responder. Now that's scary. And here I thought the collapse of the Internet would be caused by Y2K... or at least a bug in Microsoft software. I never dreamed of this!"

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