DHS spams own news list

Pointless e-mail messages prompt ire, mirth

A tsunami of duplicated e-mail washed across the Homeland Security Department and its partner organizations in other agencies this morning, spurring comments ranging from the irritated to the amused from government employees, vendors and scholars.

A spam e-mail message appeared to originate with a simple request from a subscriber to the department's open-source news service for an address change. The open-source news service, officially called DHS Daily Report 2007, serves primarily to distribute clippings from newspapers, TV and other media sources.

The subscriber's request propagated across the service's thousands of users, who work in other federal agencies, state and local governments and private companies.

The innocuous spam message prompted some users to add the distribution list to their own electronic information recipient lists. One such effort to promote information-sharing elicited the following comment from an investigator within a joint High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area police team:
    "Since we are introducing ourselves, I'm Steve and I like long walks on the beach and a nice chardonnay with my roasted duck. LOL"

Another recipient of the series of spam e-mails, an information technology administrator at security software and services vendor McAfee cut to the root of the problem:
    "Today's lesson' Folks! Always place large distro lists in the BCC field. Reply or reply to all is a non issue."

Other comments on the e-mail stampede ranged from the amused to the irritated to the clever, such as this note from an employee of vendor Raytheon:
    "Look at this as a business development opportunity."

A representative complaint about the incident came from another vendor employee, who wrote:
    "Dear Mr. Greene [the e-mailer who started this mess], May the fleas of a thousand camels infest you armpits and may a yak in heat make love to your shin."

As the dozens of facetious e-mails flew back and forth from Alberta, Canada, to Florida, some members of the list began to complain:
    "Too all concerned: Please leave [e-mail address] off this list; I have work e-mails that I get [so] please stop clogging my email account."
    A frustrated manager for a homeland security vendor company, apparently contemplating the huge waste of paid work time involved in the recipients' proposals to form a social-network site based on the e-mail binge, stated plaintively in one of the messages:
      "Okay, now that my computer is unlocked with all this DHS traffic, I guess I should at least provide an opportunity to get something productive out of this.
      "I invite you all to visit our website. If you would like specific information regarding the types of things my division provides, please let me know you are interested and I can forward you the particulars.
      "We are involved in nonlethal systems development, military working dog programs and law enforcement projects.
      "While I can appreciate the humor in all this, at some point we need to determine that this has run its course. I am happy to see all the friends in the DHS community can at least take some time to catch their breath. Now break time is over we all really do have work to do."


    A DHS administrator stated that the department's National Incident Command Center was aware that the organization was shooting itself in its cyberfoot. The administrator's late-morning message, which resonated with a schoolmarm tone:
      "Please note that NICC is aware of the situation and has notified Computer Science Corp. to disable the open server pending (I hope) setting the post privileges correctly in time for tomorrow's distribution. Distribution will also be via BCC to allow forwarding without bouncing off the distro list.
      As practitioners of national-security best practices, let's set an example and not clog the communications channel with further white noise, please."

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