What is an Email Bomb? (with pictures)

Mary Elizabeth

Email, or e-mail, short for electronic mail, is a software system developed from a system that originated in the 1960s. Email is used for sending, storing, receiving, and forwarding text messages — and often attachments — on a packet-based computer network. Several terms for particular approaches to email have earned metaphoric nicknames. Two of these are email blast and email bomb Although these two terms similarly evoke an image of an explosion, they are actually rather different in meaning.

An email bomb is a type of denial-of-service attack.
An email bomb is a type of denial-of-service attack.

An email blast simply refers to a very large amount of email sent out at once. An email blast can either be spam or a completely legitimate activity, depending on circumstances. If the emailer is sending the email to users who have not opted-in to be on a mailing list, or otherwise violating the CANSPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act of 2003, then the email blast will be considered spam. If the emailer is merely sending a very large number of emails to users whose addresses he or she has legitimately obtained and is, for example, offering a coupon or information about an upcoming sale, then the email blast may be perfectly legitimate. An email bomb, on the other hand — despite the similar name — does not have any legitimate use.

Email bombs are usually sent to everyone in a person's address book.
Email bombs are usually sent to everyone in a person's address book.

An email bomb is a type of denial-of-service (DOS) attack. A DOS attack is an attempt to destroy a person’s or organization’s access to a particular resource or service. It can be directed at overwhelming a network, cutting off communication between a user’s computer and its server, attempting to disrupt the overall service of the targeted person or organization, or trying to prevent a person or organization from accessing a particular service. An email bomb is an example of the final type, aimed specifically at impairing a person’s or organization’s email capability.

There are two overall types of email bombs. In the first type of email bomb, a person or organization is bombarded with an enormous number of emails sent to the relevant email address, overwhelming the system. In the second type of email bomb, called email subscription bombing, the target’s email is added to a large number of mailing lists, which are chosen because they send multiple messages on a daily basis. Email bombing can also affect those beyond the target, given sufficient traffic. If the source of the email bomb can be determined, a router can be configured to block the attack, and one should contact one’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) at the very least.

A denial-of-service (DOS) attack is an attempt to cut off individual or organizational access to a particular service or resource.
A denial-of-service (DOS) attack is an attempt to cut off individual or organizational access to a particular service or resource.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to EasyTechJunkie about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments

John57

I found this very interesting as I had never heard of an email bomb before. I have an online business and have people that have signed up as subscribers to my site. I will periodically send a bulk email to them with a message advertising a special or making an announcement. These email blasts have been an effective way of communicating with many people at one time.

I have been the recipient of many email blasts that I did not care to be, but have not experienced an email bomb, and hope that I never do.

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