City of Madison's Email System Overwhelmed by Petition Campaign

February 5, 2013

A petition website (change.org) generated a high volume of messages to the City of Madison which resulted in delayed or denied delivery of other email traffic. The number of messages to the mailbox continued to grow until tens of thousands of messages became backlogged to the city's email system. The city's email server was unable to keep up with the volume, so Information Technology (IT) made the decision to block email traffic from the website (change.org).

The petition site allows each signer of a petition to share the petition with all of their email and social networking contacts automatically. A single petitioner might share the petition with 100 of their friends who share with 100 of each of their friends. This resulted in the number of messages sent to the city's email system increasing exponentially and in the end required the city to block traffic from the petition site. At no time during the incident was the city's email system compromised, nor were any email accounts, network accounts or any information residing on the city network compromised.

To ensure that the petitions are delivered as intended by its creators, IT staff has setup a Gmail account and have asked the organizers of the petition to redirect the signed petitions to the Gmail account. City staff will continue to monitor the Gmail account.

Contact:
  • Rich Beadles, (608) 261-9649