MIT email was down for 10 hours last night, Mystery Hunt temporarily affected

MIT experienced an email outage beginning around 10 p.m. yesterday night until shortly after 8 a.m. this morning. “A mail loop caused by a series of malformed email messages led to an exhaustion of system resources in the anti-spam component of MIT’s email system. The issue resulted in degraded performance and delayed sending and receiving of email external to MIT’s email system,” said Nathaniel W. Nickerson, a spokesman for MIT. A mail loop is when an email is sent back and forth between two or more servers without reaching its destination (and also taking up computing resources).

MIT’s network experienced a DoS attack last Sunday, allegedly by Anonymous. As of 6:15 p.m. today, Nickerson said that “we do not know enough at this time to know whether [last night's email outage] was the result of an attack.”

IS&T is conducting further investigation “to determine specific details and causes that led to [last night's email outage],” Nickerson said.

According to  3DOWN.mit.edu — a website that shows the status of MIT services — email to most of MIT account holders, who use the Exchange email system, was delayed last night prior to the outage. That outage only affected email from outside MIT.

Mystery Hunt, which began yesterday at noon, was affected “a lot” by the email outage, according to Manic Sages organizer Catherine A. Havasi ’03. “We sent email last night that was critical to solving puzzles that wasn’t received by teams for up to twelve hours after they were sent!  It was certainly quite frustrating for the more MIT teams!” Havasi said.

Prior to the outage, the Manic Sages had told teams that were behind to email them for clues. There were also instances were teams were supposed to email headquarters to receive a physical package that was part of a puzzle. With the outage, many of those emails didn’t go through until the morning. However, most teams were able to reach the Manic Sages through other means, such as calling headquarters or using the website contact form.

Because of the multiple modes of communication set up, the Manic Sages don’t believe that the outage delayed the overall hunt timeline, said Jacob B. Hurwitz ’14, another Manic Sages organizer.

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