Canadian ISP Shaw Loses Millions of Customer E-mails Due to Configuration Flaw

Posted on March 11, 2013 10:00 AM by Rob Williams

In an event that proves that some people do in fact use their ISP-provided e-mail addresses, we’re reminded of the fact that our data in the cloud is never truly safe – even if backups are taken into consideration.

Shaw Communications, a large Canadian Internet provider, was dealing with e-mail delay issues earlier this week, and one of the configuration changes resulted in millions of e-mails being lost. Crazy, but the reason is even crazier. About 98% of the e-mail that passes through Shaw’s servers is spam (ridiculous in itself) and is immediately deleted so as to not hog space, but the configuration change effectively made that value 100%. All that was left were the e-mail titles and sender – not much to go on, but something the ISP is planning to send out to customers.

Shaw Webmail

The issue remained in effect for 10 hours, and because the e-mails were in fact delivered – just deleted immediately – no sender would have received a bounce message, nor would their e-mail servers continue to work on sending the message. The e-mails – which could have included anything from a friendly hello or a bank transfer – were simply lost.

From the user perspective, there’s nothing that could have been done here – the issue was entirely in Shaw’s court. If this issue has happened just once, then it’d be difficult to recommend people go to another service, because the fact of the matter is, these things can happen. While I’d be quick to say that a service like Gmail would offer unparalleled e-mail safety, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I woke up and heard about a bunch of e-mails being lost on the service.

One thing we can be sure of is, Shaw will be making sure this never happens again.

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