It turns out that the Federal Communications Commission’s commenting system was not hacked on May 7, 2017, as Chairman Ajit Pai claimed. Instead, it was the site’s incapacity to handle a flood of people trying to post comments against Pai’s plan to overturn network neutrality rules that crashed the site, according to the commission's inspector general.
After HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host, John Oliver, urged viewers to load the site with comments in favor of net neutrality, the platform experienced a technical failure in handling the numerous visitors trying to access the link simultaneously. As a result, it crashed.
But after the incident, the FCC said the site was hacked by distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Yet, when Congress demanded further information, Pai refused to turn in any documents.
In July 2017, after Gizmodo filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding the FCC turn in any record of an internal analysis that proved the incident had been a hacking attempt, the agency produced nothing, proving that there was no written record that any attack had actually taken place.
After the news that the FCC effectively lied about the incident, Pai promptly released a statement assigning blame to David Bray, a former FCC official who was hired by the President Barack Obama administration.
“... I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,” Pai said in the statement.
So an FCC IG report will soon be released confirming the FCC made up a DDOS attack during the #netneutrality repeal.— Karl Bode (@KarlBode) August 6, 2018
Ajit Pai's trying to get out ahead of that report by throwing the former CIO under the bus and playing dumb. https://t.co/qCaiTPS5mS pic.twitter.com/ZPDlfYHrk9
Prior to the 2017 incident, another similar crash occurred on the website.
In 2014, Oliver asked Americans to promptly comment on the site, asking the agency to support net neutrality. Then, the high number of visitors forced the system to go down as well.
In a Gizmodo piece, Bray was quoted as saying that malicious activity was to blame. Much like in 2017, no information showing an attack emerged in 2014 either.
Once again, the agency simply ignored the incident and decided not to pursue more answers. So whether Pai is correct or not in claiming it was Bray who shared the false information with the agency’s leadership, what matters is that the FCC head never ordered a detailed investigation to correctly assess the problem.
In addition to this report, another issue involving the FCC’s website remains unaddressed.
Prior to the FCC’s decision to bring net neutrality rules to an end, 94 percent of the 23 million comments logged in the website were filled with forgeries and duplicates. But the agency has yet to investigate and explain exactly why.
At the time, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a probe, and in May 2018, Democratic senators pressed the FCC to implement new security measures for commenters on the site, urging the agency to respond to requests regarding previous issues.
Nothing has been done.
It’s incredibly frustrating that the FCC did not initially disclose that a flood of people trying to post comments in favor of net neutrality was the reason why the site crashed, especially since the agency appeared to ignore the public and passed its plan to end rules implemented under Obama just after this incident.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein