FCC Claims DDoS Attack Crashed Net Neutrality Comment System

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A DDoS attack, and not John Oliver, caused the Federal Communication Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) to crash, according to a Monday statement.

Oliver, who urged viewers to comment on net neutrality proceedings in 2014, directed his Last Week Tonight viewers on Sunday night to visit the page “gofccyourself.com,” which it had purchased and set to redirect to the FCC’s comment page for the Restoring Internet Freedom Proceedings, to comment in support of net neutrality, a regulation that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed rolling back last month.

According to the FCC, the ECFS service was disrupted Monday morning, but unlike in 2014, the disruption was due to an attempt to block commenting.

See also: Net-Neutrality Revamp Left to FCC Chief as Congress Seen Passing

FCC Chief Information Officer Dr. David Bray issued a statement on Monday blaming the collapse of the ECFS on a DDoS attack.

“Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host. These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC. While the comment system remained up and running the entire time, these DDoS events tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments.”

Digital rights group Fight for the Future is skeptical that this was the case, given the timing of the so-called DDoS events. Here’s a statement by Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer:

“The FCC’s statement today raises a lot of questions, and the agency should act immediately to ensure that voices of the public are not being silenced as it considers a move that would affect every single person that uses the Internet,” she says. “There are two possible scenarios and they are both concerning: 1) The FCC is being intentionally misleading, and trying to claim that the surge in traffic from large numbers of people attempting to access following John Oliver’s segment amounts to a ‘DDoS’ attack, in order to let themselves off the hook for essentially silencing large numbers of people by not having a properly functioning site to receive comments from the public about an important issue, or 2) Someone actually did DDoS the FCC’s site at the exact same time as John Oliver’s segment, in order to actively prevent people from commenting in support of keeping the Title II net neutrality rules that millions of people fought for in 2015.”

“Given Ajit Pai’s open hostility toward net neutrality, and the telecom industry’s long history of astroturfing and paying shady organizations to do their dirty work, either of these scenarios should be concerning for anyone who cares about government transparency, free speech, and the future of the Internet,” Greer said. “The FCC should immediately release its logs to an independent security analyst or major news outlet to verify exactly what happened last night. The public deserves to know, and the FCC has a responsibility to maintain a functioning website and ensure that every member of the public who wants to submit a comment about net neutrality has the ability to do so. Anything less is a subversion of our democracy.”

A campaign to flood the comment section with identical statements in support of the effort to repeal Title II regulation of internet services was also launched on Monday. The opening line of the text was identified by a reddit user as part of a quote attributed to Timothy Lee, VP of Legal and Public Affairs for the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) in 2010.

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