You might recall that when John Oliver did his latest piece on net neutrality, the FCC’s comment system ground to a halt under the load of viewers pissed to realize that the FCC is trying to kill popular consumer protections protecting them from buffoonery by the likes of Comcast. But the FCC then did something odd: it claimed that a DDoS attack, not HBO’s hit show, resulted in the website’s issues. A statement issued by the FCC proclaimed that extensive “analysis” by the FCC had led the agency to conclude that it had suffered the attack at roughly the same time Oliver’s program had ended:
“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.”
The problem: security experts saw no evidence that claim was true in publicly available logs, and saw none of the usual indicators preceding such an attack. And the FCC ever since has been bizarrely cagey, refusing to provide any evidence whatsoever supporting its claim. The FCC was subsequently prodded by several Senators as to the nature of the attack, but the FCC still refused to share any real data, despite agency boss Ajit Pai repeatedly, breathlessly insisting he would be a stalwart defender of transparency at the agency.
And when Gizmodo recently filed a FOIA request for anything regarding the nature of the attack, the FCC first released seventeen pages of nonsense, before admitting it had no documented “analysis” proving an attack as previously claimed. When additional websites began to point out that the FCC’s behavior here was a little odd, the agency sent out a strangely-punchy press release lambasting news outlets for being “irresponsible.”
So what’s really happening here? The unsubstantiated journalist guess du jour is that the FCC bizarrely made up a DDoS attack in a feeble attempt to downplay the “John Oliver effect” in the media. “We weren’t inundated by millions of people angry that we’re killing popular consumer protections solely to the benefit of Comcast,” this narrative suggests, “we were unfairly attacked!” The fact that there never actually was a DDoS attack would go a long way toward explaining the Trump FCC’s subsequent inability to provide any evidence supporting the claim, even under pressure from Congress.
Hoping to flesh this theory out a bit, journalist Kevin Collier last week filed a lawsuit against the FCC (pdf) not only demanding more data on the agency’s supposed DDoS attack, but also urging the FCC to provide some insight on what it’s doing to address the wave of bogus, bot-produced anti-net neutrality comments flooding the agency’s website in recent months:
“Collier said his records request was prompted by the FCC’s “weird and cagey” inclination to obscure details about the incident. “The fact that they gave Gizmodo such a runaround in its own request for internal ‘analysis’ of the attack just goes to show this,” he said. “I want to know the full story.” Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, told Gizmodo last week the FCC’s actions raised “legitimate questions about whether the agency is being truthful when it claims a DDoS attack knocked its commenting system offline.”
Again, the refusal to address fraudulent anti-net neutrality comments being made at the FCC website (like the one made in my name), combined with the FCC’s bizarre, phantom DDoS attack, has many believing the FCC is actively engaged in an intentional, amateurish attempt to downplay the massive backlash to their assault on net neutrality. And while it’s entirely possible the FCC is just being non-transparent and generically stupid here, if it can be proved the agency actively lied about a DDoS attack then covered it up simply to downplay the immense unpopularity of its policies, the inevitable lawsuits against the agency in the wake of its final vote to kill the rules could get very interesting.