At 9PM on Sunday night, New York Magazine published to the web one of its most ambitious and powerful stories of the year, an extended interview with 35 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Within minutes, writers and editors heaped praise on the feature, but later into the night, it mysteriously disappeared, along with everything else hosted at NYMag.com, victim to an apparent denial-of-service attack.
On Twitter, accounts identifying themselves as the hackers gave a variety of conflicting and implausible explanations for the attack, ranging from general animosity toward New York City to a personal connection with one of the women involved. The magazine’s only official statement came at 3:32AM: “Our site is experiencing technical difficulties. We are aware of the issue, and working on a fix.” As of press time, the site is still offline.
So far, the attack is consistent with a denial-of-service (or DDoS) attack — an unsophisticated flood of traffic that blocks users from accessing a specific address without compromising the site itself. DDoS attacks can be launched cheaply from nearly anywhere, making them a favored tactic for activists and criminals alike. Mitigation techniques have grown more advanced in recent years, but the sheer volume of requests is often enough to knock a site offline or slow response time for days at a time. Denial-of-service actions are occasionally used as cover for more sophisticated attacks, but the vast majority are simple brute force actions, overcome as soon as site managers are able to deploy mitigation measures or, in some cases, comply with extortion demands.
But while NYMag.com is still unavailable, the story has continued to proliferate through other channels. New York‘s Instagram account has published pictures and quotes from four of the women, which the magazine’s Twitter account has continued to promote throughout the outage. A cached version of the story is also available through Archive.org, although not all of the functionality is present. Print distribution of New York has been unaffected by the attack.