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FCC says it wasn't hacked, its commenting system is just old

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Issues with the Federal Communications Commission's aging comment system likely led to it going down for several hours last week, a falter that gained wide attention as many associated it with a viral segment from John Oliver's new HBO series calling for people to comment on the commission's controversial new net neutrality proposal. Though the FCC has not pinpointed an exact cause, it says that a certain database error that can cause the commenting system to freeze occurred in large numbers last week due to an increase in traffic. It says that it has no signs that this was the result of hackers though. "We do not have evidence to suggest it was a malicious attack or a nefarious activity," an FCC spokesperson tells The Verge.

"It's not set up to receive the load of comments we received last week."

Motherboard is reporting to the contrary, however, saying that an insider claims that a sustained effort from attackers brought the site down, and not any site issues. For now, it's reasonable to believe that it was, as the FCC says, just an issue of a large increase in visitors triggering errors across its 17-year-old site. "This could have been caused by a number of things. Because our system is so old," the spokesperson says, "it's not set up to receive the load of comments we received last week."

The recurring error is what's known as a "dead record lock," which essentially results in the system occasionally locking up when it sees too many simultaneous requests. "Certain databases — certainly old creaky ones like the FCC's — if you try to do that, it locks up," the spokesperson says, "and the more you do that, the more it freezes up and people can't comment or file or search for comments." The FCC has previously requested funds to modernize its commenting system, though there's no indication that an overhaul will happen in the near future. The commission has addressed the errors that occurred last week in an attempt to guard against them taking down the site again in the future.