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Investigation proves there was no cyberattack on the FCC prior to net neutrality ruling

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It was just a lot of people trying to use a faulty system all along

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai And FTC Chairman Joseph Simons Testify To Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing On Their Dept.’s Budget Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Following a full investigation by the Federal Communication Commission’s inspector general, what senior officials believed to be a cyberattack on their filing system last May was not a cyberattack at all. Instead, it was a combination of a drastic increase in traffic and flaws in the system’s design, according to the report first published by Gizmodo.

On May 7th, 2017, the commission’s comment system crashed after John Oliver encouraged the viewers of Last Week Tonight to navigate links like that would easily allow them to submit comments ahead of the FCC’s December vote to roll back net neutrality rules. Thousands of viewers flocked to the site to leave comments about the proposed rules change, overly saturating the system and potentially denying commenting access for others.

Senior officials and commissioners, like chairman Ajit Pai, at first said that the system crash was the result of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, and a vast amount of targeted traffic was the cause of the system’s downtime. But according to the inspector general, there was no cyberattack at all. In fact, it was likely just design flaws in the system, paired with the increase in traffic from the John Oliver program (up 3,116 percent) that caused the system to shut down. “Our investigation did not substantiate the allegations of multiple DDoS attacks,” the report said.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel put out a statement yesterday condemning the agency for falsely identifying a cyberattack as being the cause of the shutdown. “The [report] tells us what we knew all along: the FCC’s claim that it was a victim of a DDoS attack during the net neutrality proceeding is bogus,” she said. “What happened instead is obvious — millions of Americans overwhelmed our online system because they wanted to tell us how important internet openness is to them and how distressed they were to see the FCC roll back their rights.”

Chairman Pai responded to the report by placing the blame on another senior official, former chief information officer David Bray, in a statement yesterday. “It has become clear that in addition to a flawed comment system, we inherited from the prior Administration a culture in which many members of the Commission’s career IT staff were hesitant to express disagreement with the Commission’s former CIO in front of FCC management,” he said.