There was no DDOS attack on FCC, just citizens having their say

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Aug 7, 2018

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai    via Flickr © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai via Flickr © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • The strange case of the late night comedian, the unpopular net neutrality rule change and the DDOS attack that never was
  • Internal FCC watchdog catches Trumpist flunky Pai pushing alternative facts
  • Report is expected to say there was no DDOS ‘attack’, just a wave of outraged citizens trying to lodge their protest at the ending of net neutrality
  • In true Trump style, Pai blames the prior administration

Back in May of last year the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) was overwhelmed by a flood of comments in response to a rant by ‘Last Week Tonight’ TV show host John Oliver, who urged viewers to let their feelings out by commenting on the FCC system. They did and the system crashed.

So what did Pai do? Rather than admit that the weight of pro neutrality comments had probably crashed the system (clearly the most reasonable explanation taking account of John Oliver’s timely urgings) he thought a better and more palatable explanation was that some malign outside force DDOSed the server - at least according to the FCC CIO and now fall-guy, Dr David Bray.

The furore surrounding this frankly unbelievable explanation and the consequent inability to properly add up all the pro and anti net neutrality comments, resulted in an investigation by the FCC's Inspector General. Yes, there is one of those, and he’s just completed his report, soon to be released to the general public.

One of the great things about the FCC is that dissenting members of the commission have the right to sound off as things develop, as hearings are held, and as discussions are had. As a result, starkly contradictory statements are issued to the media.

The current most dissenting Democrat commissioner (although she is leaving soon) Jessica Rosenworcel, was quick off the mark to relay what she’s seen of the report.

“The Inspector General Report tells us what we knew all along: the FCC’s claim that it was the victim of a DDoS attack during the net neutrality proceeding is bogus. 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. It’s unfortunate that this agency’s energy and resources needed to be spent debunking this implausible claim.”

After thanking the Inspector General’s office for its report, Chairman Pai quickly got down to business; saying how “deeply disappointed” he was that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information.”  He was “also disappointed that some working under the former CIO apparently either disagreed with the information that he was presenting or had questions about it, yet didn’t feel comfortable communicating their concerns to me or my office.”

That pesky 0.1 per cent chance

“On the other hand," said Pai, "I’m pleased that this report debunks the conspiracy theory that my office or I had any knowledge that the information provided by the former CIO was inaccurate and was allowing that inaccurate information to be disseminated for political purposes,” he said.

“Indeed, as the report documents, on the morning of May 8, it was the former CIO who informed my office that ‘some external folks attempted to send high traffic in an attempt to tie-up the server from responding to others, which unfortunately makes it appear unavailable to everyone attempting to get through the queue.’  In response, the Commission’s Chief of Staff, who works in my office, asked if the then-CIO was confident that the incident wasn’t caused by a number of individuals ‘attempting to comment at the same time . . . but rather some external folks deliberately trying to tie-up the server.’ In response to this direct inquiry, the former CIO told my office:  ‘Yes, we’re 99.9% confident this was external folks deliberately trying to tie-up the server to prevent others from commenting and/or create a spectacle.’

Now Pai thinks the most important thing is to stop it happening again. He says Congress has approved funding for a revamp of the comments system, but again, he can’t resist having a swipe at the ‘prior administration’.

“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. Thankfully, I believe that this situation has improved over the course of the last year.”

Yes indeed, thanks be.

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