FCC’s net neutrality DDoS story falls apart, Ajit Pai blames previous admin

FCC Chairman Ajit Paid said Monday that a high-profile outage of the agency’s site last May wasn’t caused by DDoS attacks, but didn’t specify the reason for the crash. 

On May 7, 2017, the FCC’s comment system crashed after Last Week Tonight host John Oliver encouraged his audience to post comments to the agency supporting net neutrality. FCC officials initially claimed the site went down because of a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which flood a website with useless traffic and cause it to slow down or crash. But net neutrality supporters accused the agency of making up the attack and blamed it for failing to keep the system online. 

The Office of Inspector General led an independent investigation into the incident. The report revealed that information about DDoS attacks was false, Pai said.

‘I am deeply disappointed 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 about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,’ Pai wrote in a statement. ‘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. 

‘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,” Pai wrote. 

The Commission’s Chief of Staff asked the CIO if the incident was in fact caused by external sources attempting to tie up the server, and not a flood of people trying to comment on the site at the same time, Pai said. The former CIO told Pai’s office they were ‘99.9% confident this was external folks deliberately trying to tie-up the server to prevent others from commenting and/or create a spectacle.” 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

In response to the Inspector General report, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that the claim about a DDoS attack ‘is bogus,’ and that ‘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.’

Net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future was skeptical about Pai’s statement, saying the FCC failed in its responsibility to maintain a space for public opinion. 

‘Under Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC sabotaged its own public comment process,’ Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. ‘Pai attempts to blame his staff, but this happened on his watch, and he repeatedly obstructed attempts by lawmakers and the press to get answers.’

The FCC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Fight for the Future’s statement.

Pai said the report highlights the need for the FCC to update and redesign its comment system. Congress last week approved the funding necessary for that project, he said.  

 

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