Network Security, Network Security

Following IG report, FCC admits net neutrality comment process was never subjected to DDoS attack

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai admitted in a statement on Monday that his agency never actually suffered a distributed denial of service attack when its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) went down on May 7-8, 2017, while citizens were attempting to submit opinions about the proposed repeal of net neutrality rules.

Pai had previously claimed that a DDoS attack was responsible for the outage, while digital rights organizations loudly protested that the incident was caused by the ECFS being inundated with public comments, many of which were spurred on by a segment on John Oliver's Last Week Tonight show urging Americans to come out in favor of preserving net neutrality.

The sudden turnaround comes on the heels of a recently completed Inspector General's report -- not yet made public -- that apparently debunks the FCC's previous claims of a DDoS attack. In a written statement, Pai, claimed the IG's report will show he had no knowledge that the DDoS theory was inaccurate, and attempted to lay the brunt of the blame on the FCC's former CIO David Bray, who joined the agency in 2013.

"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," reads the statement from Pai, a Republican. "I'm 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."

Pai said the report will show that the former CIO insisted at the time that he was "99.9% confident" 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."

Multiple news outlets [1, 2] have reported today that a statement issued either by Bray or on Bray's behalf said the FCC Officer of the Inspector General never reached out to him, and he never reviewed the findings.

But Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel released her own statement in dissent, stating: “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.”

In his remarks, Pai claims he is only coming forward now because the IG's office asked the FCC not to discuss the investigation while it was ongoing. He also said the incident demonstrates the need for the FCC to upgrade the public comment system. "I'm therefore pleased that Congress last week approved a reprogramming request that provides us with the funding necessary to redesign ECFS," he added. "We're looking forward to getting that important project started."

The FCC under Pai has also been accused by some lawmakers of ignoring calls for an investigation into hundreds of thousands of identically drafted, fraudulent anti-net neutrality comments that were submitted using real people's names and addresses without their permission.

The FCC repealed net neutrality on Dec. 14, 2017 and the repeal officially took effect on June 11, 2018.

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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