FCC says it cannot provide more proof of claimed cyberattack

FCC says it cannot provide more proof of claimed cyberattack
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it cannot provide more information proving that it was the victim of a cyberattack in May.

The agency's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) went down shortly after comedian John Oliver told viewers to file comments in favor of net neutrality in a segment on his HBO show "Last Week Tonight."

The FCC claimed at the time that the website did not crash because of the large amount of traffic Oliver generated, but was instead the result of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack. An FCC official cited an "analysis" that lead the agency to that conclusion.

Tech website Gizmodo filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the FCC analysis of the attack.

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But in their response, the agency said there was no "written" analysis of the May 8 attack.

"The analysis referred to stemmed from real time observation and feedback by Commission IT staff and did not result in written documentation," the FCC said.

The agency says it does have data logs on the attack but can't release those for privacy reasons.

“Based on a review of the logs, we have already provided a detailed description of what happened. We stand by our career IT staff’s analysis of the evidence in our possession," an FCC spokesperson said when asked for comment on the matter.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is moving to rollback the Obama-era net neutrality rules on internet service providers.

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Pro-net neutrality advocacy groups like Fight For The Future have expressed skepticism such an attack occurred and have demanded the FCC provide proof.

David Bray, the FCC’s chief information officer, has declined to do so on the grounds that providing the logs from after the attack would reveal private information like IP addresses. 

In its response to the FOIA request, the agency said that providing further information would also reveal “privileged or confidential” data like “trade secrets and commercial or financial information”

“The public deserves to know whether former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai is protecting the person or organization behind these alleged ... attacks and the flood of fake comments using stolen identities that have tainted the FCC’s docket,” said Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight For The Future.

The group has expressed frustration at the comment system crashing, saying that this prevents the public from being able to voice their opinions on net neutrality. Lawmakers such as Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight House passes measure blocking IRS from revoking churches' tax-exempt status over political activity Senators introduce bipartisan bill to improve IRS MORE (D-Ore.) have expressed similar sentiments.

The agency has received more than 10 million filings on net neutrality.

This story was updated at 4:48 p.m.