FCC blames DDoS, not net neutrality comedy sketch, for website downtime

FCC site crashed after John Oliver TV skit.

FCC blames DDoS, not net neutrality comedy sketch, for website downtime

Three years ago, John Oliver memorably used the platform of his HBO TV show “Last Week Tonight” to launch an attack on big cable companies’ plans to do away with net neutrality.

As with most things John Oliver does, it was thought-provoking and amusing in equal measure – and managed to make the potentially dull subject of net neutrality interesting to the ordinary TV viewer.

“Yes, net neutrality. The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are… ‘Featuring Sting'”

Net Neutrality: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Sure enough, hundreds of thousands of people followed John Oliver’s call to make their feelings felt to the FCC. And you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the FCC’s website fell over.

Fast forward to 2017, and the TV host has directed viewers to visit a new website with the name (ahem) gofccyourself.com, which will automatically redirect your browser to the relevant page on the FCC’s real site to leave your comments on the plans of FCC chairman Ajit Pai (a former Verizon lawyer, by the way) to axe net neutrality rules.

Can you guess what happened?

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Yes, the FCC’s website went down again. However, the organisation blamed the downtime (which prevented aggrieved TV viewers from expressing their opinion) on a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) rather than a rampaging horde of John Oliver fans hitting the “Refresh” button.

FCC statement

Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS). These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCCís comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host. These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC. While the comment system remained up and running the entire time, these DDoS events tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments. We have worked with our commercial partners to address this situation and will continue to monitor developments going forward.

I have no way of knowing whether the FCC’s description of what happened is accurate or not, but let’s assume that they are.

You may well be angry with the FCC, and its failure to stick up for net neutrality, but DDoS attacks aren’t cool. DDoS attacks are the enemy of freedom of speech – and may well prevent other legitimate protestors from having their voice heard.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

One comment on “FCC blames DDoS, not net neutrality comedy sketch, for website downtime”

  1. Michael Ponzani

    Dear Mr. Cluely:

    I'm glad I subscribed to your service, I laughed quite a bit at this. While Oliver swears too much for me. He does highlight this stuff which goes on all the time. Corporations want you to think there is competition when there is not. It's not a monopoly, it's just that we don't compete with each other in any market. Oil companies own many different brands of service stations. One day the station up ahead has lower prices, the next the other one down the road has better prices. Blah, Blah, Blah, Ham co. is a subsidiary of Wah, Wha, Wha, Meat Processing which also sells hams. And on and on.

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