The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said it suffered distributed-denial of service (DDoS) attacks following the Last Week Tonight segment on net neutrality. Yet the Fight for the Future advocacy group said it's "extremely skeptical" about the commission's claim it was attacked.
This marks the second time that HBO's show, which is hosted by John Oliver, rallied its viewers around net neutrality. The first time was in June 2014, and Oliver's segment inspired so many comments on the FCC's site that it knocked it offline. Now, following the announcement that FCC chairman Ajit Pai wants to roll back Obama administration regulations of internet service providers, Oliver told viewers to oppose the decision again.
The FCC said in April that it plans to stop regulating ISPs under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This would make it harder for the FCC to prevent ISPs from, say, prioritizing their own services over competitive offerings. Doing so would give those services an unfair advantage over their competitors, and it would also open up the possibility of ISPs charging you higher fees based on the websites and services you want to use.
Pai said in a speech--a transcript of which you can find on the FCC website--that Title II regulations have caused ISPs to slow their investments in U.S. infrastructure. Materials published by the FCC entitled Internet Regulations: Myths vs Facts and Restoring Internet Freedom For All Americans claimed that rolling back these regulations would lead to renewed investments, better internet access, and the creation of new jobs.
Oliver's segment argued several of these points. He then explained how viewers could comment on the proposal and revealed that Last Week Tonight purchased "gofccyourself.com" and redirected it to the final step of the multi-part process. The segment worked: The FCC's website once again crashed because so many people rushed to comment on it. Or, as the commission said, because it inspired someone to DDoS the site.
Here's what the FCC said in a press release:
Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks(DDos) [sic]. These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s 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.
Fight for the Future said in a statement that the FCC's claims are extremely unlikely. The digital rights group said two possible scenarios could explain the FCC's claim: that the commission is "being intentionally misleading" so it can "let [itself] off the hook for essentially silencing large numbers of people" by not having a stable enough website, or that someone actually conducted a DDoS attack on the commission's site.
The group called on the FCC to release logs to independent security experts or media outlets to investigate the claims of an attack. It later said in an email to Tom's Hardware:
We have now read that the FCC is claiming this also happened in 2014 during the last John Oliver segment about the issue, and we are even more skeptical. Why was this not widely publicized at the time when there was widespread media coverage that the FCC's site had buckled under the weight of massive numbers of comments generated by Oliver and the net neutrality activists behind BattleForTheNet.com?
Either way, it's clear that many people oppose the FCC's plan to roll back open internet protections. Can all of that be pinned on Last Week Tonight and its host? Was the FCC targeted by DDoS attacks? And how much do the answers to those questions matter, apart from their distraction from the bigger issue?