Senators ask FBI to look into FCC’s cyberattack claims

The FCC claimed earlier this month that the comment system by which people can weigh in on the proposal to kill net neutrality had been on the receiving end of a distributed denial-of-service attack. Today, a group of Senators asked that the FBI look into it.

Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) penned a letter to FBI Director Andrew McCabe suggesting the matter was too troubling to let alone.

“Any cyberattack on a federal network is very serious,” the letter reads. “This particular attack may have denied the American people the opportunity to contribute to what is supposed to be a fair and transparent process, which in turn may call into question the integrity of the FCC’s rulemaking proceedings. We request that you update us on the status of the FBI’s investigation and brief us on this matter by June 23, 2017.”

The FCC has been rather quiet on the topic despite requests from Congress to explain and document the attack. Some at the time thought that the comment system had been taken down by the large volume directed at it by a John Oliver segment on net neutrality that aired shortly before.

But the system was upgraded specifically to prevent it from going down under that kind of attention, and the FCC was unequivocal in its statement about the attacks, issued on May 8:

Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks. 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.

Since then, however, the Commission has offered no hard evidence, publicly at least, that substantiates this analysis. Perhaps the Senators’ letter will hurry that along.

Notably, the letter suggests that the purported attacks “question the integrity of the FCC’s rulemaking proceedings.” The Senators in question are vocally pro-net-neutrality and have spoken out against Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to roll back the rules. It’s more than possible that they are attempting to delegitimize the process by which that proposal is effected: If nefarious actors interfered, and America did not have a fair chance to weigh in, how can it be said to be a transparent and open process?

Whatever the case, we should know on or around June 23.