FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, on December 12, 2014, testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, on December 12, 2014, testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Susan Walsh/AP

The FCC Website Will Likely Crash on Wednesday

The Federal Communications Commission plays a vital role in the nation’s response to cyber incidents and it’s about to be hit by a major disruption. By Patrick Tucker

On Wednesday, the Federal Communication Commission will likely experience a rather unfortunate and completely preventable public relations disaster. A massive traffic influx, coupled with a coordinated distributed denial of service, or DDoS attack, is expected to prevent users from accessing the FCC’s web site.

The attack is part of a coordinated effort on behalf of various groups to protest FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rules that would allow broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast to manage how data crosses their networks in accordance with what they determine to be “commercially reasonable.” Passage of the legislation would mark an important loss for the net neutrality movement, a large portion of the technology community who argues that allowing broadband providers to privilege some content, and content-providers, over others would result in big companies getting an Internet “fast lane” at the expense of everyone else and even free speech.

A variety of high profile websites from Reddit to Foursquare will participate in a day of action, providing information on their websites about the proposed rules and urging visitors to voice their outrage to the FCC. It’s part of a long process that will apex on Sept. 15, when the open comments period on legislation ends. The agency anticipates that the FCC comment filing system database (ECFS) will go down that day as result of intentionally focused high traffic.

Previously, hactivists have used the “Open Internet period” to swamp the database with traffic and render it temporarily inaccessible to outside users, so the pattern is clear. In July, the FCC site crashed after 780,000 comments were posted in response to the proposed changes.

The ECFS system is 18 years old. Sequestration and political infighting have undermined attempts to upgrade its most vulnerable aspects. The attacks likely won’t result in any major data loss, but they probably won’t help improve the image of the government agency that sees its mission as “providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation's communications infrastructure.”

The outage is of no small relevance to the national security establishment. In the event that a major cyber attack affects the nation’s communications systems, and, in turn, stock exchanges, electricity grids, critical infrastructure, Wi-Fi-enabled pacemakers and the rapidly growing constellation of devices connected to the Internet, it’s the FCC that has to respond. The commission plays a vital role in the nation’s response to restoring the nation's communications and cyberinfrastructure according to the commission.

Update: the FCC has released the following statement:

"The FCC expects an increased volume of traffic on Wednesday. The public can file comments for the public record through openinternet@fcc.gov or through the Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS)... If a surge of comments are filed all at once in ECFS, the system may slow down for everyone. We recommend people consider emailing their comments to openinternet@fcc.gov"

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