John Oliver viewers, not hackers, responsible for FCC system outage

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Concerned viewers of HBO host John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” not hackers, were responsible for the Federal Communications Commission’s system outage in May 2017, according to the agency’s watchdog arm.

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An outspoken critic of the FCC’s efforts to roll back Obama-era “net neutrality” regulations, Oliver petitioned viewers of the May 7, 2017, episode of his show to post comments on the site urging officials not to follow through on the plan. Oliver also set up a website that redirected users to the FCC’s consumer feedback section.

When the FCC’s comment section crashed shortly thereafter, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai blamed the outage on hackers, alleging that malicious actors had used a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack to knock the function offline. However, the results of an investigation by the FCC’s office of inspector general, released this week, determined that “voluminous viral traffic” associated with Oliver’s campaign was the likely cause.

“Our investigation did not substantiate the allegations of multiple DDoS attacks alleged,” the report said, noting that the FCC’s comment section saw a massive increase in traffic just one minute after the official “Last Week Tonight” Twitter account posted a link to the site.

The FCC voted 3-2 along partisan lines last December to repeal net neutrality rules. Critics argue the repeal makes it easier for internet service providers to slow down or block content from rival companies, or to charge consumers more for faster internet speeds.

“With respect to the report’s findings, I am deeply disappointed that the FCC’s former Chief Information Officer (CIO), who was hired by the prior Administration and is no longer with the Commission, provided inaccurate information about this incident to me, my office, Congress, and the American people,” Pai said in a statement. “This is completely unacceptable.”

John Oliver and HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” have yet to address the report’s findings.