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Senators want FBI to vet FCC's 'cyberattack' claims

Dems want to get to the bottom of comment flood

A group of Senate Democrats is asking the FBI to take a close look at the reported "denial of service" the FCC blamed for the collapse of its comment system earlier this month.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) all signed on to the letter [PDF] today, asking FBI Director Andrew McCabe to open up a bureau investigation of the matter.

"A Congressional inquiry has already been sent to the FCC asking for details about the attack. We ask that the FBI prioritize this matter and investigate the source of this attack," the letter reads.

"Any cyberattack on a Federal network is very serious. 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 rulemaking proceedings."

The attack had been reported by the FCC on Monday, May 8, after the commission's Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) went down late Sunday night.

Shortly after that, FCC CIO Dr David Bray issued a statement blaming the outage on a DDoS attack intended specifically to render the ECFS site inoperable.

"These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC," Bray said of the outage at the time.

Skeptics have suggested that the outage was not actually due to a DDoS attack on the site, but rather a flood of comments from US citizens (prompted by TV pundit John Oliver), who were lodging comments to express their discontent with the commission's efforts to relieve itself of the authority to enforce net neutrality rules on US telcos.

The five Senators may well be among those skeptics, judging from the tone of their letter to the FBI (including the classification of the attacks as "reported").

While presented as a request for the FBI to probe the DDoS attack, it also seems to leave open the door to the conclusion that the FCC is making up the incident to distract from a stance that is seen unfavorably by a large number of Americans, including many Congressional Democrats.

The request also comes in the wake of accusations of nefarious deeds by telcos. Rights groups have accused US carriers of engaging in astroturfing campaigns by posting fake comments, in some cases without the consent of the supposed author and in others using the names of deceased individuals as the authors. ®

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