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Botnets Target FCC Website Over Net Neutrality, Researchers Say

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Researchers claim bots are spamming US regulator website over net neutrality rule change proposal

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website is reportedly being attacked by botnets, according to a number of security researchers.

The attack comes the FCC claimed last week that its website was being hit with multiple distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS).

The US communications regulator had made that claim just hours after HBO’s John Oliver used his ‘Last Week Tonight’ TV show to urge viewers to go to the FCC site to post comments in support of current net neutrality regulations.

DDoS Attacks?

Following that TV intervention, traffic to the FCC website has been monitored by a number of security researchers, the BBC revealed.

Three separate analysis showed that the FCC was indeed being targetted by DDoS attacks, after 400,000 comments with remarkably similar wording were detected in recent days.

“Over the past week, I’ve been studying some interesting data: the public comments on an FCC proposal,” said researcher and developer Chris Sinchok. “If you haven’t heard about the FCC’s current proposal, you should watch John Oliver’s recent segment. In short, the FCC is proposing to reclassify ISP’s as Title I carriers, reverting the previous administration’s decision.”

He said that his analysis of the comments about net neutrality regulations show that the traffic seems to “look a lot like a bot”.

Sinchok also noticed that the names and email addresses associated with thousands of comments have previously turned up in lists of personal data stolen from websites.

“It seems quite clear to me that there are groups using bots to manipulate the outcome of this public comment period,” he wrote.

His conclusion was backed up by other researchers including a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another at Harvard University.

Both researchers also recorded a spike in automated traffic directed at the FCC website.

Net Neutrality Rules

The furore surrounding net neutrality is because the current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump, has pledged to reserve the net neutrality rules that were delivered under the former Obama administration, which safeguards against a two speed Internet.

Earlier this month British comedian John Oliver used his ‘Last Week Tonight’ TV show to point out that Pai is a former lawyer with Verizon – an American ISP which had opposed Obama’s net neutrality regulations introduced in February 2015.

Indeed, he said that Pai has pledged to take a “weed whacker” to those rules, and instead wants ISPs to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to web content.

Oliver is a well known campaigner for net neutrality. Three years ago he triggered a massive reaction when he did a segment on net neutrality that caused technical problems for the FCC after viewers left over four million comments on the FCC website.

Proponents of network neutrality have long said it is necessary to keep the Internet from devolving into multiple tiers that depended on users’ ability to pay for preferential speeds. And the former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, has previously warned commissioners against removing the net neutrality rules.

Last month the Internet Association, which represents leading tech firms, bluntly warned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to repeal net neutrality rules.

Quiz: Do you understand the language of the Internet?