NSA: No we weren't hacked, we just broke our website

Filed Under: Denial of Service, Featured

The official NSA website NSA.gov was offline for several hours on Friday, prompting immediate wild speculation that it had been taken down by a DDoS campaign.

But the NSA itself eventually squashed the rumours, announcing officially that the issue was "an internal error that occurred during a scheduled update".

The site was apparently down for up to six hours on Friday afternoon and evening, indicating either a pretty serious error or some rather sluggish efforts at restoring normality.

The NSA has been increasingly beleaguered of late, with the ever-mushrooming Snowden leaks heaping embarrassment upon embarrassment.

With growing public distrust and distaste for the agency, it was inevitable that many would assume the outage was down to some sort of revenge attack by the internet community.

The incident also coincided nicely with a major rally in Washington D.C. over the weekend to protest against the NSA's snooping activities.

But of course, as the satirical science and technology cartoon XKCD pointed out in 2012, a public-facing website may be an easy target, but it's not really a particularly vital asset to a top-secret government agency.

It's unlikely that any of the NSA's spies were uploading deviously-obtained data to the site and ended up blocked from reporting Angela Merkel's latest text messages back to base.

On the other hand, the accidental outage seems to run counter to recent impressions that the NSA is overloaded with super-elite computer geniuses who can do just about anything, including breaking the most advanced cryptography.

At least, if those people are there, they're not working on the public website.

It also serves as a reminder that while updates are of course important, they should always be properly tested before being implemented in live environments, and proper known-working backups should always be available to fall back on in case of disaster.


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8 Responses to NSA: No we weren't hacked, we just broke our website

  1. Mike · 178 days ago

    Hah! The cartoon says it all.

  2. Yohan Perera · 178 days ago

    John,

    Thank you for the sense of humor. I laughed my bowels out reading it.

  3. Allen · 178 days ago

    This article made my morning!

  4. Pfft · 178 days ago

    "On the other hand, the accidental outage seems to run counter to recent impressions that the NSA is overloaded with super-elite computer geniuses who can do just about anything, including breaking the most advanced cryptography."

    Oh, so Sophos's elite security team not only researches and analyzes new viruses and malware but they also manage the Sophos website? Do they also manage the mail servers and do desktop support?

    Basically you have your "elite" people doing the hard work, which in this case is cracking advanced cryptography, while normal sysadmins handle the web server.

  5. Andy · 177 days ago

    funny this, still can't get up off the floor.

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About the author

John Hawes is Chief of Operations at Virus Bulletin, running independent anti-malware testing there since 2006. With over a decade of experience testing security products, John was elected to the board of directors of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO) in 2011.