So What Happened?

September 9, 2011 9:29 pm

As some of you may have noticed, TPM was offline and inaccessible for roughly 8 hours starting just before 5 PM on the East Coast this evening. The site was the victim of a massive denial of service (DDOS) attack. Here’s what we know about what happened.This morning TPM published an article on the Anonymous ‘hacktivist’ group featuring mugshots of 14 people accused of being members of the group and participating in an attack on Paypal after it refused to continue servicing Wikileaks. This was part of our on-going coverage of the ‘Anonymous’ story.

Then just before 5 PM the site went down. Because of the way our servers are configured it was not immediately clear to our tech staff or our service provider that a DDOS was behind the outage. And as rumors began to spread that we had been targeted by Anonymous, we contacted one news organization to say that contrary to their report we had no evidence of a malicious attack. That was true at the time we said it. But soon after that it became clear that we in fact were under a DDOS attack.

TPM is hosted by one of the second or third largest hosting services in the country. And they were eventually forced to disable a portion of our server array because the scope of the attack was affecting their ability to service and keep online their other clients.

(Here’s a report our TPM tech reporters published while the site was offline explaining just what’s involved in a DDOS attack.)

We had and still have no direct evidence that Anonymous was behind the attack. However, TPM has been online for 11 years and had never experienced a DDOS attack until today. So, given that Anonymous’s signature has been denial of service attacks and the backlash against our publication of the photos, the logical inference is as apparent to us as anyone else.

Once we realized what was happening our staff mobilized on various fronts — standing up a Tumblr site to continue reporting about the attack itself as well as the stories we were reporting on before it started. We reported the attack to readers via Twitter and posted a statement on Facebook while publishing at TPM’s home in exile on Tumblr.

Over the course of the evening we were in extensive contact with law enforcement as our tech team did amazing work trying to get us back online. Eventually, with an amazing level of outside assistance we were able to get the site back online shortly before 1 AM. At the moment, the site is hobbled but online and accessible and we continue to work to fortify it against future attacks.

There are some technical and legal details I haven’t included since the attack is on-going. But those are the essential points. In the statement we released while the site was offline I wrote …

We are lucky enough to live in a country where the risks and consequences of practicing journalism are usually quite light. Certainly compared to other countries. This episode is trivial in comparison to what numerous journalists have suffered in other countries when people retaliate over what is reported about them. Still, even in such minor forms, reporting the facts about criminal activity and the news of the day is not without consequences. But we believe in what we do. So we can take it.

And that pretty much encapsulates our take on what happened.

We appreciate your support and continued readership.

Masthead Masthead
Editor & Publisher:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Front Page Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Executive Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: