Cybercrime Is Not Fake News (Although that FCC Attack Might Be)

“Exhaustion caused by skepticism.” This is a diagnosis I just made up, but that feels appropriate for this moment in time. In a year when everything is fake news, we face the creeping realization that not only is our trust often misplaced—we’re also running out of trustworthy places to put it. We’ve no choice now but to be skeptical of everyone: especially the skeptics.

Exhausted yet? Great, me too.

The latest cause for skepticism arrives courtesy of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Among our growing number of freedoms that are suddenly at risk is our dear net neutrality: the ability to dilly-dally across the internet every which way—regardless of risks, intentions and the factual integrity of what we read. Under newly appointed leadership, the FCC presented a docket known as the “Restoring Internet Freedom Act” that seeks to reconsider the scope of the very freedom in its title.

It couldn’t come a minute sooner, too. Our country has been want for things to argue about in recent months.  

This story came to boiling point when the FCC website crashed late at night on May 7, shortly after a call to action from “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver, one of the impassioned comedians who has become seemingly more principled than “real news” reporters. Oliver detailed the goings-on at the FCC and asked his viewers to voice their concerns on the FCC website. The site suddenly experienced issues and the vocal protestors were rendered voiceless.

Exhausted yet? Wait, there’s more.

FCC representatives released a statement the following day that the site crashed due to coincidentally timed DDoS (distributed denial of services) attacks. These attacks are a rapidly growing threat and a thorn in the side of cybersecurity providers around the globe, so the explanation was perfectly feasible. It did not take long, though, for advocates of internet freedom to suspect “FAKE NEWS” from the FCC—that the DDoS excuse was a coverup for an attempt to silence commenters.

Why would the FCC, an appendage of the U.S. government, lie to us? The government can’t make stuff up, can it?

In a previous lifetime, before our post-truth hellscape, the accusation might have been a cause for alarm (not to mention a cause for questions like “What’s a cyberattack?”). Now that our lives are fully digital and hackers are omnipresent, stirring mayhem on a daily basis, it makes for a precarious situation to question such claims. The suggestion that a government body could possibly lie about a cyberattack or would ever sink so low as to stage its own, is unsettling at best. But what’s far more unsettling is the feeling that, in 2017, it’s not only feasible—it’s practically expected. And it signals the formal arrival of cyberattacks into the “things we need to be skeptical of” club, joining the other big-name inductees of the last year (e.g. election results, news in general, scientists?).

READ: From Scientific Vandalism to Cybercriminals, A History of Hacking

To further convolute the story, in the days following the crash, it was revealed that thousands of fake comments were flooding the FCC’s website. Flooding, I say! Literally hundreds of thousands of synthetic comments landed alongside those of legitimate concern from very real people—either to undercut the genuine comments, crash the server or some combination of the two. Now are you exhausted?

Many of the comments were a result of bots put in place by anti-net neutrality groups. Many were likely trolls who take pleasure in mischief; scum-of-the-earth groups like Netizens from South Korea and America’s sweethearts, the alt-right. While a new report is released by the hour that makes us doubt our authority figures, a legion of lowlifes continually sprays nonsense high and low with no moral compass and no unified purpose. The original “fake news”—that is, fully fabricated stories designed to appear like news articles—was undoubtedly spread by these people until the idea fully jumped the shark during the 2016 election cycle.

Now it’s clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right and here we are: stuck in the middle with him.  

Just three days after the FCC site-crash controversy, the president signed an executive order to bolster cybersecurity from the top down. A symptom of the “Now” leads one to naturally question his motives in doing such a thing. It’s no secret that our 45th president has dug his heels into the idea that we question everything (except for him) by freely stamping the term “fake news” on major stories and networks while promoting stories from sites like Drudge Report with a well-documented history of gossip and unabashedly extreme bias. It’s only natural, then, for even the most optimistic of us to second guess this guy’s behavior, as well as the government we elect to serve us. And like clockwork, we can bet on even the comparatively tame current events to spur a debate between its respective supporters and cynics.

“Now it’s clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right, and here we are: stuck in the middle with him.”

So yes, it’s become thoroughly exhausting to read the conflicting news reports and paranoid comment boards, sifting through the mud for a small sliver of certainty. If anything, the one constant and concrete item through the whole shebang has been the ceaseless specter of hacking, leaking and other cyber shenanigans. Both presidential candidates and entire government databases have been compromised within the last year, joining the countless victims around the world and proving that literally nobody is immune or off limits. Cybercrime is on pace to pave a $2 trillion path of destruction by 2019. And while we continue splintering over the assertion that half our news is fake, hackers are having a very real field day with our unsecured information.

Whether or not the FCC attack was the cover-up is a fair question and just one of the hundreds of disconcerting new stories we’ve endured as of late. Unfortunately, we can’t help but be skeptical in a “fake news” world. But we also must be realists and fight through the exhaustion to stay safe in a strange, unprecedented reality.

Cybercrime is a larger threat each day and will continue to disturb the peace in creative and unexpected ways. Having your business protected is no less essential than locking the doors on your home. If you’re unsure how secure your locks are, reach out to a cybersecurity consultant who can help. Investing in the right tools for the job is a small price to pay compared to what’s at stake, and some peace of mind goes a long way in these turbulent times.

Can we all agree on that?  

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