The official website of the National Security Agency, NSA.gov, went offline Friday for hours. Not only that, but the rumor being jubilantly spread around the net was that it was a deliberate denial-of-service attack.
That jubilation was dampened by a statement from an NSA spokesperson:
"NSA.gov was not accessible for several hours tonight because of an internal error that occurred during a scheduled update. The issue will be resolved this evening. Claims that the outage was caused by a distributed denial of service attack are not true."
Downtime-tracking service Isitdownrightnow.com reported that the site began to be unavailable about 2 p.m. ET.
Large government webpages don't tend to go down for hours for no reason. Some Twitter accounts claiming to be associated with the loosely-organized hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility, but those claims only appeared after the site had been down for several hours.
That the website is unavailable does not mean that the NSA is unable to perform its usual functions; NSA.gov is, like Army.gov and Senate.gov, primarily an informational site for anyone wishing to learn about or contact the agency. Taking it down certainly would serve as a very visible protest (which is how it is being characterized), but the website is not the agency itself, and none of the networks or tools the NSA uses would be hosted or accessible via NSA.gov.
Distributed denial-of-service or DDoS attacks target the public-facing servers of websites, hammering them with requests and overloading their ability to function as normal. Often many computers are needed to produce the requisite amount of traffic, hence "distributed" – though not as many are necessary now, owing to improvements to the tools used by hackers.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.