NSA's Web site is MIA, cause unclear

Agency's public-facing site has been down for several hours, with some speculating that a denial-of-service attack is the culprit. But it's not clear at this point what's behind the outage.

CNET News staff
2 min read
Screenshot by CNET

Update: The NSA says the outage was caused by a blip during a scheduled site update. See the note at the end of this article for the agency's statement.

The NSA's public-facing Web site has been down for several hours Friday, with some speculating that the outage is due to a denial-of-service attack meant to protest the agency's surveillance programs. It's not clear, however, what the cause is.

Russia Today pointed to a couple of tweets from Twitter users that it said were "loosely affiliated" with the hacking collective Anonymous, saying the tweets suggested the group was responsible. But the tweets aren't conclusive. (One says, "So If it's a attack comming from me, or maybe from a country? won't say! It's just looks like a start of a cyber war.")

And Business Insider called out a tweet from @AnonyOps that says, somewhat amusingly (though still inconclusively), "Aww don't panic about nsa.gov being down. They have a backup copy of the internet."

On the other hand, Gizmodo noted that the Anonymous-related tweets were sluggish in appearing and it pointed to a tweet it said underlined the fact that "it's a bit weird for an attack on a website as prominent as the NSA's to go unclaimed."

A rally to protest the National Security Agency's surveillance programs is set to take place in Washington, DC, tomorrow, and it's not inconceivable that Anonymous would use that as a prompt for an attack. Still, the cause of the site's downtime is unknown.

We asked an NSA spokeswoman if the site had been hacked or hit with a DDoS or other attack, and she said only that the agency was "looking into" the outage and that she'd let us know more when she does.

We'll keep you posted. (Note: See second update note below.)

Update, 3:59 p.m. PT: The Wall Street Journal reported that "a Twitter account for '@annoymousAsia,' which appeared to be affiliated with the hacking group Anonymous, claimed credit. 'We sail strong. #tangodown #nsa,' the group tweeted. 'Tango down' is hacker parlance for taking down a website."

Update, 8:14 p.m. PT: The NSA sent the following statement late Friday: "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."