The National Security Agency's website went down Friday afternoon, raising concerns that the Anonymous hacktivist collective, a foreign government or another entity launched a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack against the agency's site.
It was the latest in a long run of federal websites that have been rendered useless for an extended period by alleged DDoS attacks, following on the heels of similar outages of the websites of agencies ranging from the FBI to the U.S. Copyright Office.
The outage at the NSA's homepage immediately garnered high levels of interest online due to the ongoing controversy over the agency's dragnet surveillance programs, which collect data on the phone calls, emails and social media accounts of people around the world.
The fact that the federal agency that monitors electronic communications was apparently defenseless against whoever brought the site down (or whatever else caused it to shut down) is just the latest in a seemingly endless deluge of bad press for the NSA in the wake of former contractor Edward Snowden's leaks about its shadowy practices.
The blame game began almost immediately after the site first went down, which appears to have been sometime around 4 p.m. Friday, and Anonymous was getting the most attention from the get-go, as it has been instrumental in using DDoS attacks to knock out other governmental sites in the United States and abroad.
Some self-described Anonymous-affiliated Twitter accounts took to the Web Friday to herald the NSA site going down, and even to claim indirect credit for the interruption of service, as was the case with the tweeter @AnonArt:
"Dear National Security Agency #NSA, Lesson #1 : If you spy on us, we are coming for you! #Anonymous : Site DowN," the account tweeted.
Ordinary twitterers also took to the social media site to voice their assumptions that Anonymous was behind the site being crashed:
"Hah. NSA site is down. Thanks Anonymous :)," tweeted @ButterySargeant.
A DDoS attack basically consists of a number of computers sending vast numbers of empty "packets" to a site's servers, overwhelming them in the process and leaving them unable to process legitimate requests, often thereby rendering the sites unable to be accessed.
There were a number of other theories circling the Twittersphere Friday evening as to who may have been behind the NSA site's inability to work, and some people suggested that it may have been the work of a foreign government outraged over the agency's surveillance of communications within their borders:
"Anonymous kinda claiming credit, but with all the countries we ticked off...," @Scottlepsch tweeted.
In an interesting twist that may or may not have any connection to the outage, the NSA site went down about 15 hours after Kim Dotcom, the infamous New Zealand hacker and creator of the shuttered Megaupload file-sharing service, tweeted an ominous anti-NSA message from his official account:
"Shutdown the #NSA, confiscate all #NSA servers, seize all #NSA assets and throw #NSA executives in jail. #NSAconspiracy," Dotcom tweeted early Friday morning.
Still, many tweeters blamed the whole NSA site escapade on President Barack Obama's administration, which has experienced great difficulty trying to get its Affordable Care Act -- aka "Obamacare" -- websites to work properly. Tweeter @Bobowens joked about that concept Friday evening:
At this moment, the #NSA website is working as well as #Obamacare," he wrote.
As of early Friday evening, however, there was no official word on what had taken the NSA site down.