As far as we can tell, Gawker Media is facing three potential problems today, which has resulted in their very obvious issues. They are simple enough, and one is (by unscientific deduction) maybe more likely than the others, based on hypotheticals we’ve concocted.
1. A server broke: not too out of the ordinary, but Gawker Media’s Nick Denton was recently reported as saying the company’s traffic was higher than ever. So, he’d probably be buying/renting all the server space he could get in expectation of further growth. Maybe one was down for maintenance and another broke. It’s definitely possible.
2. Hugely massive traffic due to some story: Yes, tons of traffic would in effect flood the server(s) and prevent the site letting anyone in, or make things really slow. But this doesn’t seem likely since the problems first occurred yesterday, we’ve heard. Every blog known to man tends to get less traffic on the weekends, especially in summer when people are away. Then again, with a bit of weekend traffic and maybe a server down, as proposed above…
3. A DDoS attack: A Distributed Denial of Service attack is, simply put, like two or 10 people hitting refresh on Gawker millions of times a minute. Obviously, this is not a hack for the faint hearted (or unskilled). Sometimes it’s one person, others it’s multiple. Sometimes the damage is temporary, others it is permanent. Attacks can be easy to stave off if, say, they all come from one country. You can simply stop all IPs from, say, China until you can manage the problem. But if the attacks came from multiple countries, stopping them would be biting your nose to spite your face.
Over the weekend, Gawker posted a story titled Scientology Leader David Miscavige: Still A Scary, Insane Psychopath (link). It links back to a story in the St. Petersberg Times, which Gawker’s Foster Kamer calls, “a report on scary Scientology leader David Miscavige“. Though this isn’t the original piece, it is not out of the question that this story drew ire from around the Web.
If this hadn’t occurred on a weekend, we’d probably write off the incident as a simple server issue. Indeed, it very well could be any of the scenarios we’ve listed, or aliens or Wookies (computer savvy ones with trimmed fur around their giant hands).
As far as we know there’s no way to determine a DDoS attack from outside the server. You’d have to check the site’s stats, track IPs, etc. We spoke with Denton via email earlier, who says, “[d]oesn’t look like it.” We’ve also reached out to Gawker’s head of IT, who hasn’t gotten back to us yet. He’s probably busy.