Quirks from distance education services, whose fault is it?

Hosting problem or DDoS attack? Slowness of connection, difficulties to create an account, even impossibility to do it, inaccessible page… Tuesday morning the French students had difficulty accessing the platform “My class at home” supposed to allow them to follow distance learning courses with their teachers. Distance courses made compulsory for 12,700,000 students in France with the latest measures taken to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

For some, it was difficult to connect to their digital work environment, says ENT, especially in Ile-de-France, Center-Val de Loire, Normandy or even in the Grand Est. These ENTs depend on local communities, while the Ma classe à la Maison system depends on the CNED, the National Center for Distance Learning.

OVH, denies being the cause of these breakdowns

At first, Jean-Michel Blanquer, the Minister of National Education, blamed the host OVHcloud for the problems concerning ENTs. He asserted that these ENT “depend on an operator who had a fire in Strasbourg some time ago [OVHCloud] and who could not cope with the influx of connections this morning “, reports France Info.

The French company quickly responded to these accusations through the voice of its CEO Jean-Michel Paulin, who assured that the fire in Strasbourg has no connection with the technical problems encountered and that “OVHcloud is not responsible for the malfunctions of certain distance education services”. “Affected ENT regions and unavailable applications are not hosted at OVHcloud”, he added.

A problem with “pipes”?

The next day, during topical questions to the government before the Senate, Jean-Michel Blanquer returned to his remarks the day before: “I did not point out OVH at all, I just said yesterday that the first elements we had showed that the famous fire had indirect consequences on all of this and it is true because the transfer to the various operators means that some do not have the technical power to follow “.

Following another question, the Minister assured that “What did not work are the ‘pipes’. These ‘pipes’ are not the responsibility of the National Education. This is the responsibility of the regions and departments”. Jean-Michel Blanquer added that “Distance education went well for a good part of the country yesterday. In a whole series of regions it has not been the case. It is being fixed now, and I have good confidence that it will be restored today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow “. In summary, it is likely that the server and / or network capacities were undersized and could not meet the influx of connections.

Questions around a hypothetical DDOS attack

About the problem encountered by the CNED platform, Jean-Michel Blanquer mentioned on Tuesday “computer attacks apparently from abroad to prevent servers from functioning“, as reported by France Info. The CNED, meanwhile, said in a statement dated April 7 that its site and the platform Ma classe à la Maison” have been the subject of several attacks by DDoS. “The attacks by Distributed denial of service, or DDoS, consists of making a service unavailable or severely degrading its operation by saturating a request server.

It will be noted that an influx of a very large number of legitimate connections on servers unsuited to high traffic produces the same result. This phenomenon typically occurs when opening a new service (eg an online game) or when a flocking site points to a link to a more confidential site. This was once called the “Digg effect” or “Slashdot effect”, named after the eponymous content aggregators.

The CNED filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office. The investigation for “fraudulent access to an automated processing system” and “obstruction of the functioning” of such a system was entrusted to the Central Office for the Fight against Crime related to Information and Communication Technologies ( OCLTIC). At no time does the organization mention attacks from abroad. A point of view that seems to share the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security (SGDSN), according to Mediapart. The investigation site reports that no attack coming from abroad and targeting the CNED has been identified by the SGDSN.

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