Questions abound in wake of rebate frustration

April 8, 2010 3:58:31 PM PDT
The questions are flying in the wake of the appliance rebate program that caused so much frustration on Wednesday. A cyber attack may have crashed the rebate website. Millions of Texans tried to get the rebates, but it was one computer that overwhelmed the state's rebate website and eventually forced officials to close it down for a few hours. Now the question becomes what to do about it.

Jim Brannen started trying to get an appliance rebate at 7am Wednesday. While hours of frustration followed, Brannen succeeded where so many failed.

"Kept trying and trying and was able about 2:20pm to get through on the internet and got a rebate for a freezer," said Brannen.

The state's rebate website ran slowly from the moment the application process began. Now officials with the state comptroller's office are saying one computer was responsible for 75 percent of the hits to the rebate web site. The volume overwhelmed the rebate website and eventually forced state officials to shut the site down while the rogue computer was blocked from the system.

"It is called a flood attack, when one computer simulates thousands of accesses to a certain website at one time to overload a target computer so that other people cannot access it," said Alex Diaz with Top Tech.

He says the IP address responsible for so many web page visits was likely running a program designed to give one computer the ability to log onto the appliance rebate program thousands of times a minute.

"Someone who is trying to bring down a website can have a computer act as if it is a thousand different computers accessing the site at one time," said Diaz.

Officials with the comptroller's office say the rogue computer may have caused 75 percent of the traffic to the website, but it does not mean one computer user got 75 percent of the rebates. State officials say they are trying to determine if the IP address managed to secure any rebates and, if so, it's possible those rebate application will be denied.

As for voiding all the rebates and redoing the program, the comptroller's office has no plans to do that.

Diane Parnell spent all day on the computer and eventually got two rebates, but says someone should be held accountable for the problems.

"Did they not do their homework? Who made these choices? And let them have their head on the chopping block," said Parnell.

The comptroller's office is also taking heat for hiring the company that ran the rebate program. Now the comptroller is asking for a performance review of that company. The question is whether or not the company lived up to the terms of the contract which called for minimum standards of handling phone calls and web performance.

The investigation is being conducted by the comptroller's Information Security Division. If it is determined a crime took place, the information will be turned over for a criminal investigation.


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