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July 2001: Company of the First Victim of the 9/11 Hijackings Is Recruited to Provide Cybersecurity for the White House

Akamai’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Akamai’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Source: Akamai]In order to protect the White House website against a predicted attack by the Code Red virus, Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief, employs high-tech firm Akamai, which is run by Daniel Lewin, who will be the first person killed in the 9/11 hijackings. (Clarke and Knake 2010, pp. 112; Greenberg 4/8/2010; Greenberg 7/1/2010; Maltz 11/11/2011) Akamai was co-founded in 1998 by Lewin, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Tom Leighton, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT. Its technology enables the Internet to handle Web congestion, so content can be delivered quickly and efficiently. (Raskin 9/11/2015; High 3/25/2019) The Code Red worm was created to cause damage by conducting a “distributed denial of service” attack, which, according to Scientific American, “overwhelms a website by directing computers to deluge it with spurious connections.” (Meinel 10/28/2002) It is designed to attack the White House infrastructure on the Internet by bombarding the White House Web server with data, thereby shutting it down for hours or even days. (Leyden 7/24/2001; Reilly 8/26/2001; Roush 10/1/2003; High 3/25/2019)
Help Is Needed to Stop an Attack on the White House Website - Clarke wants help from Akamai because he has learned that 300,000 computers infected with Code Red are about to attack the White House website. (Greenberg 4/8/2010) He therefore turns up at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is the first time Akamai has dealt with him. “We did not know him, but he somehow knew us,” Leighton, who is Akamai’s chief scientist, will later remark. (High 3/25/2019) Lewin is presumably one of the people Clarke deals with during the visit since, as well as being the firm’s co-founder, as chief technology officer he “effectively ran the company,” according to Lior Netzer, one of his colleagues. (Maltz 11/11/2011) Clarke tells Akamai “that there was going to be a massive attack on the White House Internet infrastructure… and he believed that we could help him,” Leighton will recall. Akamai agrees to provide the White House with the assistance he requests. (High 3/25/2019)
Akamai Stops the Virus - The Code Red worm attacks the White House website with requests that threaten to overload its server on July 19. (Lemos 7/27/2001; Left 8/31/2001) But Akamai is able to stop the fraudulent data requests by redirecting them to Akamai servers around the world.
Akamai Has No Experience of Cybersecurity Work - It is unclear when Clarke approaches Akamai for help. The firm is enlisted by him “with just a few hours’ notice,” according to Forbes magazine. (Greenberg 7/1/2010) But Leighton will say he visits Akamai two weeks before the worm is set to attack the White House’s Internet infrastructure. It is also unclear why Clarke has chosen to go to Akamai for help since the company apparently has never previously done any cybersecurity work. Leighton will in fact say that the assistance it provides to the White House on this occasion “gave birth to our government and security business.” According to Leighton, the reason is that Clarke has “figured out that [Akamai] had a large edge network with a large number of servers close to where the users were and where the attacking bots were,” and he “felt that if the traffic was directed through us, that the network had enough capacity to filter out the attack and protect the core.” (High 3/25/2019) Ironically, Lewin will apparently be the first person killed in the 9/11 attacks. He will be a passenger on Flight 11, the first plane to be hijacked, and reportedly have his throat slashed when the hijackers are taking over (see (8:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Maltz 11/11/2011; Raskin 2013, pp. 218; Leopold 9/11/2013; Leibovitz 9/11/2013)


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