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Reflections on the Day the Internet Went Down

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Mirai botnet DDoS attack against my old company, Dyn. In my professional life, it was the wildest of days with the highest of stakes.

And its effects still reverberate today as so many former Dyn colleagues and I build York IE.

Some of you may remember Oct. 21, 2016 is the day the internet went down, the federal government grew concerned America was under siege and our favorite and most relied-upon websites such as The New York Times, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and CNN were inaccessible for portions of the morning. Dyn ran a critical part of the world’s internet infrastructure and all of those brands were our largest customers. There was a great deal of fear, uncertainty and doubt cast globally as the fragility of our modern internet was on full display.

For me, it was absolutely pressure packed and exhilarating. I witnessed a company rally together like no other and human beings step up to magnificent heights. Every single person at Dyn and in our ecosystem went into triage mode asking a simple question:

“What can I do to help?”

I was so honored, proud and humbled to be at the head of the ship that day. I was the longest-tenured executive and the leader of the business. Our co-founders were gone, and the company needed a strong, confident and stable voice. It was such an incredibly unifying function for everyone: network operations, engineering, product management, customer success, technical support, partnerships, sales, project management, and of course communications and marketing.

We all dug deep and aligned — on not just thwarting the bad actors on the other side of this assault, but also on clearly and transparently communicating with all constituents, notably our customers, partners and media. We also knew that in crisis you must thoughtfully be learning, preparing and evolving for the future — whatever that may hold.

How the Day Unfolded

I remember walking into the office and pulling my friend and now York IE co-founder Adam Coughlin into a conference room that morning. At the time, he was Dyn’s head of corporate communications. I needed him by my side to navigate the day. I told him that our handling of the situation and response to the world needed to be our finest act yet — or we were screwed.

Even if you remember the attack, you probably aren’t aware of what else was going on behind the scenes at that time. Joe Raczka, another York IE co-founder, and myself had for months been secretly working on selling our company, our pride and joy, to Oracle. Only five people in the business knew at this stage, and that now included Adam. I needed both of them arm and arm with me throughout the whirlwind, because they were my guys. I told them this was the most meaningful day of our careers to date.

The night before, at 11 p.m., our board of directors had approved the sale, and we signed a letter of intent to be acquired. Tick-tock, tick-tock… We were patiently awaiting the countersignature from Oracle when I got a call from Dublin. Our executive contact from Amazon was asking what the heck was going on with our DNS network. From there until late the next night, when we walked to our cars in the pouring rain, we battled back. There were three waves of attacks, and hundreds of millions or even billions of Internet of Things endpoints turned into weapons against us.

Damn. In writing this I get the chills. The team stepped up beyond belief. The next day I was on the cover of USA Today quoted in an article with President Barack Obama. We persevered, we were commended for our end-to-end response, we fought back and we won.

You Need Your People

Oracle signed the LOI and said we impressed them beyond their imagination. We sold our company, and we were a household name because of this fateful day. It also showed the technology community that: a) Oracle was serious about cloud; and b) Dyn was incredibly important to the worldwide internet. It was a wild day.

If you ever wonder why I started my next company, York IE, with Adam and Joe and so many of our other former colleagues such as Mike Veilleux, Janelle Gorman and Ashley Oberg, and why I plastered my surname on it, this is why. Look no further than this story.

When you’re in the throes of building, scaling and surviving a technology startup, you need your people. Find yours. Have each other’s backs. It’s amazing how people step up when they care for one another and their company!

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