Were the Rockies Really Victims of a Hacker During The Sale of World Series Tickets Back in 2007?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about baseball and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the baseball urban legends featured so far.

BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Rockies were the victims of a “Denial of Service” computer hacker attack when they put their World Series tickets up for sale online.

The 2007 World Series was a historic one.

For the first time ever, the 16-year-old Colorado Rockies franchise was playing in the World Series! They were faced off against the 2004 World Champions, the Boston Red Sox…

To best put this achievement into perspective, the Rockies had reached the playoffs in 1995, their third season in the Majors, and then did not reach the playoffs again until 2007! In fact, before 2007, their last WINNING SEASON was in 2000, where they were 82-80!

So I don’t think you can properly gauge just how much excitement that there was over the Rockies making it to the World Series.

On October 22, 2007, the Rockies began selling tickets to Games 3 and 4 (and a possible Game 5) of the World Series, which would be played in Colorado. In a slightly controversial move, the Rockies made the tickets available “first come, first serve” over the internet to whoever wanted to purchase them, whether you were a Colorado resident or, say, Ticketmaster.

The sale ended after 90 minutes, with the site being shut down and only 500 tickets sold.

The day of the event, Paciolan, the company that powered the website used to purchase tickets, claimed that they were the victims of a “DoS” attack.

A “DoS” attack stands for “Denial-of-Service” attack, where a hacker decides to shut down the service of a website through various means, including consuming mass amounts of the bandwidth of the website. This results in the site slowing to a crawl and often just shutting down altogether.

A famous example of this would be when a group of students at a university in Ireland shut down the website for Ireland’s Department of Finance using a “DoS” attack.

However, was this instance REALLY a “DoS” attack?

First off, Paciolan later noted that they, in fact, shut down the site themselves because it was going too slow, choosing to try again the next day.

Their “proof” of the attack was that the site slowed down to a crawl and that they received eight and a half million “hits.”

Eight and a half million hits sounds like a lot until you figure just how many times someone can refresh a site waiting for the tickets to be available. In addition, large ticket re-sellers often employ “bots,” programs that refresh a system constantly in an attempt to purchase tickets online. When you consider the demand for these tickets, eight and a half million hits in 90 minutes seems perfectly reasonable, really.

In June of 2009, when Michael Jackson died, so many people flocked to Google for information that, for a short period of time, Google was not working. People at first thought it, too, was a DoS attack, but then realized that it was just such a staggering amount of people that not even Google’s highly developed system could handle the traffic.

That certainly seems to be what happened here, particularly as the same site then went up the next day and took over 150 minutes to sell out of their 52,000 seat inventory.

150 minutes to sell 52,000 seats?

Popular concerts in giant stadiums can sell out in less than 10 minutes and it took 150 minutes to sell out the World Series?

It seems that the site just did a better job of pushing all of the traffic to one dedicated server and processing them (and the large amount of “bots”) all over a length of time.

At the time, the Rockies would neither confirm nor deny that there was an attack, although eventually the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did, indeed, step in to investigate. They never made any findings, which sure made it seem like the FBI’s involvement was more about face-saving than anything else (“Look! The FBI is investigating! So it MUST have been hackers and not just us not being able to withstand the traffic!”).

Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t tell you with absolute certainty that the Rockies were NOT the victims of some strange hacker group, but I can say that I think the odds are slim enough that I’m willing to lean towards “false” on this one, especially as the evidence for it being a DoS attack seem mostly to be “because we said so.” Unless, of course, you wish to claim that a large amount of “bots” trying to purchase tickets counts as a DoS attack, and I do not believe that it does, as a DoS attack is about intent to deny service, which those bots were not trying to do, but rather just trying to purchase as many tickets as possible.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

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