Denial Of Census. Hackers Blamed For Census Night Fiasco

ABS shut down Census website after foreign attack

10/08/2016 8:05 AM AEST | Updated 10/08/2016 10:12 AM AEST
Australians trying to complete the Census on Tuesday night were presented with an error message.

CANBERRA – The Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation into the cyber-attack on Australia's Census after the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shut down the Census website after what it claimed was four "malicious" attacks from foreign hackers.

Labor MPs have labelled the 2016 Census a "shambles" and are calling for the minister responsible for the Census, Michael McCormack to resign, while Senator Nick Xenophon has flagged that he will send the overnight fiasco to a Senate inquiry.

The Census website is still down after it was forcibly crashed 7.30pm Tuesday by the ABS as millions of Australians were attempting to fill out the compulsory questionnaire.

It took more than an hour before the ABS admitted a problem with the five yearly Census.

The chief statistician, David Kalisch, has revealed the website suffered four distributed denial of Service (DDoS) attacks of "varying nature and severity" throughout Tuesday, which he has described as "malicious."

A DDoD attack is an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources.

"We did just have a fourth attack just after 7.30pm, when many people has finished their dinner and were sitting down to use the online Census form," Kalisch told ABC radio.

"We took the precaution of closing down the system to ensure the integrity of the data."

The Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has announced an investigation into the actions of the ABS, saying he wants to be certain "no personal information has been compromised."

Frustrations with the Census shutdown continue to be vented on social media, particularly over the time wasted. Some also expressed renewed concerns about their privacy, given the apparent inadequacies of the ABS' website.

The source of the DDoS attacks is unknown and the Australian Signals Directorate is now investigating, however cyber security experts on Twitter are suspicious.

Former Labor Leader and Australian Ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley has told Sky News that a state power could be responsible for the attacks, but another scenario is more likely.

"I think in this particular case it might be just a lot of naughty, bad people," he said, adding that he had not been specifically briefed on the incident.

More than two million forms has been submitted before shutdown.

"Australians can be assured that their data is secured at the ABS when they have lodged it," declared Kalisch.

"The data that comes to the ABS is encrypted and it was secured and received safely at the ABS."

"We have it at the ABS. No one else has it."

The Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles has labelled the 2016 Census a "shambles from go to woe," while the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh has called on the minister responsible for the Census, Small Business Minister, Michael McCormack to resign.

"Labor believes there is ministerial accountability," said the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh.

Prominent crossbench senator Nick Xenophon has flagged a Senate inquiry into the Census, particularly into the ABS's actions.

"They guaranteed that this wouldn't happen," he told Today. "They have also guaranteed that we wouldn't be having problems that we wouldn't be having problems that our data would be safe."

"I think we just need more explanations."

"I will be pushing for a Senate inquiry into this because if people are fair dinkum about this Census being robust and, you know, doing the right thing by all Australians, I think we need to hear more about it."

The Minister, Michael McCormack has reassured Australians they have until September 23 to complete the Census before facing fines.

"I have been in constant communication throughout the night with Australian Statistician, David Kalisch, in relation to this matter," McCormack said in an overnight statement.

"I am informed by the ABS that a thorough process will be undertaken to ensure all households are counted as part of the Census."

While the eCensus software is managed in-house, the ABS chose to outsource the eCensus hosting to IBM Australia, at a cost of $9.6m. Melbourne-based firm Revolution IT was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars this year to perform 'load testing', to determine the system's resiliency.

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