Australian online census shut down by cyberattacks

Cheryl Sanders
August 11, 2016

"The integrity of the census has not been compromised", he said.

IF YOU thought it was safe to go back online and do the Census, think again.

"Understanding the tips and techniques used by the attackers and pulling in threat intelligence from as many sources as possible ensures that the vulnerability or exposure of a company can be reduced down from many months to just minutes and hours".

"There are clearly very big issues, very big issues for IBM, the systems provider for the census and for the Australian Bureau of Statistics itself".

But the troubles began about 5pm on Tuesday, when people trying to access the form were stopped by messages including a "code 31" error, which said the request "could not be completed because a problem was encountered".

According to Kalisch, the census website was taken offline at 7:30 p.m. local time to prevent personal data being compromised.

"No probs, completed mine in afternoon, took less than 15 mins", Bega's Jan Southcott said.

"I tried to log on [Tuesday] night and I couldn't get through, so I will be asking for the paper form".

In the latest update on its site, the ABS said the site had suffered four "denial of service" attacks which led to the closure of the site as a precaution.

DDoS attacks are notoriously hard to attribute, so it's unclear whether this was the work of pranksters, hacktivists, or a more sophisticated group.

The special adviser to the prime minister on cyber security, Alastair MacGibbon, likened the attack - a term that Michael McCormack, the minister responsible for the census, declined to use - "to me parking a truck across your driveway to stop vehicles coming in and out".

Asked what the motivation of those who made the attacks might be, MacGibbon said it was "clearly to cause frustration" - which they did.

Chief Statistician David Kalisch insisted the ABS adopted a precautionary and conservative approach.

While many Australians raged at the outage from an organisation whose sole goal was to collect and collate information, others found irony in the supposedly state-of-the-art system driving people nuts. The Australian Privacy Commissioner has already announced a probe into last night's events and it will be interesting to see how much of last night's disaster it attributes to orchestrated "frustration" as opposed to planning failure.

It was removed because a digital shield failed to block traffic from a fourth denial-of-service attack that came from somewhere overseas. "Had these events occurred in isolation, the online system would have been maintained".

More than two million forms had been successfully submitted and stored before the website crashed.

Some independent Senators boycotted the census because for the first time it was mandatory for Australians to identify themselves in the survey.

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