Census still down, experts warn data can't be trusted

COMPUTER security experts have dismissed the government's explanation for the census failure as unlikely and warned the data gathered in the census could not be trusted.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Turnbull Government yesterday released a series of contradictory explanations for the failure of the census servers on Tuesday night, blaming it on an attack, a distributed denial of service (DDoS) "attempt", a faulty router and an unexpected spike in traffic from the United States when a geo-block to prevent international traffic reportedly failed.

Today, the census server is still down 36 hours later, with no explanation as to why the long delay before it can be rebooted.

Australian company Revolution IT, which was paid $470,000 to ensure the IBM-built $9.6 million census servers hosted at Baulkham Hills, Sydney, would cope with the load of census night traffic, has defended its work.

Revolution IT director Hamish Leighton director said the problems with the Census server was not a "performance" issue but the system was taken offline as a deliberate strategy by the ABS in dealing with a DDoS attempt.

Mr Leighton said the company was contracted to ensure the system could handle the expected load of 260 submissions a second and in testing founded it could handle an average sustained peak of 350 submissions a second and peaking up to 400 submissions.

More on this at The Courier-Mail

On Wednesday night, the ABS said it was working with the Australian Signals Directorate and its partners and apologised that the online form was still unavailable.

Only 2 million Australians were able to complete their census forms online before the site crashed.

WHAT THE ABS HAS SAID

What happened?

On 9 August, the ABS was subjected to an attempt to frustrate its collection of Census data.

Census security was not compromised and no data was lost.

The events varied in nature and severity, and led the ABS to adopt a very cautious approach in relation to the 2016 Census online form.

There were three denial of service incidents during the day. A denial of service is an attempt to block people from accessing a website.

The ABS was expecting denial of service incidents and the protective measures in place managed the first three attempts with only very minor service disruptions.

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), a Commonwealth intelligence agency, was notified of this by the ABS.

Use of the online form increased steadily during the day and as at 7:30 the system was receiving 150 forms per second and this was well within the tested capacity of the system.

Just after 7.30pm, the following confluence of events occurred:


· A fourth denial of service attempt
· A large increase in traffic to the website with thousands of Australians logging on to complete their Census
· A hardware failure when a router became overloaded
· Occurrence of a false positive, which is essentially a false alarm in some of the system monitoring information.

At the time of these events, more than two million forms had already been successfully submitted and safely stored.

The ABS applied an abundance of caution and took the precaution of closing down the online Census form to safeguard and to protect data already submitted, protect the system from further incidents, and minimise disruption on the Australian public of an unreliable service.

Government and ASD were notified by the ABS. Reviews by IBM, ASD and ABS have confirmed that this was not a hack - no Census data was compromised.

Had these events occurred in isolation, the online system would have been maintained.

ASD are investigating these events. The ABS is working to restore service. We will only restore the service when we know it is robust and secure, and when the ASD provides clearance to do so.

The ABS apologises to the Australian public for inconvenience caused and reassures Australia that no data has been lost or compromised. The ABS has an unblemished record of protection of data and there has never been a breach in relation to Census data. The protection of Census data has and always will be our first priority.

What next for the Census?

Thanks to everyone who has completed the Census already.

There's still plenty of time to complete your Census. We ask Australians to complete their forms as soon as possible. Fines will not be imposed for completing the Census after Census night.

As planned, households who have not yet completed their Census forms will start receiving reminders from next week. Census Field Officers will start visiting homes that haven't participated in the Census from this weekend to ensure everyone can take part.

If you haven't received your Census materials, please wait until the end of the week and then contact the Census Inquiry Service on or 1300 214 531. To order a paper form, please call 1300 820 275.

More information can be found at www.census.abs.gov.au

Following the Census, there will be a review of events, headed by the Government's Cyber Security Adviser, Alastair MacGibbon. 



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