Census: Australian Bureau of Statistics says website attacked by overseas hackers
Updated 10 Aug 2016
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) says it believes a series of hacking attacks which led to the census website being shut down last night were part of a deliberate attempt to sabotage the national survey.
- ABS shut down census website after it was deliberately targeted four times
- Privacy Commissioner to launch investigation
- ABS says personal data is safe
Thousands of Australians were prevented from taking part in the census on Tuesday night as the ABS website crashed.
This morning the ABS’s David Kalisch said the census website had been attacked by hackers four times and was shut down as a precaution after the fourth attack.
“It was an attack, and we believe from overseas,” he told ABC NewsRadio.
When asked if the hacks were a deliberate attempt to sabotage the census, Mr Kalisch replied: “We believe so”.
“The Australian Signals Directorate are investigating, but they did note that it was very difficult to source the attack.”
Mr Kalisch said the site was taken down just after 7:30pm after the fourth attack as a precaution to “ensure the integrity of the data”.
“The online census form was subject to four denial of service attacks yesterday,” he explained.
“The first three caused minor disruption, but more than 2 million forms were successfully submitted and safely stored.
“The scale of the attack, it was quite clear it was malicious.
“Steps have been taken during the night to remedy these issues and I can certainly reassure Australians that the data they provided is safe.”
Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said he would launch an investigation into the ABS “cyber attacks”.
“My first priority is to ensure that no personal information has been compromised as a result of these attacks,” he said.
“My office will continue to work with the ABS to ensure they are taking appropriate steps to protect the personal information collected through the census.”
Attorney-General George Brandis told the ABC the security measures in place were “more than sufficient to protect individual privacy”.
“The cyber security operations centre has been engaged overnight,” he said.
“It is investigating the matter.”
Race to get website back online
The census website was unavailable again this morning.
The ABS had estimated that two-thirds of Australians would fill out the census online this year for the first time, rather than on paper.
Mr Kalisch said ABS aimed to have the website up and running as soon as possible to allow people to complete their census forms.
“We have steps in place to counter attacks, [but] this one, there was one breach that did actually get through via a third party … and believe that we’ve plugged that gap,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday evening Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted that he had completed the census and it was “easy to do”.
In the lead-up to census night, the ABS spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on load testing and said its servers could handle 1 million forms per hour.
People officially have until September 23 to complete the census online, and the ABS has said people will not be fined for not completing the forms on census night.
“There will be no fines for completing the census after August 9. There’s still plenty of time to complete the census. Thanks for your patience,” the ABS said in a statement.
Xenophon claims vindication after ‘tinfoil hat’ comment
Earlier this week, crossbench Senator Nick Xenophon announced he would not put his name on the census form due to privacy concerns.
Greens senators Scott Ludlam, Janet Rice, Sarah Hanson-Young, Lee Rhiannon and Larissa Waters also said they would not be providing their names.
Senator Xenophon had been accused of “tinfoil hat” politics by Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne over his concerns.
He told the ABC this morning that he was not sure “who should be wearing that hat today”.
“Look, there are real concerns,” Senator Xenophon said.
“The census, the ABS, has had five years to get this right.”
The minister responsible for the census, Michael McCormack, said yesterday “a thorough process” would be undertaken to ensure all households are counted as part of the census.
Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh said the Coalition should not “pass the buck” for the census to the ABS.
Dr Leigh told the ABC it was a Government decision to move to online forms for the national survey.
“This is a choice of the Government and we can’t let the Government palm this off to the bureaucrats,” he said.
“There have been cuts to the ABS … Cyber attack is a cost of doing business if you are on the internet.
“Connect a machine up to the internet and normally within 15 minutes someone is knocking on your door, trying to get in. Any online system needs to be built to be resilient to this.”
Dr Leigh said it was up to the Government to decide whether to hold the census again.
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