Australian PM Turnbull ‘very angry’ and ‘bitterly disappointed’ over online census failure

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 3:15pm

Australia’s first attempt to conduct a census online will resume on Thursday two days after it shut down due to system failures that left it vulnerable to cyberattack, the prime minister said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blamed failures of the Australian Bureau of Statics and systems provider IBM after the A$470 million (US$360 million) national survey was taken offline on Tuesday. The bureau removed the site because a digital shield failed to block traffic from a fourth denial-of-service attack that came from somewhere overseas.

I too am very angry about this, I am bitterly disappointed about this
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

“These denial-of-service attacks are absolutely commonplace, they are highly predictable, they were inevitably going to happen to the census website,” Turnbull told Sydney Radio 2GB early on Thursday.

“Measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial-of-service attacks interfering with access to the website were not put in place – that is a fact, that was a failure. That was compounded by some ... technical hardware failures and inadequate redundancy,” he added.

The Bureau of Statistics decided to shut down the site during a peak period out of “an abundance of caution” and no data had been hacked, Turnbull said.

He said the system failures had been rectified at his personal direction under the supervision of government’s top electronic security and intelligence agency, Australian Signals Directorate.

He did not say what time on Thursday the census would go back online.

Turnbull said there were “very big issues” for both the Bureau of Statistics and IBM, which was contracted in 2014 to provide the census systems.

“I too am very angry about this, I am bitterly disappointed about this,” Turnbull said. “The root cause of this is measures that should have been in place to prevent these denial-of-service attacks were not put in place.”

The Bureau of Statistics said 2.33 million Australians, including Turnbull, managed to access the site before it was shut down.

The opposition blamed underfunding for the failure, saying it would reduce responses to the census and compromise the results.

The census is conducted every five years, but the decision to conduct it primarily online and to keep the information for four years before it was destroyed instead of the usual 18 months heightened privacy concerns this year.

While the census focuses on people’s circumstances on August 9, forms started to be accepted a week before that date and will continue to be accepted until September 23.