The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has revealed that the Census website was hacked last night, prompting it to be shut down after causing frustration throughout the nation.
The ABS has been widely criticised in recent weeks for its plans to store the personal information of Australians, as well as its capacity to handle the heavy web traffic for its first online Census. The Bureau offered repeated assurances that personal data would be secure from potential hacks, assuring Australians it was ‘confident’ the website could handle over 1 million form submissions per hour – and then some.
But it seems that wasn’t enough.
Australians quickly took to social media to complain about problems completing the online Census form, with many saying they had attempted to submit up to 20 times before giving up. Aussies who had trouble with the website were encouraged to call the ABS helpline.
Initially, the ABS claimed the trouble was simply browser based, and told them to try another browser or try again later. Eventually, it had to admit the site had crashed and would stay down until this morning.
“The ABS and Census website are unavailable. The service won’t be restored tonight,” said an ABS spokesperson.
Earlier today, the ABS’s David Kalisch confirmed that the Census website had been hacked four times by foreign hacktivists using a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, and that the website was shut down to allow experts to deal with the breach.
“The online census form was subject to four denial of service attacks yesterday,” Mr Kalisch explained. “The first three caused minor disruptions, but more than 2 million forms were successfully submitted and safely stored.”
The attack is believed to have come from overseas and is currently being investigated by the Australian Signals Directorate. Security experts have noted it will be “very difficult to source the attack”.
A DDoS attack uses ‘robots’ to send a high volume of traffic to a website in order to overload until it and shut it down. While a DDoS attack doesn’t necessarily mean that any data was stolen, it underlines the concerns of many Australians that Census data is vulnerable; although the ABS maintains that data from the 2 million Australians who completed the Census form would be safe.
“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,” said Mr Kalisch.
The failure of the nation’s first online Census has led Labor to call for the resignation of Assistant Treasurer Michael McCormack, who was in charge of running the Census.
The ABS has stated that there will be no fines for anyone who didn’t manage to complete the Census form last night. Australians have until 23 September to complete the Census before receiving a $180 penalty.
Did you have any trouble filling in your Census form? Are you worried that your personal information is vulnerable? Are you surprised by this result? Should the Government be fined $180 for every Census form that failed to upload?