Cyber-attacks scupper Australia’s first online census

Australia’s first online census is in disarray after being targeted by a series of cyber-attacks.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics shut down the site to protect data on Tuesday night after four denial-of-service attacks from overseas, chief statistician, David Kalisch, said.

“It was an attack,” Mr Kalisch told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “It was quite clear it was malicious.”

The two million Australians who accessed the site before it was shut down were assured that their private data was secure.

“There has been no attack on the information; it was an attack on the system.

“The information is secure and safe,” Mr Kalisch said.

Australia’s privacy commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, said he was investigating the cyber-attack “to ensure that no personal information has been compromised”.

Australian security officials were attempting to determine the source of the attacks, Mr Kalisch said.

He said “a gap” in digital defences had been fixed and the site would be reopened.

The national census is conducted every five years. The decision to conduct it online, and to keep the information for four years instead of the usual 18 months, before it is destroyed, had heightened privacy concerns. Several senators announced that they would risk fines by refusing to include their names and addresses in their census forms.

Officials attempted to allay fears by boasting that the bureau of statistics had never been hacked.

The site was shut down after a fourth cyber-attack, on Tuesday evening, and people who telephoned the bureau of statistics for an explanation were told by a recorded message to call back.

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 until September.

Traditional paper census forms were provided to householders on request.

Conducting most of the survey online was estimated to save AUS$100m (£58.4m).

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said that the bureau of statistics had shut the site “out of an abundance of caution” and would reopen it once the bureau, the government security agency, Australian Signals Directorate, and the systems provider, IBM, were confident that it was safe from cyber-attack.

“I want to assure Australians that the unequivocal advice we have received ... is that their Australian census data is safe, it has not been compromised,” he said.


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