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IBM, ABS Share Blame for Census Disaster

Thursday, 11 Aug 2016


Prime Minister warns of “very serious consequences”

A “bitterly disappointed” Malcolm Turnbull has blasted IBM and the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the failure of the online Census.

Speaking to Alan Jones on Radio 2GB, the Prime Minister could not hide his anger at the failure of those involved in the Census website to repel what he called “highly-predictable” and “inevitable” denial-of-service attacks on the site.

He pointed the finger for the failures squarely at IBM and ABS and predicted “very serious consequences” for both organisations, including the likelihood that “heads will roll”.

“There are clearly very big issues for IBM, the systems provider for the Census, and for the Australian Bureau of Statistics itself,” Turnbull said.

“My prediction is that there will be some very serious consequences to this.”

Turnbull said that his immediate focus was on seeing the Census site resurrected in the hope of completing the data set.

A review – headed by the Prime Minister’s cyber security special advisor Alastair MacGibbon – “and which heads will roll where and when is something that will follow”, Turnbull said.

Turnbull was particularly critical of the readiness of IBM and ABS to ameliorate a denial-of-service attack. He believed a high-profile site like the Census form was always going to be tested in this way.

“Denial-of-service attacks are absolutely commonplace. They are highly predictable, they were inevitably going to happen to the Census website,” Turnbull said.

“A denial-of-service attack is as predictable – for a site like this – as the rain will fall one day or the sun will come up in the morning.

“The denial of service attacks … should have been repelled readily, [but] they weren’t because of failures in the system that had been put in place for ABS by IBM.

“There are issues for both IBM and ABS about that.”

Turnbull also blasted IBM and ABS for a lack of redundancy in the architecture of the system underpinning the Census.

The ABS has said in a preliminary post-incident report that it pulled the Census site offline due to a “confluence of events” around 7.30pm on Census night.

That “confluence” included a denial-of-service attack, rising legitimate traffic from people trying to lodge their forms, a router failure and a “false positive” generated by the system’s monitoring software.

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