After all the scare mongering on social media and even from some of Australia’s high profile elected officials, it looked like everyone’s worst fears about the 2016 Census had a ground to stand on when the ‘unthinkable’ happened.
On the morning after Australians across the nation took a few moments to fill out their Census forms, whether online or on paper form, Australian Statistician David W. Kalisch announced that the 2016 online Census form was subject to four Denial of Service (DoS) attacks “of varying nature and severity”.
Put simply, a DoS attack is a malicious attempt to render a computing service unavailable, usually by overwhelming it with large numbers of requests and overloading the servers. Such an attack results in crowding out legitimate users who are then unable to access the service.
According to Mr Kalisch, the first three incidents caused “minor disruption”, but more than two million forms were successfully submitted and safely stored.
However, after the fourth attack, just after 7:30pm, the Australian Bureau of Statistics took the precaution of closing down the system to ensure the integrity of the data.
Mr Kalisch said steps have been taken during the night to remedy these issues.
And as government officials maintained in the lead up to the Census by trying to comfort people’s nerves about privacy issues and the potential vulnerability of online data, Mr Kalisch said “I can reassure Australians that their data are secure at the ABS”.
When it was reported on the 9th August that the site was inaccessible, the prevailing assumption was that the ABS servers were simply not up to the task to process such a vast amount of requests from legitimate users at the same time.
This assumption caused a mild, online panic from users about whether they would be slugged a $180 fine per day for not being able to meet the Census deadline on time.
But Mr Kalisch wanted to remind Australians that they have plenty of time to complete the Census, to well into September.
“Again note that fines will not be imposed for completing the Census after Census night,” Mr Kalisch said.