Australia will launch an official investigation into how the census was bungled, the government said on Wednesday. The inquiry was announced after the nation's first online census was knocked offline by cyberattacks.
More than two million people had entered census information online on Tuesday before the website was taken down as a precaution by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), after a number of hacking attacks.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the data was safe and that proper defenses were in place.
Alastair MacGibbon, the prime minister's cyber security adviser, said the attack came from American computer networks, but that did not mean the attacker was US-based. "A denial of service is not a breach. It's not designed to take data. A denial of service is designed to frustrate," MacGibbon said.
The website was still down on Wednesday afternoon, but now Australians can complete the census by September 23.
Opposition leaders have asked for a Senate inquiry into the failure. They have also called on the census minister to resign.
Quibbles over naming
Australian officials have differed over how much of an attack a denial-of-service (DoS) attack really is after the nation's first online census was temporarily shut down on Tuesday. Early Wednesday, David Kalisch, chief statistician at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said the ABS had shut down the site to protect data after four overseas DoS attacks, or efforts to overload the census site by simulating too many users attempting to gain access to it at once.
"It was an attack," Kalisch told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It was quite clear it was malicious."
Australia's small business minister said, however, that the site of the quinquennial census had neither been hacked nor attacked. The remarks by Michael McCormack, the minister in charge of the census, directly contradicted those by Kalisch and the agency responsible for carrying it out. McCormack told reporters that a DoS attack was not the same as malicious hacking to collect personal data.
And Kalisch appeared to back up that "there has been no attack on the information: It was an attack on the system - the information is secure and safe."
The ABS had expected two-thirds of Australia's 23 million people to turn over information about their homes, religions and incomes on Tuesday. Kalisch said the cyberattackers hadn't gained access to the data of the 2 million Australians who participated before the ABS shut the site down on Tuesday. Security officials would attempt to determine the source of the attacks, he said.
The agency provided paper forms to Australians who raised privacy concerns about submitting their data online. People also worried about the plan by the Bureau of Statistics to retain census data for four years instead of the previous 18 months. In a statement released on Wednesday, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said he would investigate the cyberattack "to ensure that no personal information has been compromised."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who apparently managed to access the census site while it was still working, expressed regret for the inconvenience, but said the site had temporarily had to come down "out of an abundance of caution."
Several senators had said they would risk fines by refusing to include their names and addresses on their census forms. Before Tuesday, officials had attempted to allay fears by boasting that hackers had never breached the Bureau of Statistics.
An initial estimate had put the savings of conducting the census online at 100 million Australian dollars (69 million euros/$76 million).
mkg/bw, kl (AFP, dpa, AP)