Census debacle an ugly mess piled on detritus

Census debacle an ugly mess piled on detritus, by Jack the Insider.

It’s important to remember the census was a half a billion dollar exercise — $470 million to be precise. If the government can hurl this much money into the air for little or no result, there is really no limit to its ineptitude.

Yesterday we awoke to sinister reports of data breaches and hacktivist meddling. The government department responsible for cyber security, the Australian Signals Directorate shrugged its shoulders and basically said it could have been anyone from the Chinese to angry Ashley Madison subscribers, if indeed there had been a concerted denial of service cyber attack (where multiple computers are hijacked and bang away at a server in the hope of bringing it down) at all.

The ABC News last night was full of Government ministers and bigwig public servants all blaming the failure on foreign hackers or vague attacks, telling us it would take months to figure out who did it. What mendacity. It was a stupid mistake made at the top, of not providing nearly enough server capacity — as spelled out in the WR yesterday. By going on camera and staking all their reputations thus, the truth will never come out — the story that has to be believed is firmly pinned to the wall now. That’s their story, and their sticking to it.

The bureaucracy is lying to prevent embarrassment, while hoping that an inquiry etc that finds nothing in particular will take months to complete and everyone will have forgotten or at least calmed down. Our overpaid masters show mastery of the 24 hours news cycle, but wall-to-wall incompetence otherwise. Seems The Australian agrees with us:

It is more likely, the Australian Bureau of Statistics servers couldn’t cope with being inundated by Australians dutifully doing what they had been asked to do: complete the census form online. In other words, the ABS servers had so many hits it might have seemed like a robust and earnest denial of service attack but it might have been as simple as a system failing to handle what should have been wholly anticipated traffic.

Census fail website

How any self-respecting hardware engineer could not have been aware that some nine million households would be hitting up the ABS over the space of three or four hours on Tuesday night simply boggles the mind. To make matters worse, a small army of cheerful bureaucrats appeared on our television screens over the last week to tell us the census was in tip top shape and “the back end,” as the techs describe the hardware systems, was raring to go. …

A perfect illustration of the donkeys-for-arts-graduates who run the place, paying themselves what they think they are worth from taxpayers money  (public service departmental heads get around $800k per year) whilst the rest of us work under market discipline on much lower wages.

[I]t is worth remembering that on Tuesday night, Facebook’s servers handled more than ten times the data that went through the ABS systems without any discernible problem and does so every day.

The real issue now is dwindling public confidence in the Commonwealth to perform fundamental and essential work. … The 2016 census will be almost impossible to resume as it stands. Rightly or wrongly, people will feel their personal information is not safe.

Tuesday night’s failure is further evidence the federal government talks a good game but when the time comes to put up, it comes up short. Worse it makes the PM’s almost evangelical waxing about exciting times, technology, innovation and ideas et cetera seem even more insipid.

UPDATE: Computer experts call Census a trainwreck and demand proof of DDoS attack, saying data can’t be trusted, by Kara Vickery and Rod Chester. The Government is starting to change its tune.

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has foreshadowed sackings as a result of the Census failure, saying he was personally “very angry” and there would be “serious consequences” after the review.

Mr Turnbull has laid blame squarely on the Australian Bureau of Statistics and contractor IBM saying measures that should have been in place to prevent an “inevitable” denial of service attack were not implemented. …

He said the website was “tooled up” to deal with up to 260 forms per second.

Exactly. That’s a million per hour. As noted yesterday, on the east coast after dinner 7 million people were going to fill in the forms over a couple of hours. Do the math. A completely predictable digital traffic jam.

ABS chief statistician David Kalisch yesterday said there had been two “attacks” before 3pm. The government says the first attack came at 10.09am, and a second one came at 11.50am. Two further attacks came in the afternoon before the ABS shut down the servers at 7.45pm.

Hey, isn’t that morning tea, lunch, and after dinner?

hat-tip Matthew