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Census breach: Is your data safe?

Census Source: AAP

ABS has admitted that the Census website was targeted by international hackers in a series of Denial of Service attacks. The question now on everyones mind is - Is your data safe?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics today has admitted it shut the Census website down on purpose last night to protect people’s data after a series of Denial of Service attacks.

Before this the Federal Small Business Minister Michael McCormack has insisted that people's personal data will be secure - "I want to clearly reiterate again that the ABS has never had a privacy breach, a security breach, on an ABS census. Never. They keep the information in different computers, and even courts, prime ministers, ministers cannot get the names and addresses and that sort of information from the ABS. It is kept sacrosanct. It is kept by the ABS. That is critical."

While last night ABS issued a statement that the servers were “experiencing an outage.”

Today ABS Chief Statistician, David Kalisch, said it took the servers offline to defend against a series of attacks.

David Kalisch has also confirmed that there were four international cyber attacks on the ABS website yesterday on census day.

Troy Hunt, one of the world’s foremost experts on data breaches, said the most likely explanation is that the ABS was just not prepared properly.

An Australian technology company with expertise in software testing was paid nearly $500,000 to ensure the Census servers would not crash under the load.

Minister Michael McCormack has told reporters in Canberra that about 2-point-33 million census forms were successfully submitted and stored before the Australian Bureau of Statistics took the decision to pull the site - "This was not an attack nor was it a hack. It was an attempt to frustrate the collection of data. An attempt to frustrate the collection of data. People should feel rest assured that their data is safe."

David Kalisch says the bureau took the early and prudent decision and assured of the integrity of the data.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the Bureau shut down the Census website to protect Australians' personal information.

He says the decision proved to be the right one - "I want to assure Australians that the unequivocal advice we have received from IBM, from the Bureau of Statistics, from the Australian Signal Directorate, is that their Australian Census data is safe, it has not been compromised. No data has - the site has not been hacked, it has not been interfered with, their data is safe."

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon was among several prominent federal politicians who said they would not enter their name on the census form due to privacy concerns.

She spoke with the A-B-C this morning - "I think where the ABS should be heading now they need to be totally open and transparent. Unless they reveal how this website was being maintained, the full extent of the problem, how they learnt about it. How they release the information is critical now because it is only by being open that we can ensure the right thing is being done."

Opposition leader Bill Shorten says this census has been a disaster for the government and for Australians, and the reason for this needs to be the subject of a Senate inquiry - "If they were handing out gold medals at Rio for incompetence, this Government would be on the winner's podium absolutely. We call upon the Government to reconsider storing the data for 4 years, the personal information, and perhaps go back to the 18 months because that has been a legitimate concern about privacy.  But most importantly, we think that the Senate needs to inquire into how this has happened and how can we make sure this doesn't happen again."

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim will investigate this cyber attack.

He says says his first priority is to ensure that no personal information has been compromised as a result.

Pilgrim has told ABC that no system is bulletproof and if hacking occurs any government or private organisation can be fined.

David Kalisch said he believed the details of people — including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — who had managed to successfully access the site were secure – “"This continues to be our guiding principle and guiding approach - adopting a precautionary and conservative approach to the information of Australians. We would reiterate the assurance that your data is secure. Your data is encrypted. Your data is safe at the ABS."

ABS has apologised to Australian's for any inconvenience caused by the outage.

The last day the Census form can be completed is September the 23rd.

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