Hacks delayed parliament website revamp

Hacks delayed parliament website revamp

Summary: Attempted hacks on the Australian Parliament website were partly responsible for a 12-month delay on the $3.1 million overhaul of the website, due to be launched this Friday.

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Attempted hacks on the Australian Parliament website were partly responsible for a 12-month delay on the $3.1 million overhaul of the website, due to be launched this Friday.

New look site

The new look of the Australian Parliament website
(Screenshot by Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)

Speaking in a Senate estimates hearing this morning, outgoing Parliamentary Librarian Roxanne Missingham said coding on the new-look website began in November 2010 and was set to launch in the first half of 2011, but was delayed by 12 months due to "added complexity".

"We've done three rounds of security analysis on the website to make sure it wouldn't be hacked," she told the hearing.

Senate President John Hogg said that hacking attempts on the legacy website between December 2010 and September 2011 caused the oversight committee to seek additional security for the new website.

"That caused grave concern about people's privacy ... and people's ability to access information into the system," he said. "For some reason ... it seems there is a group of people out there who try to interfere in people's system ... by hacking into the systems."

Adding additional levels of security and testing, as well as other additions to the site blew out costs by $614,000. The biggest cost for the site was $712,000 for Department of Parliamentary Services staff working on the overhaul of the 12-year-old website.

Fujitsu had been commissioned to remake the website, and the site will now allow users to track Bills through parliament and receive email alerts for when a Bill passes, or when their local member speaks in parliament.

Sitecore, which owns the content management system, has been contracted to provide ongoing maintenance for the new site, Datacom provided the security assessment, and PTT Global was recruited for initial concept and customer focus groups for $13,000.

Internal staff and MPs have been able to view the website since mid-January. The general public will be able to see the new site on Friday evening.

Internal filter blocks 35 million sites

From 27 October 2011, the Department of Parliamentary Services implemented a filter on the parliament network for all staff, as well as the Senate. According to acting secretary David Kenny, this blocks a total of 35 million websites that are deemed to be malicious or unsuitable. As a result, all .info top-level domain websites have been blocked from view, because .info websites were often home to "malicious software".

Senators are able to opt out of this filter, he said, with 60 websites unblocked since the filter's implementation.

The Department of Parliamentary Services is also set to undertake a review of parliament IT later this month. Hogg said that the parliamentary service commissioner is seeking to engage an independent expert soon.

Topics: Government, Government AU

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Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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