Westpac's online failures expose weak points

Westpac's online failures expose weak points

Summary: What happened to backup systems after multiple hardware failures crippled Westpac's online banking system?

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Westpac, one of the biggest banks in Australia, experienced multiple hardware failures on Monday and at the end of last week, which caused its online banking service to fall over for hours at a time.

In today's e-commerce society, a faulty online service is the equivalent of a retail premise being locked with the windows boarded up. So you would think that very large companies would ensure that redundancies kick in during times of emergency.

After a Westpac customer and ZDNet Australia reader tipped us off, I spoke to the bank's media relations team to find out what was going on. The head of department, David Lording, boasted that Westpac has "backup systems on backup systems". Unfortunately, the facts are that the online bank was crippled several times, with Lording solely pointing the finger at "hardware failures".

What was the nature of these "hardware failures"? Well, Lording wasn't saying. But he had other things to say about the downtime suffered by Westpac. Below is an excerpt of my conversation with him on Monday afternoon. By then, the site had been inaccessible periodically from last Thursday to Monday:

Kotadia: So why is the Internet banking down right now?

Lording: Mate, we told you, there was a hardware issue.

Kotadia: But I was told it was fixed.

Lording: But that was last week.

Kotadia: So this is a new hardware issue is it?

Lording: Yea, that's right. A new one mate.

Kotadia: So do you not have any backup? If you have a hardware issue and there is a problem there, don't you have any backup systems?

Lording: Yeah of course we do mate.

Kotadia: So why aren't they working right now?

Lording: Well. We are rectifying the problem.

At this point he goes on to ridicule ZDNet Australia's readership base.

Lording: You go out to your little tech readers and you try and beat up a security issue that is not there. Well mate, I tell ya. I will be monitoring what you write and you better get it correct.

Kotadia: OK. So what you are saying right now is, there was a hardware issue last week and that was fixed and there is another hardware issue that you are working on. And you don't have any backup systems -- or you do? I am trying to figure out because ...

Lording: Look mate, what do you mean you are trying to work it out? All I am telling you is that we have had a hardware issue. It has reoccurred today and we are fixing the problem.

Kotadia: So do you have a backup system?

Lording: Oh mate get real, we are one of the biggest f**king banks in the country.

Kotadia: OK, so you do have a backup system?

Lording: Look mate, we have backup systems on backup systems ... but we have a hardware issue we are trying to rectify.

Kotadia: So if you have backup systems upon backup systems, then why is it that your system is down right now?

Lording: What are you trying to suggest?

Kotadia: I am trying to figure out why my readers cannot access your online banking services.

Lording: Well I am telling you. All I am saying to you, on the record, is that we have had a hardware issue.

Kotadia: OK.

Lording: That we are currently rectifying.

Kotadia: Has this hardware issue been happening all weekend?

Lording: No.

Kotadia: When do you think your customers will be able to access -- [interrupted].

Lording: I don't have a timeline at the moment.

I certainly hope this isn't the response Lording gives his customers when met with a difficult query.

Topics: Banking, Hardware, Malware, Security

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

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Talkback

47 comments
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  • Backup system

    Look, it's quite simple - the have a backup system. It's just that it's locked up somewhere in some storage room. And it's a 486. And it currently has a hardware issue. OK?

    ;-)

    PS. You don't expect a bank that makes billions every year to actually *use* some of that money to serve their customers, now do you?
    anonymous
  • Wow

    What a professional individual from Westpac.
    anonymous
  • Lack of Understanding

    You clearly lack understanding of the complex issues which surround mainframe systems such as those no doubt in use by the Westpac Bank. These sorts of systems no doubt have failover and redundancy measures in place to cover most eventualities, however to slam them as you have ... to demand to know when the inernet banking systems will be back online shows a real lack of understanding of the technical issues involved.
    anonymous
  • Not really

    > You clearly lack understanding of the complex issues which surround mainframe systems such as those no doubt in use by the Westpac Bank

    Complex issues? Like: when the primary system fails, the backup system kicks in automatically.

    If mainframes are too complex for Westpac, they should use something else. Otherwise, what's so good about mainframes if they can't provide a simple failover?
    anonymous
  • Rich

    I believe ZDNet were asking for the technical problem or at the very least an overview of what is going on and an eta on when things would be back up and running. In this instance the Westpac spokesperson handled the situation poorly.

    Technical issues happen, everyone in IT knows that but when it affects a major part of the population then Westpac should be more forthcoming to explain themselves instead of threatening media.

    I'm not usually one to defend media organisations but the bank is clearly showing its arrogance and disrespect to its customers with this sort of response.
    anonymous
  • Comments

    Firstly I agree the interview was handled poorly.
    However zdnet should get it's facts before it starts "phishing".
    Secondly , why should any organisation tell you about private/confidential operations? Maybe so you can have a bash at trying to break the site. Come on , get real. Zdnet isnt perfect either. But they love to stir up a storm in a tea cup.
    anonymous
  • Poor Response

    I do agree that the Westpac employee in question did handle this issue poorly, and with a fair amount of arrogance. He just responded badly to the prodding of the media I wouldn
    anonymous
  • ivory tower syndrome

    As an employee of a company the "worker" obviously feels he has no obligation to explain something which is probably complex and also embarrassing. He's right!
    But rudeness and a threatening behaviour is not justified. Neither is the failure to understand that simple honesty, dare I say, humility would go a lot further in assuring Westpac customers that they are with a reliable and trustworthy bank
    anonymous
  • By By Westpac !!

    Excellent news piece....I cannot believe the arrogance of Lording and how rude he was to ZDNET !

    These "little readers", are the ones paying his large paychecks !!! If they only new how many professionals actually read or subscribe to ZDNET on a daily basis, and the money that we, as a collective, have at their banks. But he is obviously too busy with hardware issues to worry about customers, isn't he...

    I for one am considering all options. As a business customer, I want a professional organisation looking after my money, not one with a raving head of department.

    Btw Lording, best do some research, as I believe that companies like SEEK, IBM & McAFEE pump advertising revenue into ZDNET for a reason !

    Well done to Munir for holding on as long as he did.
    anonymous
  • joker

    I can understand how some might get their backs up if media are probing but this guy from Westpac is PR and he should know better.

    It's his job to answer media questions to the best of his knowledge and I'm assuming use spin to calmly explain the issue with minimal impact to Westpac. Unfortunately this spat makes him sound like a novice and that Westpac has something to hide -- which Munir found.

    Westpac's backup systems on backup systems don't work or failed.
    anonymous
  • Westpac's online failures expose weak points

    So why is Westpac, Comm Bank etc paying these so called Business Continuity Executives in excess of 200K a year? Despite them throwing so much money at these people and to solve potential problems, these banks continue to have hardware/software failures.

    Is the whole business continuity profession just a fraud?
    anonymous
  • Goodbye Westpac

    I got tired of Westpac's online banking being offline. I also tired of their arrogance towards fee increases becuase they are "one of the country's f**king largest". I ditched them. I moved my mortgage and daily banking. I suggest everyone else that has a problem with these big banks also move. My mortgage is now with ING and I also have an attractive online savings account with ING as well. I pay $5 per month for an all you can eat type transaction account with one of the big 4 and that is all I will ever have again with these big banks. I even held a Leaving Westpac party earlier this year to celebrate.
    anonymous
  • Little tech readers?

    I'm a business IT reader who visits ZDNet and a customer of Westpac. He's managed to *iss me off twice in one article.

    Nice PR
    anonymous
  • Scapegoats make me angry

    Lording may become the scape-goat of this issue, when infact there are underlying problems with the people above him.

    It's readily obvious that Lording isn't at fault!!!
    anonymous
  • Everyday Banking ? Online maintenance - AGAIN !!

    Online maintenance

    Internet Banking will be unavailable from 00:01 to 06:00 (AEST) on Sunday 5 November 2006 for system maintenance.

    "Everyday Banking Accounts"...yeh, when you can actually get on !!
    anonymous
  • Westpac non performance

    Typical Westpac attitude to their customers. I ditched Westpac after receiving seven (7) different figures for a payout figure for a card account and their systems were up and running at the time.

    I am still waiting for some sort of explanation eight weeks after lodging my complaints on the 5 day guaranteed responce email.

    Alan Wills
    anonymous
  • All banks

    ok, so yes on this issue we can bag westpac, and i did on many other issues, for me they became part of 'connexafonepac' connex, vodafone and westpac could all fail impressivly to do what they state their cqapable of, i swithched top optus, moved to where i could walk to work, but am still a westpac customer for the sole reason that when (read 'if') i actually walk into a westpac branch, i still get good customer service. which is more than i can say for the other banks..

    Yeas they ALL 'rob you' and ripp ya off, but better the devil you know...
    anonymous
  • What a typical Westpac Response- sack this clown

    I was a Bank of Melb customer initially, then became a westpac customer when they took over.

    Not for long. The stupidity, arrogance, lack of customer service, incorrect information and lack of customer service did me in. I left.

    And Mr Lording, just let me say that you are (based on those comments) one of the worst PR Hacks I have ever read.

    Westpac sack this clown!
    anonymous
  • Is this for real?

    It is truly hard to believe that this conversation was as colloquial as described. Westpac surely have clear guidelines as to media engagements and as a spokesperson Lording would be briefed to answer questions in either a non-committal or not to comment at all.
    anonymous
  • That's true

    That's true. Just because the PR is a prat, doesn't mean that this kind of scenario can't happen.

    2-3 years ago when most of the american ISPs were doing a major upgrade for a security release on Cisco, one of them had a failure and their backup routers didn't function and caused major problems for days.

    Backup and redundant systems can fail. Shame the PR prat was being difficult.
    anonymous