ABS confirms Census 2021 experienced no breaches or interruptions

The ABS received 6.1 million forms through the Census digital service.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Census 2021 has been deemed a "success", with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) confirming it received an estimate of 6.2 million Census forms by Wednesday 8am AEST.

Of the total, ABS reported that 6.1 million forms were submitted online through the Census digital service and the remainder was via post.

The peak period online was at 8.06pm when the ABS received about 141 submissions per second. No interruptions, excessive wait times, or security breaches were reported by the ABS, according to Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar.

"I want to thank the millions of Australians who have played their part in making the 2021 Census a success so far, and we want to continue to see the numbers ticking up and the forms coming in," he said.

"It is also important to remind Australians that it is not too late to submit your Census form. The Australian Bureau of Statistics continues to collect Census forms. Please visit the Census website or contact by phone if you need any further information on how to complete your Census.

"I also want to thank the work of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, the Digital Transformation Agency and all the government agencies and their employees involved in making the 2021 Census a seamless process."

The ABS has been focused on preparations for the 2021 Census to avoid an embarrassing repeat of what occurred during Census 2016, when the ABS experienced a series of small denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated which resulted in the Census website being shut down and citizens unable to complete their online submissions.

The Census was run on on-premises infrastructure procured from tech giant IBM.

The 2021 Census, however, was built using the Amazon Web Services cloud through a contract awarded to PwC Australia.

In March, Deputy Australian statistician Teresa Dickinson told Senate Estimates that preparations for Census 2021 was well on-track, while confirming the agency was working over 50 suppliers and partners on the Census.

"Census day is the 10th of August, and we are on track. In our metrics, where we measure progress against the Census, many of the sub programs of work are 'green', there are a few that remain 'amber', and the reason is that we still have some testing and defect remediation to do on our technical work," Dickinson said at the time. "But we are on track to do that, by the time the form goes live."

In response to the omnishambles that was the 2016 Census, there have been three reviews that made 36 recommendations, 29 of which were directed at the ABS and agreed upon. There was also a report prepared by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

ANAO in November labelled the preparation for the 2021 Census by the ABS as "partly effective".

It said generally appropriate frameworks have been established to cover the Census IT systems and data handling, and the procurement of IT suppliers, but that the ABS has not put in place arrangements for ensuring improvements to its architecture framework, change management processes, and cybersecurity measures will be implemented ahead of the 2021 Census.

"The ABS has been partly effective in addressing key Census risks, implementing past Census recommendations, and ensuring timely delivery of the 2021 Census," the auditor added. "Further management attention is required on the implementation and assessment of risk controls."


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