The federal government's myGov portal was down on Monday, after thousands flocked to the website to sign up for income assistance following forced business closures in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking with media about the long queues at Centrelink service centres and the inability to access myGov on Monday afternoon, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert blamed a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack for the outage.
"Over the weekend, we took our number of users of myGov from an average of 6,000 concurrent users to what is now 55,000 concurrent users," he said.
"We've put a 10-fold increase on our digital channels over the weekend in preparation, unfortunately this morning we also suffered a distributed denial of service on our main channels, which also highlights that other threats are still inbound."
According to Robert, myGov has not been offline, it simply suffered from a DDoS attack this morning and is currently processing 55,000 concurrent users.
When asked for clarity over whether the site was just experiencing higher traffic from legitimate users or if it was in fact a DDoS attack, Robert -- who in October last year was found to have spent 20 times more than other MPs on his home internet, clocking up more than AU$2,000 a month and blaming "connectivity issues" for the high costs -- said "it can be both".
"Distributed denial of services are designed to actually flood your entrance point, your routers if you like, with so much traffic that other users can't get in … significant systems we have in place to knock that off whilst allowing users to have access at the same time, so absolutely, you can have concurrent users and defeat a denial of service attack," he explained.
He also said the government anticipated the increase in load.
"We increased our tech over the weekend so 10x more Australians could use myGov at the same time, anticipating challenges Australians would have," he said. "We're working very hard to see if we can increase that concurrency to even higher numbers."
Robert also said Services Australia operates one of the largest cyber operations centres, alongside those run by the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Signals Directorate.
"We suffer cyberattacks more often than I think people quite realise, this morning was a challenge for us," he added.
"It suffered a significant distributed denial of service attack this morning."
Robert said the government would not be attributing the source of the alleged DDoS.
On 9 August 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) experienced a series of DDoS attacks, suffered a hardware router failure, and baulked at a false positive report of data being exfiltrated at the hands of IBM, which resulted in the Census website being shut down and citizens unable to complete their online submissions.
Robert said individuals concerned can still sign up for assistance in the coming days and weeks and to comply with social distancing rules by avoiding Centrelink shop fronts.
The government's myGov website has crashed, forcing many to ignore social distancing rules as they brave Centrelink shopfronts to determine if they qualify for income support.
Detailed network security mapping and clear lines of communication allowed Optus to avoid an emergency patching program and quickly identify a suspected attack as a false positive.
Hackers are sending emails to banks asking for large payments in Monero, and threatening DDoS attacks if their demands aren't met.