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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Labor calls Services Australia's myGov DDoS claim a 'cock up'

Bill Shorten has asked the government to not be embarrassed and make up false 'boogeymen' to blame for the collapse of the myGov portal.

Former opposition leader cum Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten has called the government's daft cyber attack claim a "cock up".

On Monday, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert held a press conference after thousands were unable to access the government's myGov online portal to sign up for income assistance due to businesses being forced to close in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Rather than admitting to a capacity problem, either on the networking side or on the human side since its shopfronts are staffed at lower levels due to social separation edicts, or saying there was an underestimation of how many people would be seeking to interact with Centrelink, Robert decided instead to head straight into the realm of cyber incidents.

During the press conference, Robert said the portal suffered a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack while simultaneously blaming the outage on legitimate traffic that pushed past the 55,000 concurrent users limit the government had set.

Those words were barely two hours old when Robert stood up in Parliament and said it was merely 95,000 people trying to connect to myGov that triggered a DDoS alert, and not an attack at all.

Must read: The people of Australia are a DDoS machine that the government cannot handle  

Shorten said that Robert was clearly implying that there was "some nefarious actors trying to sabotage the government getting money to the people".

"No doubt this minister will come up with an excuse, but the point about it is there were 96,000 people, apparently, who went on to the myGov web site this morning because the government said go there and it crashed," Shorten summarised. "And instead of him just fronting up and taking his medicine, he wanted to get us believing in conspiracies.

"You know that old saying? You know when you're offered a choice of an explanation between a conspiracy and a cock up, always back the cock up? Well, this minister went for the conspiracy, and now he's had to say, no, there was no denial of service attack."

Shorten said people were told to trust the government's IT, which he said had clearly failed. He also wasn't overly convinced that Robert should be surprised by this.

"They say that they've been preparing for these matters for weeks in Parliament, yet when it comes to just paying people some modest income, all of a sudden you think this task is Herculean," he said.

"What I'm objecting to isn't that Centrelink is struggling, although we should have seen that coming, It's that when confronted with what's happened, the government's immediately chosen to resort to a fairytale rather than just be upfront with people."

According to the former Labor leader, the government needs to behave in a more trustworthy manner to get through the pandemic. He said Australians appreciate how rapidly everything is unfolding, but what they don't understand is why the government is "just making stuff up".

"This wasn't foreign actors. It wasn't the Chinese or the Russians, it was just the system crashed, and [making] up stuff when you don't have to," Shorten said, labelling the IT system as "barely struggling".

"To be fair to the government, a lot of this is completely new territory, but for several weeks we've seen this coming, so why is it when it's actually happened we've all sort of got this stunned headless chook attitude, 'Oh gee that's surprising'.

"If the reason why the Centrelink system broke down was because there's just a lot of unexpected demand, don't be embarrassed about that and make up false boogeymen to blame for the collapse of the Centrelink myGov portal, just own it."

Shorten asked the government to stop viewing those in receipt of welfare as "trying to diddle the system".

See also: Shorten likens 'robo-debt' to the logic and ethics of a mob standover

Labor leader Anthony Albanese unsurprisingly echoed his minister's words, calling also for a more adequately resourced Centrelink to keep up with demand.

"We're also seeing the consequences of a government that's been determined to privatise and contract out assets. The truth is that the big four accounting firms have got a lot of Government taxpayers' money over recent years and at the same time basic government functions have been stripped from their workforce," he said Monday.

"And Centrelink clearly needs more people. We saw the robo-debt debacle of what happens when you try to replace people with machines. And we've seen today, another debacle and the government needs to get on top of this and needs to get on top of this as a matter of urgency."

Confirming what everyone already knew on Monday was the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

"The government is investigating the cause of the outage impacting myGov. The ACSC is engaging with Services Australia on this reported incident and will continue to provide assistance," a spokesperson for the ACSC told ZDNet.

"At this stage, the ACSC has no evidence to suggest this outage was caused by malicious cyber activity."

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