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The Census Embarrassment Could Have Been Prevented With The Old "Turn It Off And On Again"

IBM Australia has taken "full responsibility" for the disaster on census night.

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Australia's census meltdown could have been prevented if the routers were turned "off and on again" during the census website testing phase, according to IBM Australia's chief engineer.

Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

The tech giant appeared before a Senate committee on Tuesday after overseeing the embarrassing system crash that caused Australia's census website to be taken offline for 40 hours.

The head of IBM Australia Kerry Purcell opened proceedings by taking "full responsibility" for the situation, saying the website was hit with four distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

"IBM, and I personally, unreservedly apologise to the Australian public and the Australian Commonwealth for the inconvenience caused on the evening of census night," Purcell said.

"We were head contractor in this matter and hence we take full responsibility for our role."

IBM Australia ran the census website, which was supposed to take millions of users' personal data on Tuesday 9 August in what was being billed as the country's first real digital count.

But the website crashed after less than a third of the population had filled out forms. People took to social media to vent their frustration about spending hours online refreshing the page.

According to IBM Australia, a series of three DDoS attacks flooded the website with traffic throughout the day, and another one at 7:27pm took the system offline.

IBM Australia's Michael Shallcross told the committee the attack came from Singapore and pointed the finger at geo-blocking problems with "one particular router".


"We were seeing excess traffic from NextGen and over the course of the attack that link became fully saturated," said Shallcross.

"We did eventually discover later in the evening that the traffic was coming primarily from Singapore via one particular router on which the geo-blocking rules had not been effectively implemented."

But Shallcross said the disaster could have been prevented if the routers had been turned off and on again during the testing phase of the census website.

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"We did, during the lead-up to the census, test the impact of a failure of that router and ensure that a fail of the mechanism through the rest of the site worked effectively," he said.

"We tested that router failure by simulating it, which is relatively easy to do in repeatable fashion.

"If we had our time again we would have tested a hard power it off, power it on that router, that would have discovered earlier that we had that reboot and configuration loading problem."

The company said not one manager or staff member has been sacked over the meltdown, which according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics cost taxpayers an extra $30 million.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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