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The Two Guys Who Absolutely, Accurately Predicted The Census Meltdown

Who could have seen this coming?!

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A week ago, on the letters page of Melbourne's The Age, there was this headline.

It ran above a letter from “Roger Riordan from Hampton”, which explained why there would be “total chaos” on census night and people would “go to bed” after trying and failing to log on to the census website.

A spokesman from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has stated that: "Online could handle 1 million form submissions every hour. That's twice the capacity we expect to need" ("Chaos plagues countdown to online census", 2/8). The ABS is expecting to collect data on 24 million Australians, but the only information I have received is an envelope in the mail. One side states "Your census login inside. Keep it safe." And on the other: "Keep this safe and save the date. Census night is Tuesday, 9 August 2016." There is no suggestion you should do any preparations, or that there are any alternatives. So I expect most eligible people will arrive home on the ninth, have dinner, then think "oh, the (expletive deleted) census", and expect to be able to finish it before bedtime. This could mean up to 10 million people trying to respond in one hour. I predict total chaos, and as it will be too late to make other arrangements a very large number of people will say something like "To hell with that", and go to bed.

Roger Riordan, Hampton

That's pretty much precisely what happened.

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics' first effort to move the census completely online, millions of Australians were left stranded, locked out of the website on Tuesday night.

Roger Riordan is an electrical engineer and software expert. He told BuzzFeed News that last night went exactly as he predicted.

corybas.com

"I tried to log in after dinner at 10 minute intervals for an hour while I talked to old friends," he said. "And then I went to bed."

Riordan was astonished the ABS predicted it would need to only to cater for one million forms every hour, totally miscalculating that everyone would be logging on at the same time in the night.

"I couldn’t believe how arrogant and incompetent the census bureau was being."

On Wednesday morning another excuse emerged for the system meltdown. The ABS was blaming overseas users launching four Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on the website.

We apologise for the inconvenience. The 2016 online Census form was subject to four Denial of Service attacks of varying nature & severity.

A DDoS attack is a really simple way to take down a website by spamming it with so many requests that it can't actually respond to legitimate requests.

Who could have seen a DDoS attack on the ABS system? This person who tweeted last week that it would happen.

Prediction: Census website is DDOS'ed to hell next week.

@Glengyron told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that it was an obvious way to attack the system and the ABS was kidding itself if it didn't put up protections against it.

"[A DDoS is] the obvious thing to do to a time-critical service. [It's a] low risk way to ruin it. You're unlikely to be caught and the damage to the reputation of the ABS will be long lasting."

When asked who could have launched the four attacks, @Glengyron suggested it could be anyone, even angry Chinese swim fans.

"I thought it would be angry Anonymous types, but it could well have been Chinese swimming fans. It's not a hard sort of attack to execute."

People are already casting doubt on the ABS' DDoS claims. The website digitalattackmap.com that tracks these sorts of attacks didn't register anything in Australia yesterday.

hmmm. nothing unusual DDoS wise for australia and yesterday #censusfail

Both Roger Riordan and @Glengyron agree that the ABS might be using the DDoS claims as a cover story.

"It's quite possible the system fell over due to poor design rather than foreign hackers. Scaling systems is hard," said @Glengryon.

"They didn’t need any outside help - what happened was exactly what anyone with half a brain in their head would have expected," said Riordan.

BuzzFeed News has contacted the ABS for comment.

Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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