by George Nott

Census debacle will have ‘lasting impact’ on trust in government digital services: MacGibbon

Sep 13, 2016
Business ContinuityComplianceData Center

The prime minister’s special cyber security advisor, Alistair MacGibbon, has said the shut down of the census website will have a “lasting impact” on the public trust in the government to deliver digital services.

The census website was unavailable for days after it was pulled offline by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on census night last month.

The ABS blamed Denial of Service attacks originating from overseas for the outage and said it had closed down the system to ‘ensure the integrity of the data’.

“While in and of itself the denial of service attack or attacks were small – and the actual turning off of that census service to the Australian public, apart from being an annoyance, wasn’t that great [an inconvenience],” MacGibbon told the SINET61 conference in Sydney this morning, “the impact in terms of trust and confidence, the impact in terms of the ability of government to deliver services, will last for a significant period.”

MacGibbon said he had spent the last “happy month” investigating the “failure” of the delivery of the census, adding that such incidents were “the type of thing that we need to prepare for”.

“What were comparatively small denial of service attacks will have that lasting impact on government and frankly, there’s a lot to learn in the business community as well,” he said.

Time is ripe

MacGibbon’s comments at the SINET61 event followed a video message from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull which emphasised the importance of cyber security to the Australian economy.

In the video, which was recorded in Pohnpei, Micronesia during the Pacific Islands Forum this week, a Hawaiian-shirted Turnbull said security should not be “just an afterthought or a second order priority”.

“It must be a core part of policy and technology development to both increase our own security at home and improve the confidence necessary to the world to ensure Australia and Australian companies can be increasingly competitive in the global online community,” Turnbull said.

MacGibbon, who was appointed to his role in May, told the audience he believed the timing was “ripe” for the government’s Cyber Security Strategy.

“The ground is different to what I’ve seen before,” MacGibbon said. “In many respects the delay in the strategy and the pent up desire in the community I’ve seen for that strategy means it will be more successful.

“I’ve been in this game for quite some time. I’ve been here for several of these strategies and I’ve never detected the same level of interest. I’ve never seen industry and academia be as engaged and frankly I’ve never seen government as engaged in the process.

“We want to change from being the lucky country to the clever country. I desperately want to see this succeed and we’ll continue to try until we do. We need globally competitive cyber security sector.”