This week, in Australia, history is being made. For the first time ever, the Australian census forms can be completed online on a PC or on your favourite smart phone or tablet device. The Australian Government have estimated that two thirds of people will complete this year’s census online, saving $100 million in the process.
Census night was last night, Tuesday, 9 August 2016. All questions on the census form must be answered as if it was that day, even though the forms do not need to be completed on the day. That means if you got divorced on Wednesday, 10 August 2016, when you complete the census, you’re still married.
The actual deadline is:
- Around the middle of September
- Well into September
- An unofficial deadline of September 23
Yes, I’ve seen all of these quoted as deadlines. Seems the deadline has not officially been given an exact date, but I decided to get stuck in straight away, after all, why wait?
The Australian census 2016
First off, to complete the forms online, go to census.abs.gov.au, which is exactly what I did at around 8 PM last night.
So, at 2:18 AM, ‘when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse‘ as they say, I went back on the internet.
Web, it seems, isn’t really the Government’s thing.
On Tuesday afternoon, the day of the census and before any of these problems had occurred, 2016 census manager Duncan Young said “The form has the capacity it needs to scale up tonight for the large volumes of response that we are expecting.”
So, what went wrong?
Denial of service attack
Since the site went off-line, officials for the Government and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have stated that the servers were subject to four denial of service (DoS) attacks during Tuesday, with the biggest attack taking place at around 7:30 PM. It was at that point, they say, that they took down the website as a precaution.
They also made it clear that no data had been compromised.
A denial of service attack is simply where a website is overwhelmed with traffic and cannot cope, so it starts displaying error messages. In a DoS attack, the traffic is usually sent automatically through bots, often from abroad.
But was this an attack at all?
Some people aren’t so sure.
The census needs to be completed by something like 10 million Australian households and probably 8 million of them would have had their evening meal by around 6 o’clock yesterday. Family Feud would have finished on TV and by about 7 o’clock in the evening it would have been a straight choice between watching reruns of M*A*S*H or filling in the compulsory census form online.
So, despite officials giving precise details of the time and nature of each of the four attacks, some people are wondering if the system simply became overloaded by genuine Australian household residents. Officials had stated that the system was designed to cope with 1 million applicants an hour, but that number could have easily been exceeded by legitimate Australian users.
Cover-up? Conspiracy theory? Censusgate? Incompetence?
The news on this story has been so big today, it’s managed to knock the Olympics off the front page for the first time since the games started, and it’s a story that’s not over yet.
The census website is still down today, so I’ve changed my mind; ‘waiting’ is now easily the best option. Maybe there will be a Completing the Australian Census Form Online: Part 2, maybe not.
Maybe online census completion will become history.