Australia has halted online collection of national census data after a website where citizens could upload information was subjected to repeated cyberattacks. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said its website had experienced four denial-of-service attacks, in which a torrent of automated requests is sent to overwhelm a site. The last attack, just after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, contributed to the overloading of a router, which led to the decision that night to close down online data gathering. The census, which occurs every five years, has been the subject of intense criticism and questions this year over whether the introduction of online data collection could leave Australians’ personal information at risk. Australian officials said on Wednesday that the census system had not been infiltrated and that no data had been compromised.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had been given “unequivocal advice” from government agencies on the safety of citizens’ filings. “The site has not been hacked. It has not been interfered with,” he said at a news conference. “Their data is safe.” Australian officials did not describe the source of the attack, but they said it appeared to have been intended to disrupt the census process.
Alastair MacGibbon, the prime minister’s special adviser on cybersecurity, said it was the sort of assault typically used against government systems. “A denial of service is not a breach. It’s not designed to take data,” he said. “A denial of service is designed to frustrate.”
Senator Nick Xenophon, an independent, and at least five Greens party senators had said earlier that they would not put their names on their census filings, to protest the data gathering and storage methods. Failing to complete census forms in Australia is punishable by fines, but Mr. Xenophon said he was willing to be a test case to raise questions about information security.