“Your Data is Safe.” What Caused the Australian Bureau of Statistics to Make Such a Bold Statement?

Phil Robson – Pre-Sales Engineer

Everybody thinks their possessions are safe. Until, that is, the day they are stolen.  The same can be said for organisations and the data they hold; no organisation loses its customers’ personal information on purpose, but are they brave enough to publicly announce that “Your data is safe”?  The Australian Bureau of Statistics did just this as part of a campaign to market this year’s Australian Census, which in the end didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Every five years the Australian public has to participate in a national Census. This year, The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which is responsible for running the Census, used an online form as the primary source of collecting the information.  Prior to the big day, the ABS had confidently announced that its system would be able to hold its own when 10 million households logged onto the site, stating that the website could process 1 million forms every hour, twice the capacity they expected to need.

However, naively, the ABS had failed to account for the fact that the majority of Australia’s population would sit down at the same time after dinner on Census night to complete the form. Of course, the inevitable happened.  Instead of an online Census form, the Australian public were met with the dreaded “this page can’t be displayed” message. The ABS had in fact taken the system offline, revealing the next day that it was a precaution against a number of overseas denial of service attacks. Publicly using the word “attack” then raised questions regarding the security of the information being stored.  Before the website was taken offline, around 2 million Census forms had been lodged. If the website is under constant attack, how safe was this data that had already been submitted?

It took the ABS nearly three days to get the systems back online and to reassure the general public that no data had been compromised.  As the majority of the public had been unable to complete their Census form, the ABS continued with their strong marketing campaign in the media, only this time they used the strapline “Your data is safe”.

This is quite a bold statement to make, given that three days earlier they had been boasting about their system’s capability of handling the extremely heavy traffic load – and look how that turned out.  So why should we believe them when they say ”Your data is safe”?  Of course every organisation will take the necessary security precautions to secure their sensitive information and they would all like to think that data is safe in their care. But breaches do occur and companies do lose customers’ personal information.

In today’s digital world, with the move to adopt more cloud based services, keeping sensitive data secure from theft isn’t easy.  Even if an organisation takes all the necessary measures to secure its data, the methods used by criminals to extract data are ever evolving; trying to stay ahead of data security threats is a challenging task.  Many organisations are starting to adopt a simple approach that uses the philosophy “you can’t lose what you don’t have”. We are increasingly seeing companies distancing themselves from the business of having to store and manage sensitive information such as credit card data, putting it into the hands of experts instead.

Removing all sensitive data from within an organisation is the safest way to protect it. Semafone helps by ensuring all payment card data remains segregated and then removes this data before it enters the organisation’s infrastructure.  Semafone’s business is entirely dedicated to providing a robust and trusted solution that can help protect an organisation against the risk of opportunistic fraud and the associated reputational damage.

Formerly one of Australia’s most trusted and respected public institutions, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has had its reputation severely damaged and many questions are still being asked over the handling of this year’s Census. Let’s just hope, for the sake of all Australians, that they manage to keep their word when they say “Your data is safe”.

“Your Data is Safe.”  What Caused the Australian Bureau of Statistics to Make Such a Bold Statement?
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