Just months after Australia’s first ever attempt at an online census collapsed, another online government first has suffered cyber disruption.
On Monday, as many rushed to lodge their tax returns over the internet to meet that evening’s deadline, the MyGov website crashed. It apparently failed under under a sustained cyber barrage which delivered distributed denial of service (DDOS).
That is where a site experiences a flood of traffic designed to disrupt it from malevolent hackers. The collapse of the census website on census night had the same cause along with technical gliches.
Thousands of last-minute tax lodgers were caught in the crossfire of the cyber warfare and were unable to complete their forms. Those trying to get over the lodgement deadline were not amused and took to social media to make there views clear.
@Standtofrankie Often down or get booted off half way through logging in. Can't get phone calls answered, too hard
— Morpheus (@ozhank626) October 31, 2016
The Australian Taxation Office recognised the problems taxpayers were having and gave affected people a day’s grace.
“Anyone who was impacted by the issue won’t have penalties applied if they lodged their tax return the following day,” an ATO spokesperson told The New Daily.
However the ATO seemed keen to characterise the event as “slowness” rather than an outage. “Some taxpayers were experiencing slowness in logging on for a short time on 31 October,” the spokesperson said.
But out there in taxpayer land the problem was seen as more significant than that.
The Department of Human Services, which runs the MyGov web site, appeared to view it as a cyber security issue but did not offer details about its cause.
The department’s general manager, Hank Jongen, said in a statement: “The department does not at any time comment on cyber security. The department’s services, which include myGov, were affected by a short disruption on 31 October 2016, after which services were restored.”
“We apologise to any customers who were inconvenienced.”
Like the collapse of the census website, which lasted two days and was of far greater magnitude, the failure of MyGov marred the launch of a new government online service. This year the ATO had moved completely to a new online tax platform called MyTax which replaced ETax.
The targeting of Australian government websites was highlighted recently with the release of the annual report of The Australian Cyber Security Centre. It said systems in government agencies had been hit with 1095 cyber security incidents considered serious enough to trigger an operational response over the previous year.
Along with MyGov and the census, which was attacked through the Australian Bureau of Statistics site, there has been evidence of attempted cyber attacks at the Bureau of Meteorology and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Business is vulnerable
A joint study between Cambridge University and the Lloyd’s insurance giant has found the growing risk of cyber attacks leaves the Australian economy exposed to a potential $16 billion damage bill over the next decade.
The study found that of 301 global cities, Sydney ranks 12th in terms cyber attack exposure with $4.86 billion of economic growth at risk. That makes it the riskiest Australian city, followed by Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra.
The Australian Electoral Commission says additional government funding is needed to update its IT systems that run elections, warning they are “at the end of their useful life”, the ABC has reported.
In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the running of the July election the AEC acknowledged there were issues with the length of queues and a shortage of ballot papers in several polling places.
Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said electronic polling management systems, like the ones used in the recent ACT and Northern Territory elections, would improve productivity and reduce instances of multiple voting.
He warned the current IT systems that managed the election and the electoral roll are “at the end of their useful life”.