Census DDoS: if it is true, show us the statistics

OPINION

Update: the ABC this afternoon is reporting this timeline as the official sequence of events. More information, e.g. about the precise volume of hits, would be better but it is good to see more transparency around the census.

Last night, the online Census went down, and most people were unable to fill out their forms. The ABS claims that it was DDoSed. That means that it received lots of requests from computers all at once that took the service offline.

Claims about the capacity of the online system in the lead up to the Census were vague.

“We have load tested it at 150 per cent of the number of people we think are going to be on it on Tuesday for eight hours straight and it didn’t look like flinching” Chris Libreri, Australian Bureau of Statistics Source.

150% of expected capacity over 8 hours could mean that the system was capable of handling all households filling out their surveys simultaneously again and again over 8 hours. The alternative is that the load pushed to the server in testing was the expected number of households averaged over 8 hours. That would mean there was little consideration given to the idea of a peak occurring at 8PM when most people would be filling out the census, which coincides with when the Census website completely fell over.

There is a solution to this cynicism, however; the ABS is in the data game and the best way to convince people is by showing strong evidence. Let us see the server logs. Show that there were billions of page loads per hour, not the hundreds of millions that they should have expected. Show that they were coming from sources that suggest it was a botnet (i.e. that most of the hits came from outside Australia).

Given that the government paid a relatively small amount for the first ever online event where all Australians were expected to log online simultaneously, the public must know if this failure is incompetence through cost cutting.

Being forthcoming with information shouldn’t require special requests for it, like this article. Open government is a principle of the Science Party.