Tag: census

Biggish Blue admits big blue down-under

IBM storage circa 1968IBM has confirmed it will compensate the Australian government for a “malicious” cyber-attack that shut down the national census, but has claimed that two ISPs were also responsible for the security lapse.

For five years IBM was the lead contractor for the five-yearly household survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). However the project went off-line on census day after four distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

The breach put a spanner in the works of government plans to trial online elections on the basis of its privacy street cred.

IBM was helping a police investigation but declined to say who was behind the attack.IBM claims that the attacks were launched through a router in Singapore and blamed Australian ISP Vocus Communications, a subcontractor of Nextgen Networks, for failing to shut it down.

In a written submission to the inquiry, IBM said its preferred anti-DDoS measure, which it calls “Island Australia”, involves “geoblocking”, or getting the company’s ISPs to shut down offshore traffic coming into the country.

In a written submission to the inquiry, Nextgen said IBM told it about “Island Australia” six days before the census website went live in July, and that IBM declared a test of the strategy four days before the census a success.

It said Nextgen followed IBM’s instructions, but noted that IBM rejected Nextgen’s offer of additional anti-DDoS detection measures.

Vocus said in a submission that it told Nextgen the week before the census that it “did not provide geoblocking” and that “Vocus was in fact requested to disable its DDoS protection product covering the e-Census IP space”.


LulzSec UK census hack is only a drop in the ocean

Remember those reassurances from the UK government that the mandatory census will be treated with the utmost security? LulzSec says it has compromised all of the data and will be making it public. This proves several things. First, LulzSec are smart. Second, the United Kingdom has no idea about security – as we’ve been shouting from the rooftops since we first started publishing on TechEye.

It will be red faces all around for the government which decided to enforce the archaic obligatory census – punishable by hefty fines if you choose not to hand over your personal information to a shadowy anonymous data centre. We doubt your data will be secure if you filled out the form on paper: data entry workers have been working hard to digitise all your content.

We point you to quotes from earlier this year and reassurance from the National Statistics. There is “a lot of misinformation in the media.” “No one gets access to the records.”

However, our security professor told us at the time: “The government has proven time and time again that it can’t be trusted with a laptop, let alone the details of millions of people. 

“There’s no doubt we’ll be hearing soon that our details have been hacked.”

Although LulzSec will claim it’s doing it for the lulz, we should, perhaps, applaud the anonymous collective for showing up the shocking defences our government leans on. It will seem like one of the largest data leaks and quite close to home for us here in Britain, but actually this is just a drop in the ocean.

There is a slim chance the British population will be unknowingly farming gold in some Chinese World of Warcraft clone. And it is disturbing that the entire country will have every detailed census entry available against their will – although most of the country is quite happy to hand that data to Zuckerberg for free anyway.

But compared to the potential for cyber terrorism this is nothing. An expert with high levels of access to government spoke on condition of anonymity to TechEye – and has told us that the only thing that will make us stand up and take note will be a truly catastrophic disaster. We are not talking data theft. We are talking significant, weighted attacks on the country’s infrastructure. Hospitals. Power grids. Airports. Data leaks are just the beginning.

This is not sensationalism. This is real. The entire country needs to wake up from its nap – Sony didn’t teach us squat, neither will this, if true, but it should.

Yesterday’s Evening Standard ran an opinion piece that suggested we learn from LulzSec as consultants – and it’s not a bad idea, except for the fact they’re in it for the lulz.

*EyeSee Lulzsec claims not to have compromised the census. Just everything else. 

UK Census website won't crash like others

Around  a quarter of respondents are expected to fill in their UK 2011 census form over the net as the department makes it available online for the first time. The census is being held on the 27th of March.

However, the Office for National Statistics has said that the site has been built to accommodate many more and it also seems that it’s learnt from the casualties of the UK tax site, which crashed when too many people decided to try and fill in forms online.

In a lengthly explanation of how it all works, deputy census director Ian Cope told TechEye:
 “A great deal of work has been done to monitor trends in internet usage and broadband take-up, to model the total number of online responses and their day-to-day and hour-by-hour profile.

“However, there is no online service in the UK that is a direct comparator to the census. Canada, New Zealand and Australia all offered an online census in 2006, with online response rates between seven percent and 18 percent. We have taken account of this experience and also of our own 2009 rehearsal experience. ONS’s expectation of 25 percent, with the ability to accommodate many more, is in line with the expectations in these other countries.”

However, the census could be anticipating problems, with Cope adding: ” If, however, the online option proves even more popular than we’ve anticipated, we will simply ask new users to come back later while making sure that those who have already logged on can continue. We will monitor the user levels closely at all times. We have carried out volume and performance testing to make sure that the system can handle the sustained loads expected.

If you’ve already had a hard copy of the census come through the post, you’ll know how long winded it looks, however, those clever enough to have spotted the internet access code on the front can complete the questions with “one simple click”.

Cope told TechEye that the organisation had “already received feedback from the public that they find the online census quick and simple.”

He added: “Our research shows that it takes about 30 minutes for a family of four to
add their details.

And he also moved to dispel qualms from disability groups that the site isn’t accessible, claiming the department had worked  closely with the RNIB to make sure that the site is accessible for those with visual impairments, which will make it easier for them to complete
their census independently.

The organisation also would not talk about costs claiming that website was only part of the census operation and it was therefore difficult to separate out.

He also added that it believed the 56 languages were sufficient enough to reflect the growing diversity of the UK.

University hosts robot census

The Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is hosting a robot census, counting 547 robots so far, including some that are currently in jail.

The programme is the brainchild of Heather Knight, a Ph.D student at CMU’s Robotics Institute.

Knight is particularly fond of robots and believes that they should be accounted for in a formal census. “As much as we’re here for the professors, we’re also here for the robots,” she said.

The census looks for all kinds of information, such as date of conception and birth, employment status, degrees of freedom, dominant sensors, modes of connectivity, degree of local intelligence, and primary language.

In fact, it even looks for the gender of the robot, which is not always easy to figure out. Knight revealed that two NavLab vehicles which can drive autonomously were declared as male “because they don’t even need to ask for directions.”

The survey shows that robots can be just as individual as humans, with part of it mentioning to discount robots in the Robot Armed Forces, robot nursing homes, jail, or detention centres. It was not entirely clear if these robots were incarcerated for going on murder spree or if they’re there to help keep humans locked up, but either way, Knight as already counted them.

“I want to use the data to understand our relationship with technology, pave the way for new applications, and re-brand the scope of robotics to include friendly everyday social machines,” Knight told CNet. “It’s a PR campaign for the friendly robot revolution.”

We were tempted to submit the TechEyeBot, which serves our hacks and hackettes beer and nuts, but we don’t want the RSPCR on our case. The last R stands for “Robots”.