back to article IT analyst: Oz census data processed as plain text

An Australian IT consultant has cast doubt about whether the country's Census is as secure as the Australian Bureau of Statistics thinks it is. The technical infrastructure for the Census is being delivered by IBM using its SoftLayer cloud in Australia. While the online Census completion process uses transport layer security …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Admins can see the Census?

    That's why we chose IBM. The admins won't understand English.

  2. John Tserkezis

    No one ever got sacked for choosing IBM.

    Not till now anyway...

  3. Andrew Commons

    More than IBM?

    Actually resolves to two IP addresses managed by a Canadian owned company (Nextgen Networks) that does not do web hosting. They do provide connections to Cloud services like who else has access to the census data?

  4. DavidRa

    Of course it's exposed to PATRIOT. The US has proven it doesn't care where the data is, just that it's stored on equipment managed by a USanian company (see also Microsoft Ireland vs US Govt where it's not even the US company, but an international subsidiary of the US company and the USG still claims access).

  5. Tommyinoz

    I'm Batman

    I've been tossing up whether I should give my real name in the census or not. I think I have made up my mind now.

    Hello, I'm Batman. What's your name?

    1. Diogenes

      Re: I'm Batman

      I'm Brian, and so is my wife..

      Occupation : cheesmaker

    2. Disgusted of Cheltenham

      Re: I'm Batman

      Presumably related to John Batman, the founder of Melbourne (hence Batman Avenue, Station etc.)

  6. Black Betty

    Human eyes and fingers have bee all over census data...

    ...since the year dot.

    Not to say there's no reason for concern over sensitive data being TRANSMITTED in plain text, but IBM themselves have had their hands on the raw data since the days database lookups were performed with a knitting needle.

    Although certainly not best practice, the danger really is rather low. Random census data is unlikely to contain anything juicy, and if a black hat is close enough to a worthwhile target to spy on and play silly buggers with their internet, the privacy of their census data is the least of their problems.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: Human eyes and fingers have bee all over census data...

      > the privacy of their census data is the least of their problems.

      That isn't the only issue at stake. Unthinking cloud usage reduces our local IT capabilities so that when it is important, we no longer have an industry capable of executing. We also shouldn't be throwing cash at companies making such mistakes. If it were a custom local software instance there's a chance to get it fixed. One of the problems with cloud is that all customers are unimportant.

  7. mark 177


    El Reg, "census" is not a proper noun. It therefore does not have a capital letter.

  8. DanielR

    Take note unscrambled javascript. Everyone can see it. Not secure whatsoever.

    I already told them about that. And they did the same mistake as the I-vote system and remotely load jquery files on the google cdn haha.

  9. Andrew Commons


    This should be considered in this context?

  10. Christoph
    Black Helicopters

    They should worry

    For the last UK census, the forms were processed in the US. With lots of assurances which post-Snowden we know for certain were meaningless.

    So the NSA have a complete copy of the raw UK census data, which they can use to leverage all the other data they grab.

  11. DanielR

    If they want to embrace technology in this "digital government" they should be using blockchain. Countries like Estonia use this for voting and government stuff.

    The system is not secure whatsoever. No bot should be able to access it for instance. They have remotely loaded javascript and the client code is not scrambled.

    I chose paper. They want very detailed information not just name and address, but names of people not at home. Name of employer, their address, the name of your business then of course how much you earn. No relevance to "planning" whatsoever.

    Sure outsourced ATO companies now get all this info so more chance of breaches but so will criminals.

    No questions whatsoever about health, debts, housing, internet.

  12. DanielR

    OK people. Here is in point form what I consider a maybe breach of security and privacy. Pretty much setting up people to be targeted not only by corporations but criminals.

    1) name

    2) address (they ask about the address multiple times even though the code and form has the address in it. lol

    3) How much they earn

    4) The workplace name

    5) The workplace address

    6) A persons business name.

    I don't believe there is a single question in here that is useful whatsoever for planning. A massive waste of $500 million. A wasted opportunity.

    We should see truthful information here like how much people spend on food, debts with banks, debts with utilities, how shit their faulty copper NBN is, housing affordability, multiple pages on health, etc etc.

    The bulk is asking useless information that breaches personal security and has no worth whatsoever other than corporate and criminal interests.

    The Christian lobby will find it useful where to attack and infiltrate next in areas with large amount of "no religion" responses.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I used real data for the bits that they knew anyway or which they can find by looking in the phonebook or asking our local post office (we live in tiny population rural Aus). Lied on salary, religion and for place of work I told them that my employer has not given me leave to publish that.

  13. Woza

    Not conclusive

    Perhaps I missed it in the article, but I don't see how data not being decrypted in the browser implies that the data is stored as plaintext. The same observations could be made if data at rest *is* encrypted, but is decrypted server-side before being sent over TLS.

    It's certainly possible that IBM / ABS / whoever *is* storing data unencrypted, but this isn't sufficient evidence to prove that claim.

    1. claude191

      Re: Not conclusive

      If the data arrives in plain-text at the browser-end of a TLS tunnel, it must therefore have entered the tunnel at the server-end as plain-text. Since the TLS tunnel terminates at IBM, ergo, IBM must have access to the plain-text.

      As far as I can see, you are correct that this is NOT evidence of it being "at rest" in plain-text. But it is evidence that someone other than the ABS has access to this data.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My name is Sue

    How do you do?

  15. TheOtherMe

    What Data?

    Given the epic failure of the site that has prevented most of us Aussies from actually completing the silly thing, there is no data to worry about.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020