2016 Census Overview

2016 Census Overview

The 2016 Census was Australia's 17th national Census of Population and Housing with more than 95% of Australians participating. Since 2006 the Census has offered an on-line option with 2016 being the first Census to be digital first.

Snapshot of Australia

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The 2016 Census was held on 9 August 2016 and counted almost 10 million dwellings and 23.4 million people across Australia.

What happened on Census night?

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Online capacity met demand
2.2 million households completed the online form successfully prior to the Census night outage. Australians accessing the online form did not cause a system failure, submission rates were within expectations and load capacity.

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DDoS Attacks
On Census night, 9 August 2016, the online form suffered a series of outages due to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

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Hardware Failure
An attempt to restore the system during the fourth DDoS attack led to the failure of one of our supplier’s routers, compounding network issues.

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Monitoring Systems
Network performance monitoring systems indicated there was unusual outbound traffic from our systems. It was later determined this was a system monitoring error and there was no unusual outbound traffic from the system.

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No information accessed
The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) reported the incident was a DDoS attack and it did not result in any unauthorised access to, or extraction of, any personal information.

What we did about i

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Online Form Closed
At the time, we were unable to determine if the unusual outbound traffic from our systems was malicious or benign. We took decisive action to close the online form to protect the privacy of the Australian public

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Pro-privacy Approach
In a
statement on 11 August 2016, the Australian Privacy Commissioner (and Acting Australian Information Commissioner) said that our decision to shut down the online form was, in the circumstances, a pro-privacy precaution and was satisfied that personal information was not inappropriately accessed, lost or mishandled.

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Online Form Reopened
We reopened the online form to the Australian public, 1 day 18 hours and 44 minutes after we took the decision to close the online form. During this time we implemented protocols to lessen the risk of any further outages.

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Sorry Australia
We apologised to the Australian public. Thanks to their overwhelming support and participation, we received a total of 4.9 million online submissions and 3.5 million paper forms - with 63.3% of participants completing their Census form online.

Accessing 2016 Census data

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11 April 2017
A preview of the 2016 Census results was published on the ABS website giving insight into what makes the
‘typical’ Australian at the national and state/territory level, showing what has changed over time.

27 June 2017
The first
comprehensive Census dataset was released including national, State/Territory and capital city data for selected key person, family and dwelling characteristics including age, sex, religion, language and income. Community level Census data is available. Census data quality statements and the Independent Assurance Panel report were also released at this time.

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October 2017
Detailed Census data was released on employment, qualifications and population mobility, including journey to work and internal migration.

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We provided access to important Census data through release of the Australia Census Longitudinal Dataset, Homelessness Estimates, Census Microdata, Socio-Economic Indexes For Areas (SEIFA) and commuting distance.

Learning from the experience

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Organisational Transformation
We are undergoing a major
transformation at the ABS, recognising that we need to continue delivering high quality statistics including Census data, while taking advantage of new information opportunities, strengthening our partnerships, and driving high performance. We're applying learnings from the Census to enhance our transformation and were able to showcase some of these learnings in our successful conduct of the Australian Marriage Law Survey in 2017.

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Special Adviser to the Prime Minister
The Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security undertook a
review of the events surrounding the outage of the online Census form. We accepted and have implemented the recommendations.

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Australian Senate
The Senate Economics References Committee conducted an
inquiry into our preparation, administration and management of the 2016 Census. The Government tabled its response to the findings of the Committee, addressing the recommendations raised in their report.

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2021 Census

The ABS is planning the next Census and is committed to the production of high quality statistics from the Census.

oSource: Review of the events surrounding the 2016 eCensus: Improving institutional cyber security culture and practices across the Australian government—Alastair MacGibbon, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security—Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—13 October 2016