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Some Simple Mathematics

August 11, 2016

Census 2016, as every Aussie knows by now, was a complete fuck-up. Exactly how it became such a fuck-up, we’ll find out at some point in the future (hopefully).

With tech experts casting doubt on the claim that the Census website came under attack from overseas hackers, let us look at some basic numbers that suggest a simple overload may to blame for Tuesday night’s debacle.

*There are 7.3 million internet connections in Australia

*The Census website claimed to able to handle 1 million requests every hour

*Exact figures a sketchy, but it seems that around one-third of Australians took the option of filling out the Census early, or applied for a paper form

So roughly two-thirds of the country were to do the online form on Tuesday night, meaning that about 5 million submissions were to be made to the Census site. That would be no problem if submissions were spread evenly between, say, 6m and midnight, but that was never going to be the case.

It’s winter here in Oz, with darkness setting in around 5 to 6pm in most places (noting that Perth is 2 hours behind the eastern seaboard). With most people sitting down for dinner around 6 to 7pm, the period between 7 to 8pm was always going to be the peak time for the Census site. It’s no surprise that the plug was pulled at 7.30pm.

Given that there were undoubtedly attacks on the site, a breakdown was inevitable. But even if every would-be hacker had been flown to the Moon on Monday, the ABS were relying on a statistical fluke (!) for the whole thing to run smoothly. It’s just not good enough that the ABS would be so cavalier with our personal information.

** The ABS has released some information about what happened on Census night



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