Census concerns well founded: CSU cybersecurity expert

Wednesday 3 Aug 2016

Dr Tanveer ZiaConcerns regarding the security of information posted online for this year's census are well founded, says a cybersecurity expert at Charles Sturt University (CSU).

Associate Head of the School of Computing and Mathematics and cybersecurity expert, Associate Professor Tanveer Zia, is concerned that computer 'hackers' could 'crack' the security measures put in place by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to safeguard information posted by Australian residents.

"In this year's census, identifying information such as names and addresses of people will be retained, unlike previous years where any identifying information of respondents was destroyed. To address concerns for confidentiality, however, this identifying data will be stored separately from the rest of the data," Professor Zia said.

"The ABS has assured the public that this online data is secure, but if hackers get both sets of data, they could match up both data sets using powerful analytical techniques and then be able to identify people. 

"This data could provide criminals with considerable scope for illegal activity, from identity theft to robbery."

Professor Zia also has concerns that a rogue or disgruntled ABS employee might pass on identifying data to someone outside ABS for financial gain. A previous security breach from inside the ABS prompted a major investigation into insider trading in 2014.

Professor Zia also pointed out that people are often posting much more personal information on their online social networks than what is being collected in the census.

"The concern begins with whether the collection of personal information is voluntary or mandatory. When people are compelled by a government to provide personal information, there is an inherent discomfort of being under surveillance and a lack of privacy," he said. 

"I believe the federal government and particularly the ABS need to better educate the public about the need for collecting identifying data.

"Interestingly, businesses face far greater consequences if consumer's personal data collected by them is 'breached'. Will a government department face the same sanctions if a similar breach happens on their watch?" Professor Zia said.


Media contact: Wes Ward, 0417 125 795

Media Note:

For interviews with and pictures of Associate Professor Tanveer Zia, who is based at CSU in Wagga Wagga, contact CSU Media.