The MyGov website crashed on Monday as thousands of newly unemployed Australians tried to register for Centrelink payments.
People queued at Centrelink offices around the country on Monday and slammed the MyGov website – an online portal for accessing Government services like Centrelink, Medicare, and the ATO – following the announcement that Jobseeker (formerly Newstart) payments would be doubled as part of a second $66 billion coronavirus stimulus package.
This combined with a sudden rise employment as many businesses closed their doors to limit the spread of the virus, caused an unprecedented demand for Centrelink services.
Minister for Government Services, Stuart Robert, fronted a press conference on Monday afternoon to confirm that MyGov was experiencing higher-than-usual demand.
He also added that, “unfortunately, this morning we also suffered a distributed server attack on our main channels, which highlights other threats are still there”.
Admins on the Services Australia Facebook page pleaded for patience from frustrated citizens.
In question time, leader of the opposition, Anthony Albanese, questioned Robert on the MyGov performance, causing the minister to backtrack on his claim that there was a DDoS attack.
“The MyGov website was down this morning,” Albanese said. “Was this because it was only limited to allow access to a certain number of people at a time, or was there another reason?”
Robert said the high number of users triggered cybersecurity warnings and caused the website to slow down.
“The advice given to me this morning was that MyGov attracted 95,000 users at 9.40am this morning, triggering DDOS alarms,” Robert said.
“The system is designed for 55,000 and was seeing an average of 6,500 users last week.”
Centrelink queue snakes around the block in Capalaba, Queensland. Image: Twitter
Robert also said during questions that an investigation into the DDoS alarm triggers showed “no evidence of a specific attack today” and that the multiple alarms mean “network alert status is currently high”.
Albanese said Robert had lied in his earlier statement and said the MyGov website debacle "wasn't a cyber attack, it was an incompetence attack".
Labor criticised the handling of what Shadow Ministers Bill Shorten and Linda Burney called an “entirely foreseeable” demand for the website.
“Government services minister Stuart Robert must do better,” Shorten and Burney said in a joint statement.
“He must ensure Centrelink services – online and in person – are working now when Australians need them most.”
This is not the first time a department underestimated the load on digital services and blamed a ‘cyber attack’.
Back in 2016, the census website went down on census night, despite repeated assurances that it would cope with the load.
After first warning that the website crashed because of four separate attacks, both the then-Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and then-Treasurer, Scott Morrison, sought to reassure the general public that their data hadn’t been immediately compromised during the first online census.