A “major breach” of Australia’s Parliament House computer network partly contributed to a $600,000 cost blowout and 12-month delay in constructing the newly designed parliament website which is due to launch to the public this Friday evening.
The figure and breach was revealed in senate estimates yesterday by parliamentary librarian Roxanne Missingham and President of the Senate John Hogg, who reported that the total cost of the new aph.gov.au site, which was meant to go live February 2011, had so far come to about $3.1 million.
The cost blowout and delayed launch follows a botched IT upgrade deployed in December, which brought the parliament site down for 3 days, and attacks on the website by the loose-knit hacking collective Anonymous over Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s internet filtering policy.
The new site – which people inside parliament have had access to since the middle of January this year – replaces the current one which has been in place for 12 years, according to Missingham, and will offer “significant new functionality”.
Such functionality will allow members of the public to track bills through parliament, be alerted when their local senator or member gives a speech in parliament, and allow for information on it to be found more easily, she said.
But costs to get the new website up and running had blown out due to the “complexity of various aspects” such as “delays from undertaking security”, Missingham revealed when questioned by Labor senator John Faulkner in senate estimates.
“In September we put in additional funding of $153,750 to upgrade the platform, complete system testing, do the security testing, and rework content and data,” she said. “Additional funding was also allocated in May. That funding was $461,300.”
She said there were a number of issues in “regression testing” that were found and that “reworking of aspects of the website” due to business requirement changes also contributed to the delay and cost blowout. Three rounds of security analysis on the website were also done to “make sure that it will not be hacked”.
“I think you could say that the delays and the additional costs were as a result of increased complexity of the solution that we needed, increased security testing and an increase in the work that was done compared with what we had anticipated when we initiated the project,” Missingham said.
President of the Senate, John Hogg, said part of the delay and need for additional money to be spent on the new website was caused by “a major breach of the security of the system externally from [Parliament House]“.
“That occurred in December 2010,” he said, and put “additional costs on IT right throughout [parliament]“.
The major breach, which Hogg said was “well and truly beyond” parliament’s control, was a “security intrusion into the system from an external source, and not just on one occasion but on a number of occasions”.
“That caused grave concern about people’s privacy with the information they have here and people’s ability to access information into the system.”
He said for some reason that he did not understand, it seemed that there were “a group of people out there who try to interfere in people’s systems, not just here but in the corporate world as well, by hacking into the systems”. It was something he said he was “constantly raising with people from other parliaments” both when they visited Australia and when an Australian delegation was visiting them, “to see what attempts they are making to block unwarranted access to their information”.
Senator Faulkner appeared unimpressed by the cost blowout and delay in launching the website, asking Hogg how “another balls-up” could be avoided. Hogg said he hoped that delays would not occur into the future by overcoming “security aspects” now.