NSW minister apologises for website hack comments

Fails to say whether he verified the claims himself but sacks company maintaining the website in question

The NSW transport minister, David Campbell, has apologised for suggesting a government website was hacked by Sydney Morning Herald journalists.

The website at the heart of the controversial hacking claim was taken down earlier this week.

The website, nswtransportblueprint.com.au/project, contained the details of the state government’s Transport Blueprint proposals, which were revealed after Sydney Morning Herald journalists accessed the site.

In an article, the journalists claimed the site was freely accessible by the public.

In an initial speech to Parliament, Campbell said the company which was responsible for the website, Bang the Table, had said it was secured and had experienced 3727 unauthorised hits on the website's firewall over a two-day period.

“I am advised by Bang the Table that at no time was the website available to casual viewers,” Campbell said.

“On the advice provided by Bang the Table, it seems that the only way to enter the site was to hack into it. And allegedly someone did. It was not a one-off but a concerted effort.”

But in an embarrassing back flip, Campbell last night issued an apology to Parliament, sacked Bang the Table, and called on the company to also apologise.

He did not, however, apologise to the Sydney Morning Herald journalists or acknowledge a failure to check the full situation himself before making his initial accusations in parliament.

In his statement, Campbell referenced a statement by Bang the Table that claimed a police investigation was underway into a "sustained and automated attempt" by "unknown persons to break the security of the Shape Your State website, prior to its public release".

Campbell said the Bang the Table statement went on to say that while "security was in place on the front page of the site, clearly it was not sufficient to prevent the internal content being accessed".

"On the basis of this statement, the Government has lost confidence in Bang the Table and will terminate arrangements with the company," Campbell said. "It is because questions were raised about the Government's ability to protect information that I spoke in the House yesterday.

"It is now clear that Bang the Table not only did not protect the security of the Government's information, it also provided wrong advice to the Government about its security measures. This is completely unacceptable to the Government. I made yesterday's statement in good faith and based on information provided to me by Bang the Table. That information was wrong and, accordingly, I apologise. Now it is time for Bang the Table to apologise."

According to Sydney Morning Herald editor, Peter Fray, the information on the NSW public transport blueprint was freely and publicly available on Friday afternoon, February 19.

It did not require a password to access; users just had to enter the web address.

Campbell did not say whether he had attempted to verify these statements by the Sydney Morning Herald.

The case is one in a string of technology faux pas by politicians. Earlier this month, the Federal Opposition communications minister Tony Smith has suffered a minor embarrassment when his official personal website was taken offline by its host, Network Solution.

Visitors to tonysmithmp.com were directed to a landing page which informed the user that Smith’s site expired on 12 February 2010 and was pending renewal or deletion. The site has since been reinstated.

Prior to that, shadow finance minister, Barnaby Joyce was unable to grasp the intricacies and severity of the denial of service attack on government websites carried out under the name Anonymous.

“Who are these creeps? Why do we even have to discuss it? Just knock it out,” Joyce said, speaking on ABC TV’s Q&A program.

“These people are horrible creepy bits of work — get rid of them. Get them off the Internet.”

And the Twitter account linked to the NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, was compromised, revealing the state government was "open to donations" following the denial of bribery allegations of a Labor official.

The revelation was part of a prank, rather than a confession, after a crafty Twitter user snapped up Keneally's jettisoned Twitter account @premierofnsw, which remained as a link on the Premier's official website.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, while not suffering any technological mishaps, has displayed a lack of care with his own blog by only writing five posts in eight months, despite making a big push to support Web 2.0 technologies in government to achieve greater transparency in its dialogue with the public.

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