ATO apologises to super industry for IT outage, says lessons being learned

The ATO Commissioner has apologised to the superannuation industry, among others, for recent IT outages.

With the release of the ATO systems report, the Commissioner said: “We are very mindful of the disruption that the outages caused the community and our key stakeholders – tax practitioners, the superannuation industry and software providers – and I apologise again for the inconvenience that has been experienced.”

“The system outages that we experienced in December 2016 and February 2017 were unexpected and to our knowledge unprecedented. I can also say that in no way did our new products and services under our reinvention program cause the outages.”

According to the report, in the design of the IT system, there was a “relative focus on performance,” as compared to stability, resilience and cost.

“Some resilience features were incorporated into this design, but did not contemplate or anticipate the specific combination of events that resulted in these incidents, which to our knowledge are unprecedented,” says the report.

The ATO believes that a stressed fibre optic cable issue was a “major contributor to this outage,” though it was also the result of the “compound impact” of different failures and issues.

“It is important to reiterate that our systems were not subject to external attack. In addition, we have confirmed that we have found no evidence of any lost taxpayer data as a result of these outages,” says the ATO.

The December incident started at 12.40 am and by 3.35 am the same say day met the “ATO specified conditions for categorisation as a Priority 1 incident”. However it was “not escalated to this level until around 7.00am that morning”.

“The lessons from these IT incidents are already being implemented in the ATO. Our storage system has been rebuilt to world class levels of both performance and resilience.”

“Our contract service providers, HPE and DXC Technology, continue their forensic investigations into the root causes of these outages, including laboratory testing of decommissioned equipment. If these tests suggest significantly different issues we will provide an addendum to this report.”

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