Enterprise import data exposed by Customs system

The Australian Customs Service has admitted some users have been able to access and view each other's import documentation under the latest phase of its beleaguered new Integrated Cargo System, despite security assessment under Defence Signals Directorate's I-RAP (Infosec-Registered Assessor Program).

ICS Imports is the final and largest component of Customs' decade-long, $200 million overhaul of its cargo processing systems and went live on October 12, 2005.

A Web-based transactional portal running into IBM zSeries mainframes with PKI certificates for authentication, the ICS processes Customs clearances for cargo entering and leaving Australia, with customers required by law to use the system.

ICS Imports, and its Customs Interactive front end, also replaces the Compile sea cargo system which was largely based on hardwired, electronic data interchange (EDI) terminals.

Angry users contacted Computerworld complaining they have been able to view sensitive details of each other's import data, with one user claiming to have seen data on imports from a car manufacturer.

Asking not to be named for legal reasons, one Customs customer described the incident as "a major compromise", adding that he anticipated users will this afternoon berate Customs Minister Chris Ellison and will threaten to sue his agency in the event sensitive commercial information has leaked as a result of sloppy security.

"This is really not good at all," the source said.

Customs CIO Murray Harrison told Computerworld he was aware of some "very isolated cases" where customers had seen each other's data; however, denied sensitive commercial information had been compromised.

"We understand there was an issue, but the fix is in. There is no general issue that people can see each other's data," he said.

Conceding ICS imports had been assessed in line with I-RAP security standards, Harrison said the problem had been fixed; investigations as to how the problem arose in the first instance were under way.

Customs' admission that users can see each other's details adds an ironic twist to a week of bitter complaints from customs brokers and freight forwarders who struggled to clear containers through the new system, because of strict new data hygiene requirements.

Thousands of containers are currently stranded at Australian ports following the much-anticipated cutover to ICS imports on October 12 after the new system started automatically rejecting en-masse electronic clearance requests generated by shippers, because of poor data quality.

While Customs has spent the last two years warning industry that its new system will automatically reject any numerical variation in electronic clearance documentation, it appears both the agency and industry grossly under estimated how strict new data-hygiene requirements would be.

Put simply, the new system is purposely designed, for security reasons, to tolerate no variations as small as a single digit or character in item numbers generated by highly disparate systems in shipping lines and freight forwarders.

Subsequently, if document numbers required to clear sea cargo - specifically Ocean Bills (also called a Bill of Loading or a Weigh Bill), House Bills and Voyage Numbers - incur variations while being processed by non-Customs systems, the entire transaction is rejected.

Additionally, transaction numbers cannot be amended on-the-fly in the new system, and require users to withdraw clearance requests and re-enter them, which then results in the request going to the end of the processing queue.

Under the Customs' previous sea cargo system, Compile, a degree of fuzzy matching and fault tolerance was accepted to compensate for inconsistencies in data provided by shippers.

Whether ships will be turned away from Australian ports as industry reaches a compromise with the government will be decided at a meeting with the Minister today.

Minister claims ports at a standstill

NSW Ports Minister Eric Roozendaal said today Port Botany was at 90 percent capacity and space was "rapidly diminishing" as a result of the cargo system problems.

He said the industry estimates cargo clearance rates at Port Botany and Melbourne - two of the nation's most important ports - are down to 30 percent of normal levels because of the new system.

"Almost two months before Christmas, Port Botany is almost full and delays are at critical levels for products coming into NSW's busiest port," Roozendaal said in a statement.

"There couldn't be a worse time to introduce a new computer system."

More than 2000 containers are unloaded at the port daily, but it has capacity for only 20,000 at a time.

Roozendaal said more than $100 million of trade moved through Port Botany each day, and called on the federal government to fix the problem immediately.