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The evolution of cyber threats to the oil and gas sector

Nov 20, 2016
5 min read
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Eric Eifert, Senior Vice President of Managed Security Services at DarkMatter, looks at the everchanging nature of cyber security threats 

Can you give us an idea of the scale of cyber security threats for oil and gas fi rms here in the GCC? 

Threats in this critical industry are signifi cant and diverse. Companies in the sector face a range of risks from the standard ones concerning loss of sensitive and proprietary information to the more elaborate risks that could impact operations through attacks against industrial control systems. We have seen competitors target information as simple as a list of customers to something more complex like the chemical formulas for a gasoline additive or their mineral exploration investment strategy. Different areas of the oil and gas business are often of interest to different types of threat actors and this means the threat landscape can be vast to include corporate IT infrastructures in headquarters and regional offi ces, production, distribution, and refi ning facilities, and remote locations with various communication mediums. 

How well prepared is the Middle East to deal with the threat from cyber criminals?

The region is rapidly recognising its level of vulnerability to cyber attack and working to improve its overall posture. Energy fi rms in particular underpin the GCC economy and as more systems become interconnected with the Internet, they can be targeted by a host of threat actors to include cyber criminals. We see two main areas of concern facing the Middle East as it relates to cyber criminals. The fi rst is theft of information that can be sold to those interested in obtaining this information through illegal means. The second is cyber extortion where cyber criminals are leveraging threats to disrupt or deny service if a ransom is not paid. We have seen challenges in the Middle East related to data security. Many organisations do not know where their critical information resides or if it is appropriately protected when at rest or in motion. Related to the cyber ransom issue we have seen some great initiatives to build cyber resilience within smart cities and critical infrastructure organisations. 

Do you think that companies in the region currently invest enough in cyber security?
We see a growing amount of investment in cyber security in the sector, however the maturity of the cyber security programmes in the region is lower than other places around the world. Companies need to understand their risk profi le and develop a comprehensive strategy of building the appropriate mitigation strategies to reduce or eliminate their cyber risks. We believe additional investment needs to be made to enhance and mature the cyber security programmes in the region.

What trends are you noticing in the cyber security sector?
We have witnessed a paradigm shift in cyber attacks over the last few years: Attacks have moved from focusing on stealing confi dential information for fi nancial gain and reputational damage, to manipulating complex systems to produce real-world effects. Increasingly, industrial control systems are linked to the wider Internet. While this has increased effi ciency, enabled the collection and analysis of performance data and allowed remote maintenance, it now provides a conduit for malicious interference.

What predictions do you have for the sector over the next year to 18 months?
We predict that attacks on critical infrastructure including oil and gas distribution systems, power grid, fi nancial markets, air traffi c controllers’ networks, nuclear power plants and satellites represent a clear and present danger to economies and countries around the world. The danger is particularly acute within the GCC where an attack on critical national infrastructure could pose a threat to the economy and physical well-being of tens of millions of people.

What new technologies are you particularly excited about in the industry at the moment?
From a cyber security perspective, we see signifi cant potential for technologies such as blockchain and big data analytics helping in the creation of greater effi ciencies across sectors. We believe we face a challenging time in the future but with the right planning, commitment to innovation and sensible best practices, energy companies can mitigate, if not completely prevent, cyber security attacks. It is the responsibility of both the private and public sectors working together to ensure infrastructure as vital as oil and gas platforms is not just defended from attacks but shielded from criminals and hostile predators.

This interview first appeared in the November issue of Pipeline Magazine

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