Data provided by iNet BFA
Loading...
See More

Cyber attacks could wreck world oil supply

Dec 08 2011 17:43 Reuters

Related Articles

Sony detects network breach again

Hacker group hits Apple

Sega users hit by cyber attack

Hacking drives cyberinsurance demand

Spain arrests Sony hackers

Murdoch's Sun newspaper website hacked

 
Doha - Hackers are bombarding the world’s computer controlled energy sector, conducting industrial espionage and threatening potential global havoc through oil supply disruption.

Oil company executives warned that attacks are becoming more frequent and more carefully planned.

“If anybody gets into the area where you can control opening and closing of valves, or release valves, you can imagine what happens,” said Ludolf Luehmann, an IT manager at Shell Europe’s biggest company.

“It will cost lives and it will cost production, it will cost money, cause fires and cause loss of containment, environmental damage - huge, huge damage,” he told the World Petroleum Congress in Doha.

Computers control nearly all the world’s energy production and distribution in systems that are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks that could put cutting-edge fuel production technology in rival company hands.

“We see an increasing number of attacks on our IT systems and information and there are various motivations behind it - criminal and commercial,” said Luehmann. “We see an increasing number of attacks with clear commercial interests, focusing on research and development to gain the competitive advantage.”

He said the Stuxnet computer worm discovered in 2010, the first found that was specifically designed to subvert industrial systems, changed the world of international oil companies because it was the first visible attack to have a significant impact on process control.

But the determination and stamina shown by hackers when they attack industrial systems and companies has now stepped up a gear, and there has been a surge in multi-pronged attacks to break into specific operation systems within producers, he said.

“Cyber crime is a huge issue. It’s not restricted to one company or another it’s really broad and it is ongoing,” said Dennis Painchaud, director of International Government Relations at Canada’s Nexen. “It is a very significant risk to our business.

“It’s something that we have to stay on top of every day. It is a risk that is only going to grow and is probably one of the preeminent risks that we face today and will continue to face for some time.”

Luehmann said hackers were increasingly staging attack over long periods, silently collecting information over weeks or months before attacking specific targets within company operations with the information they have collected over a long period.

“It’s a new dimension of attacks that we see in Shell,” he said.

Not in control

In October, security software maker Symantec Corp said it had found a mysterious virus that contained code similar to Stuxnet, called Duqu, which experts say appears designed to gather data to make it easier to launch future cyber attacks.

Other businesses can shut down their IT systems to regularly install rapidly breached software security patches and update vulnerable operating systems. But energy companies cannot keep taking down plants to patch up security holes.

“Oil needs to keep on flowing,” said Riemer Brouwer, head of IT security at Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations .

“We have a very strategic position in the global oil and gas market,” he said. “If they could bring down one of the big players in the oil and gas market you can imagine what this will do for the oil price - it would blow the market.”

Hackers could finance their operations by using options markets to bet on the price movements caused by disruptions, Brouwer said.

“So far we haven’t had any major incidents,” he said. “But are we really in control? The answer has to be ’no’.”

Oil prices usually rise whenever tensions escalate over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme - itself thought to be the principal target of the Stuxnet worm and which has already identified Duqu infections - due to concern that oil production or exports from the Middle East could be affected by any conflict.

But the threat of a coordinated attack on energy installations across the world is also real, experts say, and unlike a blockade of the Gulf can be launched from anywhere, with no US military might in sight and little chance of finding the perpetrator.

“We know that the Straits of Hormuz are of strategic importance to the world,” said Stephan Klein of business application software developer SAP.

“What about the approximately 80 million barrels that are processed through IT systems?,” said Klein, SAP vice-president of oil and gas operations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Attacks like Stuxnet are so complex that few organisations in the world are able to set them up, said Gordon Muehl, chief security officer at Germany’s SAP, but it was still too simple to attack industries over the internet.

Only a few years ago hacking was confined to skilled computer programmers, but thanks to online video tutorials, breaking into corporate operating systems is now a free-for-all.

“Everyone can hack today,” Shell’s Luehmann said. “The number of potential hackers is not a few very skilled people - it’s everyone.”
espionage  |  energy sector  |  oil  |  hackers
NEXT ON FIN24X

 
 
 

Read Fin24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Company Snapshot

We're talking about:

Small Business

A cash flow crunch often occurs in small businesses trying to balance cash coming in with cash going out. Watch this video to help you improve.
 
 

This is what banks do with your money

Gone are the days of saving cash under your mattress. Banks are now the custodians of your precious pennies, but what do they do with them?

 
 

Start saving...

Time the key for retirement saving
Dummy's guide to saving
Save money with affordable account
All about endowments

Money Clinic

Money Clinic
Do you have a question about your finances? We'll get an expert opinion.
Click here...
Loading...