While terrorist threats dominate the headlines and occupy the thoughts of many security experts, cyber attacks can pose just as great a threat to public safety and economic growth. The energy industry is especially susceptible to these dangers due to the highly volatile nature of the business. The control systems that govern oil extraction, petrochemical processing and power production can potentially be seized by unfriendly parties and used to damage valuable infrastructure or to cause harm to workers and members of the public. Conducting a thorough oil and gas risk assessment can provide added help for companies in combating these types of attacks in the modern business world.
Two Primary Types of Threats
Energy companies are subject to two basic categories of cyber threats:
- Like other businesses, oil and gas company networks can be breached by intruders seeking to access trade secrets, sensitive financial information or client data. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks also fall into this category and can severely impact daily administrative activities for companies in Texas, across the U.S. and world.
- The second type of attack involves a much higher potential for damage and destruction. By taking control of operating systems that include software, sensors and monitoring equipment, cyber terrorists could cause chemical spills, accidents and explosions that could threaten the lives of thousands of people in the vicinity of these attacks.
Planning ahead to prevent both of these types of cyber threats can allow companies in the energy industry to operate with greater confidence while protecting their clients and the general public against serious risks.
Securing the Cyber Infrastructure
Although protections against attacks on administrative networks are readily available from information technology firms, preventing access to operational networks that control systems in the production environment is a relatively new area in the cyber security field. Wireless technologies are often used to maintain connectivity among components used in oil fields and petrochemical plants. These networks may be vulnerable to attacks from motivated hackers interested in interrupting operations and causing damage to facilities and installations. Without continuing attention to security issues involving administrative and operational systems, energy companies could face serious problems from hackers and cyberterrorists in the near future.
Where Do the Threats Come From?
Oil and gas companies could be targeted by a number of different groups originating in the U.S. or around the world:
- Domestic terror groups may see energy companies as an easy target that can provide high profile exposure for their agendas.
- Environmental extremists may also seek to disrupt production by hacking into oil company networks.
- An assessment published in the Journal of International Security Affairs in December 2003 warned that oil and gas drilling and refining sites were among the highest value targets available to proponents of terrorism. Extremists around the world may see oil pipelines, drilling operations and other energy producing activities as a chance to achieve maximum damage to the U.S. economy while inflicting harm on individuals working and living near these facilities.
Education is an important key for companies looking to prevent these sorts of attacks. Understanding the nature of the threat can be the first step toward effective protection for operational and administrative networks.
IT Education and Beyond
Investing in advanced training for employees can ensure that all aspects of oil extraction and processing activities are handled in accordance with best practices. Petroleum economics training, for example, can help in budgeting funds and managing accounting issues associated with the energy industry. Oil and gas reserves evaluation coursework can also provide valuable perspective on SEC compliance issues and forecast models. Most importantly, perhaps, oil and gas risk management software and training can assist in evaluating threats to the security of facilities and operations and addressing them effectively. This can allow energy firms to protect their financial interests, their employees and the public interest.
By working with a Houston company that specializes in software and educational programs designed specifically for the oil industry, businesses in the energy sector can ensure the highest degree of efficiency and safety even in the face of threats from hackers and terrorists at home and abroad.