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Eyal Mesika - Security Issues in the Upstream Oil Industry

Posted by Eyal Mesika - EMI Systems Limited

19-Apr-2017


An Essential Industry Left Vulnerable

Of the many industries in the world, the oil and gas industry has the most influence on other commodities and markets. While the world remains completely dependent on these organic sources of energy, all stages of the energy production process are undergoing major technological disruption. The upstream oil sector, which is responsible for oil and gas exploration and production, is vital to the world's supply of energy and to global economy. Like most essential industries, it is also vulnerable to a variety of threats and challenges, especially while it is experiencing such significant change. 

Automation Is Always Risky

The safety and vitality of any industry depend on a number of factors. As the dependence on technology is increasing in the upstream sector, many cyber vulnerability issues are coming to surface. However, despite being vital to the general safety of this industry, cyber security remains largely undeveloped in the upstream sector. This leaves many exploration and production companies at risk of critical infrastructural damage by means of cyber-sabotage or system shutdowns; the delicate processes of exploration, extraction, and production could be interrupted and utilities could be damaged. In a high-risk industry like oil and gas, breaches of this sort could easily lead to grievous results, causing injuries and even deaths. Nearly every system is vulnerable to some form of exploitation. The question is what repercussions can be expected, and the answer in this case leaves a rather bleak outlook.

Some Examples

One of the most infamous examples of cyber violence used against an oil and gas company occurred in 2012 when 30,000 computers belonging to the Saudi oil company Aramco were hacked and infected with a virus that wreaked utter havoc. The attack was designed to stop oil and gas production in Saudi Arabia, and the hackers nearly succeeded. In the same year, Telvant, a Canadian company that supplies administration and monitoring software to the petroleum sector discovered that its security systems had been breached and that files related to a remote administration tool were stolen, giving the attackers access to vital information. 

Security Issues Looming Upstream

There are many business management software solutions on the market these days and they are constantly evolving and adapting to industry needs. More and more companies in various fields and industries, including the oil industry, are adopting these tools as part of their work routine. Administration and monitoring software of this sort is used by approximately 90% of leading oil companies around the world. While these programs help improve order and efficiency, they may also increase vulnerability, as they have 'backdoors' that could potentially enable hackers to break into the companies' IT systems. These security gaps are unavoidable, and all major business management software producers offer various forms of protection: strong firewalls, anti-threat systems and application security. They have cybersecurity teams constantly working on new and improved ways to detect potential threats and caveats, and protect their clients' information.

Nonetheless, when an upstream company chooses to install such software, it should consider the risks of integrating its internal data with an external system and take the necessary precautions. It doesn't matter how safeguarded the data management programs are, together with their many advantages, cloud based systems always carry an inherent potential risk.

Therefore, it is important to work with a well-established company that has experience and expertise not only in data management but also in cybersecurity.  It is also highly recommended to conduct rigorous risk analysis prior to system integration and to maintain a highly professional tech team in-house. At EMI Advanced Technologies Ltd., a subsidiary of the Nigeria based EMI Systems Group, we also provide advanced data protection that is specifically tailored to answer the dynamic and complex security needs of the oil and gas sector.  

Technology is no doubt benefiting the petroleum industry, but innovation walks hand in hand with risk. Yes, cyber security solutions are developing and improving, but it is vital to stay alert and educated in order to keep our information, resources, products, and most importantly - our people, safe.

EMI Systems LimitedCyber SecurityEyal MesikaNigeria