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May 19 2022 | by Denlon John Dsouza

Top Cyber Security Challenges Facing the Energy - Oil and Gas Sector 

“The energy industry is especially vulnerable to cyberattacks” - The Wall Street Journal 

The worldwide economy is heavily dependent on the energy industry. The sector comprises a wide array of services in oil extraction, manufacturing, gas, and renewable energy. Being such a crucial cog in the world economic machine, serious concerns have always persisted if ample cybersecurity measures are in place for this vulnerable sector or not.  

Geopolitics brought the subject back into the headlines. The recent attack on Ukraine’s energy sector has been a  wake-up call for energy companies across the globe to safeguard their businesses. Many business leaders are focusing on their ability to secure their systems, data, and networks before a malicious element could cause devastating damage through cyberattacks. Since various other sub-sectors like transportation, telecommunication, finance, etc. depend on the energy industry, any major interruptions within the energy sector cause an impact on the economy too. 

In this article, we look into the cybersecurity measures and strategies that oil and gas companies can proactively take to not fall prey to the attackers out there. 

Potential cyber threats in the energy sector and the evolution over time 

With rampant digital transformation taking over systems, workflows, and processes in the energy industry and especially in the oil and gas systems, the doors have opened to all kinds of cyberattacks. The consequences of these attacks range from interruption of services to production disruption and could even lead up to the shutting down of the manufacturing plant too.  

The energy industry’s systems too, like the rest of them, are internet-dependent and smarter compared to the situation a decade ago. These smart-systems mostly store sensitive information and real-time data about the internal workings of the company. But when companies employ weak cybersecurity strategies or frameworks, this sensitive data can be easily accessed by attackers using the internet and can malign the company’s image.  

Consequences of a cyberattack in the oil and gas industry 

There have been various instances around the globe, where cybercriminals targeted the energy industry for financial gains or to harm the industry’s trust with their customers. A recent ransomware attack that took place in the US in 2021 shut down a major oil and gas pipeline that affected petroleum distribution to almost half of the country.  

Cyberattacks can cause some serious complications like: 

  • Manufacturing plant sabotage or shutdown 
  • Production interruptions 
  • Untrackable spills 
  • Disruption of services and operations
  • Data theft by attackers 

To avoid these, industry executives need to work towards implementing effective cyber-strategies and take cybersecurity measures within every segment of their network, which we’ve discussed below. 

Cybersecurity solutions to adopt in the energy industry 

Effective solutions to tackle cyber crimes are not one-size-fits-all policies. Rather, they need to be industry and domain-specific to be effective.  

Here are some approaches to averting cyberattacks and defending against potential attackers specific to the oil and gas and wider energy sector. 

#1. Implementing effective cybersecurity strategies across the value chain 

With the increased digitization of supply services, the energy sector is witnessing an increase in cyber incidents and threats in the up and downstream value chain too. Apart from proactive internal monitoring. Energy company CISOs need to ensure the use of resilient and foolproof cybersecurity strategies in each of the segments of transportation, production, and distribution.  

These strategies should be deemed capable of identifying, detecting, responding, and actively recovering from any potential cyber attack. Operators or the so-called threat agents need to regularly review the company’s infrastructure and processes to ensure the used strategy does its intended job exceptionally well. 

#2. Identifying operators of essential services 

In an extension of the previous point, oil and gas companies need to identify the operators of essential services. They must help point out the weakest links amongst the many interconnected systems that make up the technology ecosystem to protect their own systems too.  

This is a necessary measure to anticipate cyber risks, strategize these areas, and act on them before they cause havoc to the entire landscape. 

#3. Setting up a threat and crisis management system for cyber threats 

In the event of a significant catastrophe, to avoid a high impact on society, the oil and gas industry execs need an emergency plan in place to handle threats. This is critical since here the damage is not restricted to the commercial but could spill over to the lives and livelihood of the regions the company serves. In fact, some scholars suggest that merely days after the oil supply to a region runs out, normal life gets hit. The residents of the US East Coast started facing hours in gas station lines within hours of the Colonial Pipeline being shut down by a ransomware attack. 

This is why having a well-founded and legitimate crisis management system in play becomes crucial. The system is to be ensured with sufficient funding, operators, and resilience to function well. 

#4. Use of a dynamic cyber response framework 

Cyberattacks are unpredictable. There are a variety of threats that emerge every day. To defend against them and stop them from causing exceptional losses in the energy industry, the implementation of an agile, alert, and responsive cyber response framework is by far the most sensible solution.  

In the event of a widespread attack, defending and reducing its impact would be beyond the capabilities of the threat agents within the company. This is when the use of a well-defined framework is highly useful. A typical cyber response framework needs to be tailored to classify cyberattacks, define strategies needed to protect against a threat, and take effective security measures to resolve them on time. 

But the best defense is still prevention. Darktrace is one such proactive framework built to understand the digital landscape of the oil and gas industry. It provides extensive cover against cyber threats to defend your networks and critical business processes. Get in touch with us today and we can demonstrate to you how Darktrace can help protect your business from cybercriminals.

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