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Countries need to protect their energy assets from cyber attacks

Clear and present danger


SRAY AGARWAL | Issue Dated: July 21, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : World Trade Centre attack | Die Hard 2.0 | Terror attacks |

The era of traditional warfare is long over. Today countries are more vulnerable to attacks on the economic front. In the last one decade or so, countries are being attacked in ways that seriously damage their economy's engines. From repeated attacks on the Indian railways system to the massive attack on the World Trade Centre in the US – most of these attacks are designed to cripple the economic pillars of the victim country.

The concept of ‘fire sale’ as shown in the movie Die Hard 2.0 may seem to be a work of fiction. But then when one looks at different terrorist attacks all across the world and connects the dots, the big picture become quite vivid. Most nations have already, directly or indirectly, experienced cyber attacks. There have been numerous incidences of cyber breaches in financial servers, defence servers, nuclear servers and intelligence servers, all with an aim to steal economic, military, nuclear and diplomatic information. However, the recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) report takes concerns to a new dimension altogether. As per the report, energy companies are increasingly becoming vulnerable to cyber attacks. This means cyber terrorists are all aiming towards stopping/halting global energy supplies, which could eventually bring all economic activities to a stand-still. In a media report, General Keith Alexander, Director of the US National Security Agency (NSA) said, “Cyber crime overall costs US businesses $114 billion a year, with another $250 billion lost in stolen intellectual property. Energy companies were targeted in 41 per cent of the malicious software attack cases reported to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012.” In the past, a very renowned oil company admitted to have experienced a Stuxnet attack. So much so, companies likes Saudi Aramco, RasGas and several others were attacked by hackers in the past. An attack on Aramco, in 2012, slowed down the entire oil & gas trade in the region, thus creating a loss that was in tune of millions of dollars. The Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team has reported a series of attacks on gas pipelines and said, “Multiple natural gas pipeline organizations have reported either attempts or intrusions related to this campaign. The campaign appears to have started in late December 2011 and is active today.” As per another report by DHS, as published in the Monitor in May 2012, “From December 2011 through June 2012, cyberspies targeted 23 gas pipeline companies with e-mails crafted to deceive key personnel into clicking on malicious links or file attachments that let the attackers slip into company networks.”

The oil & gas sector being a core industry is vulnerable to suffering huge losses and causing untold damages to an economy as a result of a cyber attack. That's all the more reason why the world's petro-majors need to work in concert by sharing information that could shield them from the swarm attacks of cyber criminals. Before the ‘fire sale’ myth morphs into reality and before financial and important utilities like gas, oil, electricity are brought down by cyber attacks,  policymakers across the world will have to formulate strong cyber-security policies. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017