Cyber security must be enhanced in oil & gas

Industrial control systems are vulnerable to attack

Industrial control systems are very vulnerable to cyber attack.
Industrial control systems are very vulnerable to cyber attack.

The protection of critical national infrastructures has long been a serious concern to many in this region and is no longer limited to physical security. Given the widespread use of interconnected networks and control systems in national oil & gas sectors, there is a very real need to enhance cyber security given the ever increasing number of international attacks.
In reality, the primary purpose of Industrial Control Systems (ICS) is to monitor, control and alarm plant or regional operating systems from a central location. While override control is possible, it is infrequently utilised; however control set points are quite regularly changed by ICS.

ICS were never designed to be on the internet, and they are no longer ‘air gapped’, meaning they are connected directlyto the internet.

“Today it is a fact that up-to-date industrial control systems need a steady stream of electronic data from the outside world. Cutting the network connection with an air gap simply creates new pathways – pathways like the mobile laptop and USB devices, which are more difficult to manage and just as easy to infect,” said Paul Wright, Manager of Professional Services and Investigation Team, Middle East, India and Africa at AccessData, a leader in digital investigations, cyber security and e-discovery solutions.

Cloud-based industrial control system applications are frequently deployed on-site. As such, the applications are directly connected to the control network and data is sent to the cloud for analysis and access requirements - or the application architectures can be totally run in the cloud with remote connectivity to a control network. This architecture allows data to exist either on-site or in the cloud.

Both these cloud solutions add another element to the ICS environment; can utility organisations afford to do that if they have not resolved their current cyber security problems?

“That being said I think that oil companies should consider all options to improve their cyber security stance, and cloud-based solutions would be one. If it were operated from a central point, which is accessible by means of the Internet, it would ensure that in the event of a disaster they would be able to move to a replacement location. In addition they can have staff work remotely and still provide a similar level of service to their consumers," said Wright.

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