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Energy networks explore cybersecurity practices

In a digital era, where the energy industry is incorporating advanced technologies into their networks, cybersecurity measures should be a core focus and built into long-term strategies.

As the power network is a highly advanced, complex and costly system, it is imperative to implement precautionary and early detection measures to isolate and mitigate potential threats and the resultant devastation.

Implementing cybersecurity systems is imperative

Berlin-headquartered industrial manufacturing company Siemens has vested time into hardening safeguards to the oil and gas industrial control networks through an early warning cybersecurity system. The firm explains the whys and hows of cyber-attacks and the impact it can have on expansive infrastructure networks, such as the energy system.

Few people outside the oil and gas industry, and its regulatory frameworks, appreciate the vast nationwide infrastructure that brings fuel to their corner gas stations and, for many, to their homes.

But for criminals, terrorists, and so-called hacktivists, this mostly invisible infrastructure is rich with targets for cyber-attacks.

After all, any big disruption to a nation’s intricate network of oil and gas facilities used in exploration, production, distribution, storage and refining, could be spectacular – and potentially devastating to the economy, environment, and quite possibly life safety. In fact, the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) considers the energy sector’s infrastructure a prime cyber-attack target.

In 2015, for the second consecutive year, it ranked second out of 16 categories behind critical manufacturing for the number of significant cyber-attacks reported against it.

For this reason, both the US and the European Union are enacting new cybersecurity regulations for the oil and gas industry as mandatory safeguards against such attacks.

This attack frequency has only grown in recent years. That’s because the industry continues to deploy increasing numbers of industrial control systems (ICSs) in networks along the entire value chain – upstream, midstream, and downstream – so operators can realise the quantum gains in operational efficiency, visibility and safety that other industries, like manufacturing, have long enjoyed.

They then connect their ICSs to their enterprise IT networks to gain much more operational visibility and business insights. That’s when trouble’s door can open.

The German conglomerate explains that the most insidious cyber threats to the oil and gas industry are advanced persistent threats (APT), also known as ‘low-and-slow’ attacks.

These are hard to detect before an attack fully executes, because they operate under the radar of most conventional IT cybersecurity tools.

Without disrupting network or ICS operations, an APT will execute a series of small events that may not constitute an actual cyber attack, but these events could still be anomalous and indicate malevolent intent.


Read the full New early-warning cybersecurity system white paper here.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.