Hackers are bombarding the world's computer controlled energy
sector, conducting industrial espionage and threatening potential global havoc
through oil supply disruption.
Oil company executives warned that attacks were becoming
more frequent and more carefully planned.
"If anybody gets into the area where you can control
opening and closing of valves, or release valves, you can imagine what
happens," said Ludolf Luehmann, an IT manager at Shell Europe's biggest
"It will cost lives and it will cost production, it
will cost money, cause fires and cause loss of containment, environmental
damage - huge, huge damage," he told the World Petroleum Congress in Doha.
Computers control nearly all the world's energy production
and distribution in systems that are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks
that could put cutting-edge fuel production technology in rival company hands.
"We see an increasing number of attacks on our IT
systems and information and there are various motivations behind it - criminal
and commercial," said Luehmann. "We see an increasing number of
attacks with clear commercial interests, focusing on research and development,
to gain the competitive advantage."
He said the Stuxnet computer worm discovered in 2010, the
first found that was specifically designed to subvert industrial systems,
changed the world of international oil companies because it was the first
visible attack to have a significant impact on process control.
But the determination and stamina shown by hackers when they
attack industrial systems and companies has now stepped up a gear, and there
has been a surge in multi-pronged attacks to break into specific operation systems
within producers, he said.
"Cyber crime is a huge issue. It's not restricted to
one company or another it's really broad and it is ongoing," said Dennis
Painchaud, director of International Government Relations at Canada's Nexen
Inc. "It is a very significant risk to our business."
"It's something that we have to stay on top of every
day. It is a risk that is only going to grow and is probably one of the
preeminent risks that we face today and will continue to face for some
Luehmann said hackers were increasingly staging attack over
long periods, silently collecting information over weeks or months before
attacking specific targets within company operations with the information they
have collected over a long period.
"It's a new dimension of attacks that we see in
Shell," he said.
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