Hackers' Favorite Target: Big Oil and That Deadly Equipment

(Bloomberg) -- Hackers have made the energy industry a favorite target.

A study conducted in April by Symantec Corp., the world’s biggest cybersecurity firm, found that computer-system invaders attacked 43 percent of global mining, oil and gas companies at least once last year. In a separate survey the same month, conducted for the Organization of American States by another security company, Trend Micro Inc., 47 percent of energy organizations reported attacks, the highest among all corporate sectors and surpassed only by governments.

“Nowadays you have computers running everything,” said Alvaro Cardenas, a computer-science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and a member of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute. “You can create blackouts or oil spills and hurt a lot of people.”

As if the last year’s oil-price drop wasn’t enough, costs for energy companies rose faster than the U.S. average over the last five years, according to a study by the Poneman Institute for Hewlett-Packard Co. Cybercrimes cost energy and utilities companies an average of $13.2 million each a year for lost business and damaged equipment, higher than in any other industry, according to Poneman’s survey of 257 businesses.

Spending worldwide on cybersecurity for oil and gas infrastructure will reach $1.9 billion by 2018, according to ABI Research, a technology data company with offices worldwide.

‘Operation Petrol’

Brent crude, a global marker, lost 15 cents to $65.55 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange at 2:04 p.m. Singapore time on Thursday.

Like all big enterprises, energy companies want to protect sensitive data. But they have another dimension to worry about -- the potential for hackers to cause physical damage to equipment such as drilling rigs or power stations. While the industry has long prioritized physical security, with electric fences and cameras typically standing guard at refineries and power plants, cyberdefenses are only recently getting similar attention.


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