Energy companies at constant risk of cyberattack

Nation-states, terror groups and organized crime circles can shutdown pumping stations with something as basic as a laptop computer with an Internet connection. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 08 October 2019

Energy companies at constant risk of cyberattack

  • Saudi Arabia is “getting ready fast” in ensuring it has the sufficient security measures to respond to such threats.
  • Big oil and gas companies in the region receive threats every second

DUBAI: The region’s top tier oil and gas companies are at risk of cyberattack at a rate of up to one every second, an industry expert said.

The drone attacks on the Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 14 are well documented, but Marcus Josefsson, director for Middle East, Africa and Russia at Nozomi Networks, said cyber criminals were always lurking in the background.

Nation-states, terror groups and organized crime circles can shutdown pumping stations with something as basic as a laptop computer with an Internet connection.

“There is one threat every second — or every couple of seconds — but the real question is how many of them are successful,” he said.

Josefsson’s employer, Nozomi Networks, is a cybersecurity company that works on ensuring industrial control systems are secure.

“We’ve seen them many times in this region before. There’s a specific malware that gets into these systems, and then they can target the centrifuge or they can target the pumps, the valves, and just break things down completely,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of GITEX Technology Week.

In 2012, 30,000 computers were hacked in Aramco facilities, but oil production was not affected.

Josefsson said often the attacks come from “people who are in it for the money.”

“One thinks now that organized crime has almost the same turnover as the cybersecurity industry, if not bigger.”

But countries “definitely play a big part to it,” Josefsson said. “Imagine you are a nation-state — you have a number of friends and enemies, no matter what. You have spies and intelligence gathering so when something goes wrong, you want to be able to deploy and do something quickly. That’s exactly what goes on in oil and gas companies, airports — all these critical national infrastructures,” he said.

Josefsson said attackers are always lurking in these important systems, “scanning, finding out information” for when an attack is called for.

“If there were a red alert at some point, if it escalated between two countries, they would want to be able to play that card — to take out an oil rig, to take out a pipeline, most importantly to take out electricity or water,” he added.

Although the amount of “internal and external threats towards these oil and gas companies is staggering,” Josefsson said that the success rate is very low, and that the region is “catching up very quickly” in improving its cyber capabilities.

He said the region has worked over the years to improve the security of information technology (IT) – this involves network firewalls and anti-viruses. However, there’s still a need “to do a lot more” in securing operational technology (OT), a collective term that refers to computer-run machines including oil pipelines, power grids, and railway systems.

He added the problem with existing OT is that it was not built with cybersecurity in mind.

“These systems were built 20 years ago — for uptime purposes, safety of personnel, pumping as much oil as possible, that’s how it was built. The same holds for things like the electrical grid system — cybersecurity wasn’t even there,” Josefsson said.

He noted how Saudi Arabia is “getting ready fast” in ensuring it has the sufficient security measures to respond to such threats.

“They have a good plan in place. The Kingdom is mobilizing quickly. They are taking all the right steps, and I don’t see any other country moving as fast as Saudi Arabia at the moment. Saudi Arabia takes it seriously,” he said.

He emphasized how “securing critical national infrastructure is arguably more important here than it is in Sweden or in the UK. Take Aramco for instance, it’s such a massive part of the economy.”

In 2018 alone, Nozomi Networks, which has an office in Dammam and has worked with big oil and gas, utilities, and mining companies, recorded a customer growth of 500 percent in the region, according to Jossefson, who is predicting a whopping 1000 percent increase this year, in light of the recent attacks.

“They are a hundred percent aware,” he said. “Especially after the things that happened very recently, it became even more topical.”

Although "99 percent (of the threats) are very basic," Josefsson said: “It’s the one percent that organizations need to look out for.”

“Attackers only need to be lucky once.”


Saudi Arabia promotes investment opportunities with Japan’s business leaders  

Updated 23 October 2019

Saudi Arabia promotes investment opportunities with Japan’s business leaders  

  • Saudi Arabia and Japan exchanged 12 MoUs in the fields of education, science, technology, and banking and finance

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia opened its doors for Japanese investment during a Saudi-Japan business forum held in Tokyo on Wednesday amid growing economic ties between the two nations.  

The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) discussed tourism and entertainment investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia with Japan’s business leaders and government officials during the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 Business Forum, hosted in partnership with the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).

During the forum, 12 Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) were exchanged in fields of education, science, technology, and banking and finance.

The MoUs include Toyobo and Saline Water Conversion Corporation and Arabian Japanese Membrane Company which will aim to manage disposed brine water generated from seawater desalination plants for environmental sustainability.

Two Saudi and Japanese universities signed MoUs for academic exchange on research. While SAGIA signed MoU with Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation to enhance investment opportunities.

“Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners, and businesses from across our countries have a strong track record of working together,” Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Commerce and Investment, Majid Al-Qasabi said at the Forum.

“Today’s Forum reflects the success and strength of this enduring partnership. We established the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030 two years ago, which seeks to drive and facilitate continued private sector involvement by establishing joint-ventures between entities across our respective countries,” he added.

These investments come alongside a broad series of economic reforms, which are enabling rapid growth in foreign investment in Saudi Arabia. This is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to diversify its economy as outlined in Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia has moved up three positions to the 36th place, globally, through its efforts to diversify the Kingdom’s economy, according to the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum.

The total number of foreign investor licenses issued in the first half of 2019 was more than double the number issued the same period a year before.

“We believe that the future prosperity of the Kingdom depends on fostering even closer ties with our strategic partners across the globe, and we look forward to welcoming these companies as they take part in the historic transformation of our economy,” Al-Qasabi said. 

Memoranda of Understanding exchanged at the Forum include:

  • University of Tokyo and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) – the academic exchange for research in renewable energy and petrochemicals
  • Kyoto University Institute for Advance Study (KUIAS) and King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST)– to promote the exchange of scientific materials, publications, and information and exchange of faculty members and researchers, students and joint research
  • University of Tokyo and King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) – to collaborate on the research and the next generation of organic and soft electronics and efficient generation of hydrogen
  • Japan Patent Office (JPO) and Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) – to promote the exchange of data and best practices in the field of intellectual property protection including trademarks and patents
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) – to enhance investment opportunities between Japan and Saudi Arabia
  • Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) – a framework for cooperation to enhance investment from Japan to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  • Toyobo and Saline Water Conversion Corporation and Arabian Japanese Membrane Company – to develop innovative membrane technologies and manage disposed brine water generated from seawater desalination plants for environmental sustainability
  • Sojitz Corporation and AIZAWA Concrete Corporation and Al Saedan for Development – to explore opportunities and utilize 3D printing technology and local materials for housing construction
  • Cyberdyne Group and Abdul Latif Jameel Investments – to collaborate and enhance Cybernic treatment and contribute to the social development of the Kingdom.
  • Saudi-Japan Vision Office Riyadh (VRO) and National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP) – to expand collaboration and enable investments in the field of industry, mining, energy and logistics
  • TBM and SABIC – to build a circular economy using LIMEX
  • Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the National Industrial Clusters Development Program (NICDP) and the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation and Saudi-Japanese Automobile High Institute – to provide support and training for human capacity development for Saudi youth in the automotive sector