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25 Jan 2024

Digital Transformation in the Energy Industry: Fortifying the Energy Cybersecurity

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The digital revolution in the oil and gas industry is a two-sided coin. While the collaboration between Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) has led to unprecedented innovation and efficiency, it has also led to increased cyber threats. This dual landscape underscores the importance of recognising that OT and IT have distinct cybersecurity requirements. OT's direct involvement with Health, Safety, & Environment (HSE) demands tailored protective measures. As the industry navigates these challenges, a thoughtful approach to cybersecurity becomes essential to safeguard critical operations and maintain a secure technological ecosystem.

The Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021 serves as an example of the industry's vulnerability to cyberattacks. These types of incidents disrupt operations and have far-reaching effects on national economies and global energy markets.

Cyber Threats Call for Smart Cybersecurity Measures

The rising incidence of cyber-attacks has made robust cybersecurity an urgent necessity. The use of advanced technologies like remote operations and AI-driven autopilot solutions has put the industry in the crosshairs of sophisticated hackers, raising the stakes for companies to implement strong security measures. According to S&P Global Platts Oil Security Sentinel, there have been 35 major cybersecurity attacks on energy and commodities infrastructure since 2017, with oil assets and infrastructure being the primary targets¹. Additionally, Statista reported that in 2022, there were 21 global ransomware attacks on the oil and gas industry, ranking it as the 5th most affected sector by ransomware in that year².

The vanguard of cybersecurity: Data diodes and other technologies

The introduction of a unidirectional flow of data by adding data diodes in between OT and IT layers is becoming increasingly crucial in protecting the industry’s network infrastructure. Data diodes offer a physical firewall against cyber invasions. This technology, when compared to standard firewalls, offers a more secure solution to safeguard critical control systems and sensitive information. Along with them, the industry is utilising other technologies like:

  1. Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS): To monitor network traffic for suspicious activity and potential threats, helping to detect and prevent cyber-attacks.
  2. Identifying various security zones and conduits: To help in implementing security policies and managing the assets having similar requirements.
  3. Defence in depth: Helps implement security at each layer so that in case one layer of security is compromised, then the next layer will arrest the threat vector.
  4. Audit logging and security information and event management: To provide real-time analysis of security alerts generated by applications and network hardware, assisting in the early detection of potential security incidents.
  5. Next-generation firewalls and network segmentation: beyond standard firewalls, advanced firewalls offer deeper inspection capabilities, and segmentation helps isolate critical operational technology from the rest of the network.
  6. Endpoint Protection Platforms (EPP): EPPs secure endpoints, such as user devices and servers, from a variety of threats by detecting and blocking malicious activities.
  7. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): VPNs are used to create secure connections for remote access, ensuring that data remains encrypted and secure while in transit.
  8. Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): This adds an extra layer of security beyond just passwords, ensuring that only authorised individuals can access sensitive systems and data.
  9. Blockchain Technology: Some companies are exploring the use of blockchain for secure, tamper-proof record-keeping, particularly in supply chain management and transactional processes.
  10. Cloud Security Solutions: As more operations move to the cloud, specific cloud security measures are necessary to protect data and applications hosted in cloud environments.
  11. Backup and restore solutions: These help in reducing the downtown in case of a system crash.
  12. Patch Management: It keeps the systems updated with the latest released and approved security updates.

Building Resilience: Steps to fortify cybersecurity in the energy industry

The average cost of a cyber breach in the industry is estimated to be around $3.7 million, resulting not only in financial losses but also long-term reputational damage.

Creating a comprehensive cybersecurity policy, conducting threat and vulnerability analysis, risk assessment, network segmentation to isolate essential systems, and employee training are pivotal for building a resilient business.

Combined with implementing various Functional Requirements (FRs) based on the Target Security Level (SL-T), having incident response plans and continuously updating security protocols ensure an advanced level of protection.

The pivotal role of cybersecurity consultants

Cybersecurity consultants play a crucial role in integrating cyber defence mechanisms into digital solutions. Their expertise in understanding the OT systems, the industrial protocols, their vulnerability & risk assessment, system architectures, network architectures and their compliance to the standards is invaluable in embedding cybersecurity into the very fabric of technological solutions.

Partnering with Kent’s Global Innovation and Digital Engineering Team

As the oil and gas industry confronts the multifaceted challenges of cybersecurity, the need for an integrated approach that combines technological innovation with expert knowledge and continuous vigilance becomes paramount.

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