The use of real-time analytics and data-sharing has been a growing part of the energy sector for the past few years, with technology playing an even larger role in the day-to-day drilling activities of many exploration companies. And with today’s low-price oil and gas environment, companies are working to find the most efficient production models possible to combat weaker global demand and tighter margins. Though Big Data has certainly aided drilling companies in many aspects – from improving well location to on-site communication – the inherent risks of incorporating the Internet of Things into workflows have become more prevalent due to the threat of cyberattacks.

As a result, cybersecurity is an area of particular focus for the oil and gas industry as executives look to pursue the advantages of data-sharing while simultaneously mitigating the risks of doing so. But with more time and money geared toward analytics and as a result, larger databases that make them harder to protect, the avenues for hackers to access vital company information have grown even larger.

“The onus for stopping hackers in their tracks may be on drilling companies themselves.”

Rene Moreda, director of business development, energy & utilities at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, noted private companies must prevent a higher volume of cyberattacks, according to RigZone. “There is more data and more formats of data speeding across enterprises today,” said Moreda. “When you look at the Internet of Things and the need by companies to reduce costs and gain greater efficiencies through tools such as automation and wireless, the attack surface for oil and gas companies keeps getting bigger every day.”

Potential hazards

The problem that many companies face is reconciling cybersecurity expenses with the appropriate measures that need to be taken, especially since the Internet landscape is forever changing at such a lightning speed; one security investment today may be effectively obsolete or useless the next. The Oil & Gas Journal reported the rise of oil and gas sector cyberattacks began around 2009, with the industry unsure whether hacks were coming from private citizens, other enterprises or foreign governments. The fallout from such hacks is enormous on both a monetary and safety level. Hacking into a wireless system can potentially grant cybercriminals access to the robotic controls that maneuver drills into the ground. Further, production capabilities can be driven to a halt by malfunctioning equipment caused by a hack. These instances are on top of the threat of data theft, in addition to hackers accessing financial documents and private information. However, companies are concerned about reputational damage as well, according to a report from professional services firm Ernst & Young. “Today, there are sophisticated networks of highly skilled ‘hacktivists’ who are not interested in stealing data; they want to create highly visible incidents that embarrass or harm companies involved in the oil and gas industry,” the report stated.

Drilling companies have a tall task in combating cyberattacks.Drilling companies have a tall task in combating cyberattacks.

Preventing hacks

The onus of stopping hackers in their tracks may be on drilling companies themselves as the public predominantly puts enterprises at fault in the event of a cyberattack, and in some cases, the government levies fines on these firms as well. Updating security protocols and technology, both physically on location and online through the Internet of Things is the only way to prevent future attacks, but even then, the potential for criminals to infiltrate these systems is still vast. Including encryption and multiple layers of servers that require login credentials can help beef up cybersecurity efforts, and help thwart hackers as much as possible. Additionally, the Oil & Gas Monitor indicated the U.S. government is scheduled to increase its own investments in the industry’s cybersecurity to the tune of $5 billion this year. Not only are the interests of private companies at stake, but so too are the energy capabilities of entire nations.

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