Cyber Security Playing Greater Role In Energy Companies’ Digital Transformation

As U.S. oil and gas operations and electric power systems increasingly turn to digital, cloud-based solutions to help operate their oilfields and generation plants, executives are becoming increasingly concerned about the need for cybersecurity to harden their defenses against hackers and bad actors seeking to damage or even shut down those systems.

A rash of recent cyber security breaches highlights the vulnerability of even the country’s most critical systems to cyber mischief.  In the SolarWinds scandal uncovered last year, officials uncovered cyberattacks that had taken place against numerous U.S. government agencies and thousands of public and private-sector entities around the world.

More recently, in February the operator of a water-treatment plant in west-central Florida uncovered a potentially dangerous intrusion that had occurred on the plant’s computer system. The hacker or hackers set the levels of sodium hydroxide, a potentially dangerous chemical, to increase by more than 100 times the normal levels. The operator returned the chemical levels to their correct proportions and avoided a potential health disaster.

A recent report by MIT Technology Review, prepared in partnership with Siemens Energy finds that the digital transformation that the oil and gas industry is currently undergoing has brought with it both operational benefits as well as cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Oil and gas companies are “collecting and analyzing data, connecting equipment to the internet of things and tapping cutting-edge technologies to improve planning and increase profits, as well as to detect and mitigate threats,” the report states. “At the same time, the industry’s collective digital transformation is widening the surface for cybercriminals to attack.”

Federal officials also are beginning to recognize the need to bolster the cyber-security defenses of critical infrastructure. In the House’s new $312 billion infrastructure bill, supported by President Biden, about $3.5 billion has been earmarked for improving the cyber-security of the electric grid.

Such hardening of the grid’s defenses against cyber intrusion is desperately needed, according to Tom Siebel, the…