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Oil and Gas Sector in Middle East Hit by Serious Security Incidents

Many oil and gas companies in the Middle East reported suffering at least one serious security incident in the past year, according to a study conducted by Ponemon Institute on behalf of German industrial giant Siemens.

Nearly 200 individuals responsible for overseeing cybersecurity risk in oil and gas companies in the Middle East have taken part in the study and the results show that many organizations are unprepared to address the risks faced by their operational technology (OT) networks.

According to Siemens, three-quarters of respondents said their organizations had suffered at least one security incident that resulted in disruption to operations in their OT environment or loss of confidential information in the past 12 months. Eleven percent of respondents said they had experienced more than 10 OT network intrusions, and nearly half believe they may not be aware of all breaches.Oil and gas industry in Middle East not prepared for cyberattacks

Roughly two-thirds of the individuals who took part in the survey believe the risk of attacks on industrial control systems (ICS) has increased considerably over the past few years, and 60 percent say there is a greater risk to OT environments compared to IT.

Outdated and ageing control systems pose a serious risk, according to 42 percent of respondents. The areas most at risk in Middle Eastern oil and gas companies are believed to be exploratory information, production information, potential partners, financial and organizational reports, operational data, information on drilling sites, and field production data collected by sensors.

While insider threats are the main concern, only 21 percent of respondents are concerned about malicious insiders, while 68 percent are more worried about the cybersecurity impact of careless employees.

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Companies appear aware of the risks, but many of them are not prepared to deal with them. Less than half of respondents say they continually monitor their entire infrastructure, and only a quarter are confident in their ability to address security risks and allocate the resources necessary for addressing them. On average, companies have allocated only a third of their cybersecurity budget to protecting OT environments, the report shows.

Siemens says many organizations are still attempting to air gap their ICS environments in an effort to mitigate threats, but only 39 percent plan on hardening endpoints, and 20 percent plan on adopting analytics solutions over the next year.

Cyberattacks on oil and gas and petrochemical companies can have a devastating impact. Researchers discovered recently a piece of malware that leveraged a zero-day vulnerability in Schneider Electric’s Triconex Safety Instrumented System (SIS). The attack is said to have targeted a petrochemical company in Saudi Arabia and one of the main suspects is Iran. According to some reports, the attackers may have been trying to trigger a deadly explosion at the targeted plant.

Related: U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Lagging in Security

Related: Assessing Cyber and Physical Risks to Oil & Gas Sector

Related: Oil and Gas Industry Increasingly Hit by Cyber-Attacks

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.