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US Offshore Oil and Gas Infrastructure at Significant Risk of Cyberattacks

The offshore oil and gas infrastructure faces cybersecurity risks that the Department of Interior should immediately address, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes in a new report.

The offshore oil and gas infrastructure faces cybersecurity risks that the Department of Interior should immediately address, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes in a new report.

Consisting of more than 1,600 facilities, the offshore oil and gas infrastructure is divided into two categories, namely exploitation and drilling (including mobile offshore drilling units and fixed and floating production facilities), and midstream (pipelines and related equipment used for transportation).

Cybersecurity risks to offshore oil and gas infrastructure are “significant and increasing” and they include threat actors, vulnerabilities, and potential impacts, GAO says.

Threat actors such as cybercriminals, nation-states, and others have been observed launching cyberattacks against offshore oil and gas infrastructure, and are expected to continue to do so. China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia are considered the greatest cyber threats, as they can launch disruptive cyberattacks against critical infrastructure.

The offshore oil and gas infrastructure heavily relies on remotely connected operational technology (OT) for various activities across the offshore oil and gas lifecycle. Once largely isolated from the internet, the OT systems are now frequently connected, thus exposed to attacks originating in business IT systems.

The use of legacy systems that lack appropriate cybersecurity protections may also create vulnerabilities in offshore oil and gas OT systems, the same as components that need to be taken offline for patching, meaning that they might not receive fixes in a timely manner.

Successful attacks on the infrastructure may lead to environmental, economic, and physical harm, GAO warns. A cyberattack could have similar effects as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and disruptions could impact energy supplies and markets.

The Office notes that the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which oversees the offshore oil and gas operations, has initiated efforts to address these cybersecurity risks, but has yet to take substantial action.

“Absent the immediate development and implementation of an appropriate strategy, offshore oil and gas infrastructure will continue to remain at significant risk,” GAO’s report reads.

Such a strategy, GAO says, should include risk assessments; objectives, activities, and performance measures; roles, responsibilities, and coordination; and the identification of required resources and investments.

Based on a review of federal and industry reports regarding the cybersecurity risks to offshore oil and gas infrastructure, as well as relevant BSEE documentation and interviews with officials, GAO is recommending that “BSEE should immediately develop and implement a strategy to address offshore infrastructure risks.”

“Without a strategy to guide the development and implementation of its new cybersecurity program that incorporates these key features, the effectiveness of any cybersecurity program that BSEE ultimately establishes could be constrained,” GAO concludes.

Related: Over 12,000 Cyber Incidents at DoD Since 2015, But Incident Management Still Lacking

Related: U.S. Department of State Approves New Cyberspace Security Bureau

Related: GAO Criticizes Pentagon Over Cyber Hygiene Efforts

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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