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US oil industry hit by cyberattacks: Was China involved?

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“What these guys [corporate officials] don’t realize, because nobody tells them, is that a major foreign intelligence agency has taken control of major portions of their network,” says the source familiar with the attacks. “You can’t get rid of this attacker very easily. It doesn’t work like a normal virus. We’ve never seen anything this clever, this tenacious.”

Neither Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil, nor ConocoPhillips would comment on the attacks or confirm that they had happened. But the breaches, which left dozens of computers and their data vulnerable in those companies’ global networks, were confirmed over a five-month Monitor investigation in interviews with dozens of oil industry insiders, cybersecurity experts, former government officials, and by documents describing the attacks

“We’ve seen real, targeted attacks on our C-level [most senior] executives,” says one oil company official, who, like others familiar with various aspects of the attacks, spoke only on condition of anonymity. “I was at a meeting with the FBI earlier this year [2009] that was pretty eye-opening.”

The new type of attack involves custom-made spyware that is virtually undetectable by antivirus and other electronic defenses traditionally used by corporations. Experts say the new cyberburglary tools pose a serious threat to corporate America and the long-term competitiveness of the nation.

“We’ve had friends in the petroleum industry express grave concern because they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars finding out where the next big oil discovery will be,” says Ed Skoudis, cofounder of InGuardians, a computer security firm, who was called last year to help a big oil and gas company secure its bid data after its computer network was infiltrated. He wouldn’t name the company. “The attacker would be saving huge expenses for himself by stealing that data.”

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