Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

CFR experts examine the science and foreign policy surrounding climate change, energy, and nuclear security.

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Cyber Threats to Oil and Gas Supplies: How Much of a Worry Are They?

by Blake Clayton
June 26, 2013


What harm could a cyber attack do to oil and gas production? Could it cause a catastrophic if temporary loss in supplies, sending prices soaring?  Does it pose a serious threat to oil companies’ operations? Or is talk of a new age of cyber insecurity in oil and gas—which has been in the air ever since a virus destroyed some 30,000 Saudi Aramco computers—overblown?

Adam Segal, one of the country’s leading experts on cybersecurity and my colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations, and I published a short piece today that gets at exactly these questions. Our goal was to separate fact from fiction when it comes to all things cyber and fossil fuels. Many thanks to all of the experts whose knowledge we tapped as we researched the piece.

Check out our findings here.

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  • Posted by Tama Copeman

    Petrochemical plants involve tightly coupled systems with invariant sequences, highly interconnected subsystems, recycle loops, and complex process control of reactors, heat exchangers, separation equipment, pumps and storage. In “Normal Accidents – Living with High Risk Technologies”, Perrow discusses the characteristics of high risk technologies. He provides real-life examples for a practical context for the way failures can interact and potentially propagate and grow into systemic failure. Cyber threats can mapped into the complexity-coupling methodology as potential initial causes of specific failures to the various subsystems, and built into hazard and operability (HAZOP) studies. A goal being to detect anomalies and safely shut down, if necessary. This is, of course, easier said than done, and continual improvements to the systems, software, and designs will be needed on the path forward.

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