CERAWeek '13: Aramco urges cyber security investment, collaboration

By Ben DuBose
Online Editor

HOUSTON -- The recent cyber attack against Saudi Aramco’s computer network illustrates the need for the global oil and gas industry to work together on safety technologies, the company’s CEO said Tuesday.

Speaking at the annual IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Khalid Al-Falih said the August 2012 incident should serve as a wakeup call for both his company and the broader industry.

“What happens to one company happens to us all,” he warned.

“As we know from last year’s vicious [cyber] attack, there are a lot of bad guys out there.”

Al-Falih, who delivered the opening keynote to the conference, said his near-term outlook for the industry was very positive. But that still carries risks, he cautioned to the thousands of industry professionals in attendance.

“A healthy picture should not make us complacent,” Al-Falih said. “Though we’re on the right track, if history teaches us anything, it’s that such rosy outlooks do not always materialize.

“If you’re on the right track, you can still be run over if you just sit there.”

The easiest way for the metaphorical train to derail would be on safety and environmental issues, he noted.

“We must take ownership and accept that it is our responsibility by embracing excellence in operations,” Al-Falih said. “Sharing our technologies and best practices is for the collective good.”

In the case of cyber security, investment is critical, according to the Aramco CEO. Based on prior measures taken, the company did not lose any production as a result of the August attack.

“Invest and invest heavily and be aware of all the scenarios that could happen,” he said. “Don’t underestimate the capability of the bad guys who may be trying to penetrate your systems.

“It’s not petty crime anymore. It’s organized groups that have a lot of technology and resources at their fingertips.”

Aramco avoided significant damage because it had “rehearsed various scenarios” and had plant operations segregated from the groups that were touched, the CEO said.

Nonetheless, the episode serves as a grave reminder of the importance of cyber security.

“Never underestimate how dependent you are on your information technology network and systems,” Al-Falih said. “It’s become like oxygen. You think you can live without it but you can’t.

“Lose it and you become immediately paralyzed.”

The IHS CERAWeek conference continues through Friday at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston.

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