Networking pros abound, but beware of cons

Gregory Hale
Friday, August 1, 2014

There is no doubt networking plays a vital role in the offshore oil and gas industry right now and it will be even more important in the future. With the potential of remote management of multiple platforms from an onshore location, as well as cutting down on system real estate that can enable users to save on time and space to better communicate, the advantages far outweigh risks.

The latest technologies grant any offshore user the capability to view any and all aspects of the operation, beam back and capture data that will ensure a safe, smooth, productive, and more profitable operation.

But keep in mind there are risks.

First, there is the classic case of a flood of data washing ashore with no apparent rhyme or reason. Data without context.

Second, whenever you talk about networking, whether it is over the internet, within a system or wireless, you are talking about major security concerns, which can turn into huge safety issues.

You can take state-of-the-art technology and place it on your facility, but if you don’t have staff that understand the key components of what they see and are able to put that into the proper perspective, you are flirting with economic and physical disaster.

This is where the human factor comes into play. People and technology need to mesh in front of a monitor. The answers are there, that is the easy part. The hard part is making the right fundamental decisions that take the technological results and put them into perspective.

Does the person know what to look for? Are the alerts coming in clearly enough? Is the operator staying on task or thinking about what he or she will be doing when the shift ends? All are key questions that should force operators to stay on top of their game.

Those same questions need to arise when talking about securing a network connection. Yes, the communication is available. And, yes, all the disparate systems are now able to talk to one another and get messages and commands across to one another, but security remains paramount so you can stay up and running and take share of all the advantages the technology has to offer.

Vigilance is the key

One latest attack, dubbed Dragonfly – discovered by Symantec and F-Secure – is a cyber espionage program targeting energy companies.

The attacker’s approach is very strategic and almost surgical in how they are able to get into various systems. The Dragonfly group has a range of malware tools at its disposal and is capable of launching attacks through a number of different vectors.

Dragonfly’s most ambitious attack campaign saw it compromise a number of industrial control system (ICS) equipment providers, infecting their software with a remote access-type Trojan. This caused companies to install the malware when downloading software updates for computers running ICS equipment, a Symantec report said. These infections not only gave the attackers a beachhead in the targeted organizations’ networks, but also gave them the means to mount sabotage operations against infected ICS computers.

Dragonfly appears to have been in operation since at least 2011 and may have been active even longer than that, according to the report. Dragonfly initially targeted defense and aviation companies in the US and Canada before shifting its focus to US and European energy firms in early 2013.

With the manufacturing automation industry, including offshore oil and gas, losing around US$400 billion a year due to unplanned downtime from safety and security incidents, operators, engineers – everyone for that matter – need to be aware of what is happening, and keep everything in perspective and in context.

Showing a smart approach to networking will not only ensure a smoother running operation where everyone is in sync, it will allow users to bank their share of the $400 billion.

Gregory Hale
is the Editor/Founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source ( and is the Offshore Engineer contributing Automation Editor.

Categories: Technology Automation North America Canada Safety & Security

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