Why is Cybersecurity Important for Oil and Gas?

30 Jul 2023

Playing a vital role in the global economy, the oil and gas industry is a prime cyber threat target. Operations involve critical infrastructure such as refineries, pipelines, and drilling rigs. With increasing digitization and system interconnectedness, ensuring robust cybersecurity measures is essential. 

Herein we 1) look at the importance of cybersecurity in the oil and gas industry, 2) identify key challenges, 3) examine the susceptibility of IT and OT systems to risk, 4) propose methods to reduce alert fatigue, and 5) outline strategies to enhance oil and gas cybersecurity.

oil and gas refinery

Given its partial reliance on legacy systems, the oil and gas industry faces some unique cybersecurity challenges as it increasingly integrates its IT and OT infrastructure with remote operations.


To establish robust cyber resilience throughout the oil and gas industry, it’s essential to undertake a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach that is also synchronized. This promotes a harmonious integration of business operations and technological advancements, especially in the face of rapidly increasing digitalization and the heightened risk of cyber attacks.

Why the oil and gas industry is vulnerable to cyberattacks

The oil and gas industry relies on complex technological systems to facilitate worldwide operations, making it highly vulnerable to cyber threats. The consequences of successful attacks can be severe, leading to physical damage, production disruptions, environmental disasters, and significant financial losses. Cyber breaches can compromise safety systems, leading to accidents, injuries, and potential environmental disasters.

The importance of oil and gas cybersecurity can be summarized as follows:

  1. Protecting critical infrastructure 
  2. Safeguarding intellectual property
  3. Safety and environmental protection

Cybersecurity safeguards ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil and gas operations while preventing unauthorized access, data breaches, and malicious activities that might halt production or compromise the integrity of your infrastructure. 

Oil and gas companies deal with vast amounts of sensitive information, including intellectual property, exploration data, financial records, and customer information. Protecting it all is vital to prevent financial loss, reputational damage, and regulatory non-compliance. Ensuring the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of critical data and systems is, therefore, of utmost importance.

Key oil and gas cybersecurity challenges

Sophisticated cyber threats - These can originate with state-sponsored actors, hacktivists, and criminal syndicates. The industry faces sophisticated advanced persistent threats (APTs) that seek to gain unauthorized access to valuable intellectual property, such as drilling technologies, reservoir data, or strategic plans. 

Industrial control system (ICS) vulnerabilities - Operational technology (OT) systems, including distributed control systems (DCS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), are susceptible to cyber threats. This is especially true of the latter, given its long lifespan and lack of security measures. Such outdated systems often lack regular security updates (if any) and proper segmentation; limited security controls make them vulnerable to exploitation. And too many aren’t easily patched or updated, leaving them susceptible to known vulnerabilities.

Insider threats - Unauthorized physical access to critical infrastructure can result in tampering or destruction of systems. Other so-called insider threats pose a significant challenge, as disgruntled employees, contractors, or others who have been granted prior authorized access can intentionally or unintentionally compromise critical systems and data.

Remote operations - The industry's increasing reliance on remote operations and IoT devices introduces new security challenges. The use of remote access technologies and the interconnection of devices increase your attack surface, thus requiring stringent security measures to mitigate risks.

Supply chain risks - The interconnected nature of the oil and gas industry introduces weaknesses through third-party vendors and suppliers. Those armed with privileged access can exploit vulnerabilities, compromise systems, or inadvertently expose critical information. Moreover, a compromised supply chain can result in the introduction of malicious software or hardware components, leading to potential security breaches.

Watch this two-minute video to learn how OTORIO remOT secures every link of your supply chain’s connectivity to industrial assets in to eliminate risks caused by unauthorized or malicious access.

Why IT and OT systems are susceptible to risk 

IT and OT system integration in the oil and gas industry improves efficiency but also creates new cyberattack vectors. Insecure networks are often susceptible to other threats that include malware and ransomware. Such malicious software can disrupt operations, steal data, and/or demand ransom payments to restore system functionality. Cybercriminals regularly target workers with deceptive emails (i.e., phishing), compromising their credentials or tricking them into installing malware. Your network could also be overwhelmed by a large-scale distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, leading to service disruptions.

IT systems – Oil and gas companies use IT systems for several functions, such as data management, financial transactions, supply chain management, and communication. They store sensitive corporate and customer data, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. It is imperative to protect intellectual property (IP) and sensitive information from theft or unauthorized access that starts with a data breach.

OT systems – OT systems control physical processes involved in production, including equipment monitoring, process automation, and safety systems. They control and monitor physical processes while being increasingly interconnected with IT systems. This convergence creates potential vulnerabilities, as successful OT system cyberattacks have realized severe consequences that include disruptions in production, safety incidents, and environmental damage.

Propagation – Attacks on IT systems can infiltrate OT systems, thereby impacting physical processes and safety. Any well-equipped, knowledgeable bad actor can exploit vulnerabilities in IT and OT systems to gain unauthorized access, disrupt operations, or steal sensitive data. Such threats require continuous monitoring and adaptive security measures to effectively detect and mitigate them.

Reducing alert fatigue

Security alert fatigue is a common challenge for organizations juggling a large volume of warnings. In the oil and gas industry, reducing alert fatigue is an important factor in ensuring legitimate threats are promptly identified and addressed. 

Within oil and gas cybersecurity standards, here are some methods to mitigate alert fatigue: 

Implement automation and machine learning to filter alerts based on their severity and relevance. Your team is then able to analyze them in real-time, reduce false positives, and prioritize critical alerts for immediate attention.

Enhance security analytics capabilities to detect and effectively respond to anomalies. Regularly review and fine-tune security alert thresholds to reduce false positives. 

Automate routine security tasks and orchestrate responses to reduce the burden on security teams, enabling them to focus on critical incidents and respond more efficiently. Implementing a security information and event management (SIEM) system to consolidate and correlate security events across your organization helps to significantly streamline alert management.

Reduce alert fatigue by educating all workers, including upper management, about best practices for oil and gas security, thereby raising awareness about the potential consequences of being inattentive to the wide variety of cyber threats your organization regularly faces.

How to build cyber resilience in the oil and gas sector 

Risk-based approach - Adopting a risk-based approach helps prioritize security efforts by identifying critical assets, conducting risk assessments, identifying vulnerabilities, prioritizing security measures, and allocating resources accordingly. This methodology ensures that investments and efforts are directed toward the most vulnerable areas.

Strong perimeter defense - Implementing robust firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS), and secure network architectures can help protect critical systems from unauthorized access.

Secure remote access - As the industry increasingly adopts remote operations and monitoring, implementing secure remote access solutions with strong authentication and encryption mechanisms becomes increasingly important.

Patch management - Developing a comprehensive patch management process to address vulnerabilities in both IT and OT systems is essential. This includes timely patching of operating systems, software, and firmware.

Multifactor authentication (MFA) - Implementing MFA for user access to critical systems adds an extra layer of security, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and lateral network movement in the event of compromised user credentials.

Regular assessments and audits - Conducting periodic cybersecurity risk assessments and audits helps re-examine possible vulnerabilities, ensure compliance with oil and gas cybersecurity standards, and implement required controls and improvements.

Incident response and recovery planning - Developing a robust incident response plan that outlines roles, procedures, and communication channels is vital for minimizing the impact of cyber incidents. Regular testing and exercises should be conducted to evaluate plan effectiveness.

Continuous monitoring and threat hunting - Implementing real-time monitoring, log analysis, and threat-hunting techniques can help identify and promptly respond to potential threats.

Encryption and data protection - Employing strong encryption algorithms to protect sensitive data at rest and in transit can mitigate the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access.

Vendor and supply chain management - Implementing stringent security requirements and conducting thorough security assessments for third-party vendors and suppliers can help reduce the risk of supply chain attacks.

Worker education and awareness - Raising oil and gas cybersecurity awareness among your staff helps foster a culture of safety, ensuring everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. With regular training programs and simulations, everyone—including the brass–should be periodically tested to eliminate complacency and inertia. 

The future of oil and gas cybersecurity

The oil and gas industry faces significant cybersecurity challenges due to its reliance on increasingly interconnected IT and OT systems. Addressing these challenges and enhancing oil and gas cybersecurity is crucial to safeguard critical infrastructure, protect intellectual property, ensure safety, and maintain your industry's operational continuity. 

By implementing comprehensive risk management strategies, reducing alert fatigue, and adopting industry best practices, meeting and strengthening oil and gas cybersecurity standards can help tremendously in mitigating ever-evolving threats.

Protect your critical infrastructure, ensure business continuity, prevent cyber threats, and manage supply chain risk. Get a demonstration of how OTORIO helps you monitor and regulate activity in your networks—both in and out of the field—to secure business continuity and critical infrastructure while preventing third-party risk.