Why Oil & Gas Supply Chains are a Common Target for Cyber-Terrorists
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We’ve all learned the pain of supply shortages the hard way. Sometimes these shortages are simply inconvenient. Other times, as with the recent baby formula shortage, they can be very dangerous. While they are usually the result of natural activity — resource scarcity, or a factory closure — terrorist activity can contribute to the problem.
In this article, we look at why supply chains are a common target for cyber-terrorists.
What Is a Supply Chain?
A supply chain is the network of stops that a raw material makes on its way to becoming a product. For complicated items — say, a smartphone, there could be many links in the chain, dotting the globe. When things are going well, the average consumer has no reason to think very much about how their products get made.
However, behind even very small gasoline purchases, there is usually an intricate chain of human effort and activity that put the item on the shelf. During the pandemic, many people were forced to consider this chain for the first time in their lives.
When one link breaks, shortages ensue, and chaos can easily follow.
If you are like most people, there was probably at least a moment, probably in March of 2020 where you found yourself bleary-eyed and disoriented in a grocery store, seemingly empty of food but full of people. You got there at 5 AM, right when the store opened. They stock the shelves before then, right? And who else is going to be out at that time?
A lot of people. Maybe you got some canned goods. No bread, but you were able to snag a five-pound bag of flour. Time to experiment with baking! And—
It doesn’t take a pandemic to create this familiar situation. With a little bit of meddling, cyber terrorists can cause chaos and prevent access to necessary supplies.
Indeed, this is at the very essence of what cyber terrorists do. While they may not commit acts of physical violence, they create fear just as effectively by undermining the societal expectation of normalcy.
It’s no wonder that supply chains are an easy target. All it takes is a few broken links to keep people from the things they need.
But Supply Chains are Physical. How Do Cyber Terrorists Damage Them?
The individual links of a supply chain are indeed physical. A mine where a resource is harvested. A warehouse where it is stored. A factory where it is processed and assembled. However, these links are usually united with digital technology.
Supply chain managers depend on a network of applications to keep the process running smoothly. The bigger the chain, the more technologically dependent it will be.
If a digital terrorist were to infiltrate that system — say lock the supply chain manager out with ransomware — it could be weeks before the situation was resolved. During that time, shelves would go unstocked.
If this sounds far-fetched, it’s important to understand that situations of this kind are already happening routinely. In 2021, Ireland was locked out of its entire digital healthcare network by cyber terrorists. It took many weeks to bring the system back online.
During that time, service was interrupted and many hundreds of people had their private health information leaked. That was the government of Ireland. Most supply chains are privately owned and operated. Their access to cyber security, at least presumably, does not approximate that of a federal government.
In other words, everyone is vulnerable to cyber-terrorist activity, and with supply chains, the stakes are high.
Good cyber security is the only way to prevent attacks on supply chains. Supply chain management networks should routinely view and update their protections to make sure they are fortified against the most current threats.
Cyber security analysts can play an important role in making this happen by reviewing a supply chain’s protections and making recommendations that will shore them up. However, even then, vigilance will be necessary. With cyber threats, small mistakes can have big ramifications.