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Growing Cybersecurity Threats to the Energy Industrial Sectors

The world runs on energy, but many industrial energy sectors fail to recognize the potential threats that can be leveled against them. Malicious hackers and even rogue nation-states are using energy sector cyber attacks to disrupt operations, which could have lasting implications for businesses and consumers. Energy companies of all sizes need to invest in the latest cybersecurity treads to ward off these potential threats, so their customers can keep the lights on.

The Impact of Cyber Attacks on the Energy Industry

Energy companies provide essential services to large populations. They represent some of the most valuable infrastructures on the market. If an attack should occur, millions of people would be left in the dark. It could also severely disrupt the world’s energy market, leading to high prices and possible transportation delays.

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These kinds of attacks also put human lives at risk. If the population couldn’t access the power grid during a major storm or on a particularly cold night, many people could lose their lives as a result. The energy industry is also full of potential workplace hazards. A malfunctioning computer system could lead to an explosion or flash fire, putting workers at risk.

The U.S. Department of Energy and private companies are often forced to do whatever it takes to bring their systems back online, even if it means paying ransom to the hackers during a ransomware attack.

High Profile Cyber Attacks Against the Energy Industry

Let’s start with some of the most notable attacks on the energy sector, starting with Stuxnet, a computer worm that targeted the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in the SCADA systems used in industrial and energy contexts. It exploited four flaws in the Siemens SCADA system used to force Iran’s nuclear centrifuges to spin wildly out of control while making it look like an accident. The American and Israeli intelligence communities are believed to have been behind the attack. Stuxnet likely led to the destruction of 10% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges between November 2009 and January 2010.

The Shamoon attack of 2012 targeted Saudi Aramco, which holds around 10% of the world’s oil supply. Hackers accessed and deleted data from 35,00 computers, casting the company into the dark age. The attack happened to occur during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when many of the company’s employees were out of the office.

Dragonfly was the work of a small hacking group that was able to infiltrate hundreds of business computers using their own form of malware. It’s believed the hackers intended to spy on control systems used across the United States and Europe. These are computer systems that are used to monitor, control, and automate processes used in industrial and manufacturing contexts.

The malware spread through phishing attacks that targeted companies based in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Poland. Among its victims were energy grid operators, electricity generation firms, petroleum pipeline operators, and energy industry industrial equipment providers.

Emerging Threats Against the Energy Sector

Cyber attacks against the energy industry are becoming increasingly common as they have the potential to do the most damage. Here are some of the emerging threats facing the industry today:

Nation-State Attacks

The Stuxnet attack demonstrates how far some nations are willing to go to disrupt their enemies’ energy sector. Rogue nations are increasingly investing in these cyber threats as a way of gaining influence over the victim country. They often do the most damage while posing little to no risk to the perpetrator.


We have also seen more hackers using various forms of ransomware to trick energy companies into giving them access to the system. These attacks often spread through phishing attacks in which the hacker poses as a member of the organization or business partner.

SCADA Access as a Service (SAaaS)

Cybercrime is a business, and criminals can often make the most money by targeting critical infrastructure in the energy sector. Once they gain access to a system, they can turn around and sell this access to a third party, such as a rogue nation or terrorist group.

Supply Chain Compliance

Few energy companies have complete visibility when it comes to the supply chains of their products. Many attacks occur when third parties access company assets using unauthorized devices. The worker or client may then infect the system with malware or other viruses by mistake.

The energy sector is not immune to cybercrime. The industry needs to become more cyber resilient in the face of these emerging threats. Download the full Growing Cybersecurity Threats to the Energy Industrial Sectors report by NopSec to discover damage control strategies that can help reduce the impact of cyber attacks or prevent them altogether.

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