Cyber Attack, computer code under a magnifying glassEnergy industry executives from all over the world gathered for the annual IHS CERAWeek energy conference held in Houston this month.  According to the official website, the conference is designed to “offer new insight on the energy future — and on the strategic and investment responses by producers, consumers and policy-makers. “

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was  Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).   He cautioned the attendees that “finding ways to manage the consequences of a network security threat would be a major priority, managed at the highest level of a company.”

Hayden warned that the Internet has become a lawless area fraught with risks and threats that make all organizations vulnerable, explaining that the Web is particularly treacherous for energy companies because they have so much at stake. He explained that the oil and gas sector is heavily reliant on automated processes to manage safety and assure that systems are functioning well. This exposes them to cyber attacks because blocking such processes is not an option.

This warning sounds similar to one made by then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta when he characterized the Internet as “the battlefield of the future”. In that speech, made in October of 2012 in front of a meeting of  Business Executives for National Security (BENS), Panetta gave a similar somber warning of the possibility of a “Cyber Pearl Harbor”.

In his speech, Hayden pointed out that companies need to focus on strategies to safeguard network security but they also need to be prepared to manage the consequences. He also advocated fighting back in the form of counter cyber-attacks aimed at offending countries. One of the main offenders, he said, is China.

He spoke about the role of government in dealing with these threats and said that the policymakers and the public are still not in agreement on how to move forward to deal with the impending threats. “Fundamentally, what we need is policy,” Hayden said. “What we need is a common understanding as to what this issue presents to us.”

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