Woodside: 'Oil companies subjected to cyber attacks'

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, May 31 -- Woodside Petroleum Ltd. Chief Executive Don Voelte told a conference in Perth that major resources companies are coming under increasing threat of cyber attacks emanating from a variety of countries worldwide.

"Let's not focus this on the Chinese: I saw the number of attacks against our company over a time period,” said Voelte. “It comes from everywhere. It comes from Eastern Europe; it comes from Russia. Just don't pick on the Chinese; it's everywhere."

Australia’s Atty. Gen. Robert McClelland confirmed the gist of Voelte’s remarks, saying on the sidelines of the conference, “There is no doubt that cyber-security threats are becoming worse.”

However, McClelland declined to comment on Voelte’s assessment of the source of the attacks. “It is often literally hard to identify. They are often rerouted through other countries and other providers,” he said.

“People should not assume that it is any particular company (involved), because quite often espionage will be conducted through a customer or a supplier,” McClelland said.

“We think it is better to deal with the threat, to address the vulnerability,” McClelland said. “It may well be that there is a private corporation involved, that the issue can be addressed without prejudicing their business relations, or their reputation.”

Last month, McClelland and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy met with chief executives from 20 big resource companies, banks, and manufacturers to discuss the rising cyber threat.

The meeting was reportedly attended by representatives of BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto PLC, and Woodside in addition to other mining companies and four major banks.

Corporate executives at the meeting received confidential briefings from Australia’s Office of National Assessments and the Defense Signals Directorate. They also spoke with the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

“Security agencies are finding malicious cyber activity is increasing to a point where systems in both government and the private sector are under continuous threat,” McClelland said.

“The Australian government takes the issue of cyber security very seriously and is constantly strengthening cyber security measures,” he said.

“Part of this includes engaging with major companies and critical infrastructure organizations to ensure they're aware of the extent of the threats, and have strong systems in place to deal with attacks,” McClelland said.

“I would say we're very careful in this particular area,” said Shell Australia chairman Ann Pickard. “The attacks on companies—and going after IP and other things—is pretty big, so we're all very careful in this space."

Earlier this year, the computer networks of at least five international oil companies, containing bidding plans and other confidential data, were penetrated by Chinese-based hackers, according to a report issued by a US computer security firm.

"Starting in November 2009, covert cyber attacks were launched against several global oil, energy, and petrochemical companies," said George Kurtz, chief technical officer of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee Inc (OGJ Online, Feb. 21, 2011).

In the US, Pentagon officials have said computer sabotage by another country may be considered an act of war.

Contact Eric Watkins at

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