Blockchain quickly becoming oilfield cybersecurity standard

By DUNCAN GREATWOOD, CEO, Xage Security on 9/4/2018

PALO ALTO -- As cybersecurity threats to the oil and gas industry have grown exponentially, various strategies have been deployed to safeguard companies’ computer and control systems. One new technology in particular, blockchain, has emerged as a highly innovative and effective solution. Let’s look at how blockchain is redefining oilfield cybersecurity.

Rise of risk consciousness

The ever-increasing onslaught of security threats has driven a major shift in executive thinking, with cybersecurity risk now recognized as a real and significant issue, not merely a periodic inconvenience. Awareness of cyber risk has grown across a wide spectrum of companies globally.

Consciousness of the immediacy and seriousness of cyber risks is closely linked to oilfield digitization. Digitization has re-shaped the industry as companies have recognized the enormous advantages of automation and of doing work remotely, making operations safer, less costly and more real-time. All these benefits, however, require sophisticated security platforms with the ability to protect interconnected devices and automated industrial control systems (ICS).

Protection by design

Designed as a distributed system, blockchain delivers complex services securely, with enforcement capabilities woven directly into distributed oilfield facilities and equipment. Enabling different equipment and vendors to work together by functioning as an electronic communication tissue for different systems, blockchain is as decentralized as the oilfield itself. Providing protection across the industrial edge, edge to center or center to edge and back again, blockchain is a multi-faceted, foundational technology on which a company can build its in-field identity and access management, remote access system, enrollment and transient device control, and ICS protection.

Pivotal to blockchain technology is its consensus system. When a hacker attempts to enter a system surreptitiously, the many different nodes – or computers – within the blockchain “vote” whether or not to allow the requested operation. Policies can be instituted and enforced by the blockchain, allowing the nodes to automatically determine authorized and unauthorized activities.

Even if some nodes are compromised, the vote alerts the system that nodes have gone rogue, allowing the blockchain to expel the compromised nodes and self-heal. Even if a node is destroyed, others pick up the slack with minimal disruption. In addition, unlike traditional security systems, the more nodes that are deployed, the stronger the system becomes. With the single point of failure eliminated and multitudes of nodes forming a consensus, the more difficult (and cost-prohibitive) it becomes for a hacker to compromise enough nodes simultaneously to overwhelm the system.

Blockchain benefits

Employing a tamperproof, self-healing, self-replicating and highly redundant blockchain-protected cybersecurity system provides the oil and gas industry with many unique benefits. Since blockchain is not limited by, but rather benefits from scale, companies employing blockchain, from small operators with only 500 well pads, to mid-size independents, to the largest companies seeking custom configurations, can rest assured that they have the flexibility to operate in a dynamic, digitized, and tamperproof way.

Aside from removing major risks or vulnerabilities, such as a hacker stealing a gateway and modifying it or piggybacking on an upgrade to gain system access, the unprecedented levels of connectivity that blockchain enables between people, devices and applications also allow for new levels of understanding in regard to field processes, providing the building block for future innovations, such as next-generation, multi-party, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven production optimization systems.

Outlook

With more and more oilfield operators putting machines, instead of personnel, in charge of production, it is critical to ensure that these highly connected and digitized systems are appropriately secured. With blockchain resolving vital cybersecurity issues, such as remote access, role-based access control, password rotation and Industrial Control Systems (ICS) fingerprinting, it’s no wonder blockchain is becoming the new standard to protect the oil and gas industry.

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