It is difficult to determine what cyberattacks are intended for. Hackers steal information and the way they misuse it is beyond control. Sometimes, they carry out attacks that are not meant to steal anything, but only to disrupt the process. This is what happens when attackers choose factories or manufacturing plants to launch an attack. But there might be hidden motives behind attacking a plant, which go beyond disruption of operations only. In August 2017, a petrochemical firm in Saudi Arabia suffered from a cyberattack. According to investigators, the attack was not only meant to erase data or terminate operations, but also to trigger an explosion.
The cyberattack an exceptional example of international hacking. The attackers showed a caliber to launch serious attack and cause serious damage. United States officials and cybersecurity researchers predicted that hackers could do the same in other countries. Because many industrial plants across the world rely on the American-engineered systems that were compromised.
Investigators have not revealed any details the attack in August. They have not revealed the company and identified the attackers. Cybersecurity experts have estimated that attackers had plenty of time along with resources to launch an attack, so they might be supported by the government. The investigators outlined that the only thing that prevented the factory from explosion was a fault in computer code of attackers.
Some of the energy experts outlined that this attack was carried out to complicate plans of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to bring domestic and foreign private investments in order to diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the Crown Prince aimed to create jobs for increasing youth population of the country. “Not only is it an attack on the private sector, which is being touted to help promote growth in the Saudi economy, but it is also focused on the petrochemical sector, which is a core part of the Saudi economy,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an expert on Middle East energy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The attack in Saudi Arabia was one the deadliest among attacks on petrochemical plants. In January last year, computer screens went dark at the National Industrialization Company, Tasnee for short period of time. In next few minutes of the attack, hard drives inside computers were destroyed and data was wiped clean. The data was replaced with a picture of Alan Kurdi, a child who drowned off the coast of Turkey while his family was trying to escape the civil war. Moreover, the computers were crashed at Sadara Chemical Company. This company is a joint venture between the oil and chemical giants Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemical and only 15 miles away from National Industrialization Company.
According to Tasnee officials and researchers at security firm Symantec, both attacks were carried out with an objective of causing a long-lasting damage on petrochemical firms and convey a political message. There is a growing need to strengthen security of petrochemical plants to avoid explosion and other lethal damages. As these attacks alarmed a caution, security companies providing services to these companies need to ensure this does not happen again. The explosion of companies can harm environment along with causing huge financial damages.