Adipec 2017: Oil sector’s ‘ingenuity’ can protect it from cyber threat, ex-NI police chief says

Sir Ronnie Flanagan delivering the keynote speech at the security in energy session at Adipec
Sir Ronnie Flanagan delivering the keynote speech at the security in energy session at Adipec

A former Northern Irish police chief has said the oil and gas industry’s “ingenuity” can help tackle the threat of cyber attacks.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, former chief constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), now the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said the oil sector was a vital part of national infrastructure.

Speaking at the Adipec conference in Abu Dhabi, he said collaboration between individuals, industry and state agencies was the key to warding off threats.

Current security adviser to the UAE Interior Ministry, Sir Ronnie said: “I’ve every confidence that the ingenuity your industry has displayed can be harnessed to make sure your critical infrastructure is protected against these threats.”

He said the rapid development of technology had created challenges for security.

He said ordinary people now carry devices which are “smarter” than the computers that helped astronaut Alfred Worden, another of the speakers at Adipec, land on the moon.

“We take these things for granted,” Sir Ronnie said. “We use them to determine the quickest route for getting to our destination, conducting banking transactions and booking flights.

“We always have to be aware of those with evil intent who would seek to exploit technological developments for their terrorist intentions.”

He said threats can originate from terrorists, hostile states and state sponsored organisations, cyber criminals looking to make vast fortunes, “hacktivists”, and “disaffected insiders”.

Sir Ronnie said Irish republican paramilitary groups were exploring ways of using information technology to attack computer systems and infrastructure before a ceasefire was called in the mid-90s.

Sir Ronnie said: “Over the next two decades technology has developed and there will be others who take forward those ideas and would seek through cyber attacks to degrade technology we all now take for granted.”

He said the response to threats had to be multi-layered and that the UK National Cyber Security Strategy 2016-21 was a good example of a joined-up approach to identifying threats and protecting systems.

Sir Ronnie said a successful strategy depended on three “Ds” – defend, deter and develop.

He said defence depended on making systems hard to attack, while improving organisations’ ability to identify criminals and bring them to justice was the deterrent.

He said “bright young minds” had to be developed and put to work in the right areas.