Watching The World: IOCs under attack

Feb. 1, 2010
If anyone thought the international oil and gas industry was in for an easy time this year, they will have to revise those thoughts immediately.

If anyone thought the international oil and gas industry was in for an easy time this year, they will have to revise those thoughts immediately.

Consider the Philippines where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said that ExxonMobil Corp. should recognize the Moros' ancestral claims and rightful share of resources extracted from Sulu Sea.

"The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has reminded ExxonMobil, which is presently engaged in oil exploration in Sulu, not to forget that it is operating within the Moro ancestral homeland," MILF said.

More ominously, MILF warned that "the rightful share" of the Bangsamoro people, which amounts to 75% of the income derived, should not be overlooked by ExxonMobil's agreement with Manila.

'Sharing scheme'

MILF's "sharing scheme" is part of the larger political autonomy that the group is pushing in its current negotiations with Manila. And, not to make too fine a point of the matter, MILF claims to have a military presence in the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan.

Little wonder that ExxonMobil took preventive measures recently, entering an deal with the Western Mindanao Command—the largest military command outside Manila—for security assistance to thwart terror attacks on its drilling operations.

Even as they fend off such old-style methods of attack, however, ExxonMobil and other major oil firms are facing an altogether new kind of attack as well—one that comes from a much more formidable opponent than a band of guerillas in the Sulu Sea. According to recent media reports, at least three US oil firms were the target of a series of previously undisclosed cyber attacks that may have originated in China. Experts say the attacks highlight "a new level of sophistication in the growing global war of internet espionage."

Bid data stolen

The oil and gas industry breaches, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, were focused on valuable bid data detailing the quantity, value, and location of oil discoveries worldwide.

The targeted companies—Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips—didn't realize the full extent of the attacks, which occurred in 2008, until the FBI alerted them that year and in early 2009.

Federal officials told the companies that proprietary information had been flowing out, including to computers overseas, according to documents obtained by the Monitor and a source familiar with the attacks.

The data included e-mail passwords, messages, and other data tied to executives with access to proprietary exploration and discovery information, the source said. "What [corporate officials] don't realize, because nobody tells them, is that a major foreign intelligence agency has taken control of major portions of their network," the source said.

One oil company's security personnel referred to the breaches in one of the documents as the "China virus" and another said, "We've never seen anything this clever, this tenacious."

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