Dartmouth study—emerging SCADA risk

A Dartmouth College study, ‘Trends for Oil and Gas Terrorist Attacks’ investigates potential threats.

A study group led by Dartmouth College, working under the US Department of Homeland Security Institute of Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P) program has just signed off on a study of ‘Trends for Oil and Gas Terrorist Attacks’. The study provides a statistical analysis of such incidents which is said to ‘lay a foundation for in-depth evaluation of the role of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) in the disabling and rate of recovery of the oil and gas system.’ The report leverages the international terrorist attack database from the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT).

Physical attack

The study determines that so far, while attacks have been of a physical, not cyber, nature, they may have affected SCADA systems, resulting in a knock-on impact on the rest of the network. But the authors warn that the potential for cyber disruption represents ‘a potentially destructive mode of attack for terrorists.’ While attacks on oil and gas infrastructure sector are a relatively small proportion of terrorist attacks overall, the data show that the sector is vulnerable. In particular, the report speculates that, ‘If terrorist groups feel that carrying out a physical attack within the United States is too difficult they could turn their attention to other vulnerabilities such as SCADA systems.’ The full report is available from http://www.thei3p.org/research/scada/i3presrep2.pdf.

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