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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Russia behind attack on Saudi petchems facility, says US security firm

Attack on the facilities, which led to an emergency shutdown were co-ordinated from a Moscow-based research institute

Saudi Aramco's Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in the Arabian Gulf. Attacks on energy firms in 2012-13 sent shockwaves through the industry. Reuters 
Saudi Aramco's Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in the Arabian Gulf. Attacks on energy firms in 2012-13 sent shockwaves through the industry. Reuters 

A Russian government-backed technical research institution was behind a major cyber-attack on a Saudi petrochemical facility last year, a study has found.

California-based FireEye Intelligence has concluded that the attack on the Saudi chemicals facility, which led to an emergency shutdown, was co-ordinated and supported by the Moscow-based Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics, it said in a report.

The firm linked IP addresses as well as behaviour patterns and time zone compatibility with Russia and the employees working for the institution. The facility that was hacked was not identified.

“Adversary behavioural artefacts further suggest the TEMP.Veles operators are based in Moscow, lending some further support to the scenario that CNIIHM, a Russian research organisation in Moscow, has been involved in TEMP.Veles activity,” it said.

Oil and gas firms in the Middle East have become increasingly wary of external and internal threats to their data and operations following a wave of cyber attacks against their facilities, notably in 2012 and 2013. Six years ago, a cyber attack on Saudi Aramco, which accounts for 12.9 per cent of global crude output, wiped out data on 30,000 computers. The attacks were then blamed on Iran, which denied links to the attacks saying the claims had been “politically motivated”.

The attacks, which also affected systems of the Qatari natural gas producer RasGas had been one of the most destructive to hit the energy sector.

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The latest revelations by FireEye on Russian involvement will likely open up a questions on possible motivations, particularly at a time of increasing closeness between Saudi Arabia and Russia in the energy markets.

The two sovereign producers currently head a global pact to moderate oil prices, which climbed back to three-year highs this year, averaging $85 per barrel after having declined by 40 per cent of their value from $100 per barrel highs in 2016.

Both Saudi Arabia and Russia also reiterated their intention during the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh to jointly invest and develop petrochemical facilities in the kingdom, with the former expressing interest in developing LNG facilities in the Arctic.

The two sides also set up a $1bn fund to invest in energy projects last year, as they inch closer towards framing a charter to expand Opec and challenge the dominance of US shale in global oil markets.