Cyber attack on Saudi Aramco aimed to halt oil flow

10 December 2012
By Rachael Fergusson
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Saudi Arabia's national oil company Aramco was the target of a cyber attack in August.

Saudi Arabia's national oil company Aramco was the target of a cyber attack in August.

A cyber attack on Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Aramco aimed to stop the flow of oil and gas to local and international markets, the firm says.

The attack on the company, which happened in August, damaged around 30,000 computers but failed to disrupt production. It was one of the most destructive cyber attacks conducted against a single business.

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said the attackers were an organised group operating from different countries on four continents. Aramco and the Interior Ministry are investigating the incident.

"The main target in this attack was to stop the flow of oil and gas to local and international markets and thank God they were not able to achieve their goals," said Abdullah al-Saadan, Aramco's vice president for corporate planning, on al-Ekhbariya television. It was the firm's first comments on the apparent aim of the attack.

The attack used a computer virus known as Shamoon which infected workstations on August 15 and the company shut down its main internal network for more than a week.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said the investigation had not shown any involvement of Aramco employees but he could not give more details as the investigation was not yet complete.

Saudi Arabia's economy is heavily dependent on oil. Export revenues from oil have accounted for 80-90 per cent of total Saudi revenues and above 40 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, according to U.S. data.

Shamoon spread through the company's network and wiped computers' hard drives clean. Saudi Aramco said damage was limited to office computers and did not affect systems software that might hurt technical operations.

Hackers from a group called "Cutting Sword of Justice" claimed responsibility for the attack, saying their motives were political and that the virus gave them access to documents from Aramco's computers, which they threatened to release. No documents have so far been published.

In a posting on an online bulletin board the day the files were wiped, the group blamed Saudi Arabia for "crimes and atrocities" in several countries, including Syria and Bahrain.

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