Unbreakable SCADA Security Essential For Pipelines

By Frank Dickman, Piping Design Consultants, Inc. | February 2012, Vol. 239 No. 2
Buyer's Guide

Located In the heart of Russia, the rich Samotlor hydrocarbon field was discovered in the 1960s. It is the largest oil and gas field in the country. It lies in Western Siberia where temperatures can range from minus 58°F in winter to 95°F in summer.

In this area, a subsidiary of one of the top 10 privately owned oil companies in the world operates 8,300 production wells and 2,700 injection wells fitted with the latest equipment, spread over an area of 1,750 square km of the field, with 1,100 km of oil pipeline, 1,200 km of water pipelines and 2,100 km of surfaced roads. Production exceeds 22 million tons of hydrocarbons, and transportation of 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Think Houston or Tulsa, the oil boomtowns of the early 1900s. The once sleepy town of Nizhnevartovsk is now one of the wealthiest cities in Russia.

The parent company is far more vertically integrated than its American market-guided counterparts in that it controls exploration, construction, production, transportation, processing and distribution all the way to the retail level, including 1,500 filling stations.
The Russian subsidiary’s method for centrally monitoring flow, pressure, temperature, viscosity, composition, water content and other sampling data from the gathering fields, and SCADA systems responsible for command and control of valves, pumps and compressors, has been via radio communications. This methodology suffers from slow communication speed and lack of security. Anyone with an antenna can monitor radio signals.

The Russians face the same potential risks to their critical hydrocarbon infrastructure as people everywhere. Fuel distribution is vital to the Russian economy. Pipelines need to be monitored and maintained. Like the Alaskan pipeline, many Russian pipelines run long distances aboveground through remote areas. Where there is contempt for the rule of law, there always exists the threat of malfeasance, malware, malcontents and mischief — whether by homegrown or foreign terrorists, competitor states, countries or companies, for purposes of sabotage, espionage or extortion.

To Russia With Love
Since August 2011, these oil field networks are being upgraded from insecure radio modems to the WiMAX standard, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. WiMAX is a wireless communication technology for delivering high-speed Internet service to large geographic areas. Applied to cellular communications here in the USA, it is part of the fourth generation - “4G” - network being marketed by cellular providers to allow all the advanced Internet features available on the latest cellular devices. Think of WiMAX as being Wi-Fi on steroids. While that free Wi-Fi node at your coffee shop has a range of 30 yards, WiMAX has a range of up to 30 miles.

High-speed digital cellular communication has big advantages over slow and insecure radio modems. But as any perusal of the latest celebrity news will show, Internet-capable cell phones can be intercepted, infected, cloned, hacked and diverted. So the Russians were looking for an appropriate technology to provide ironclad security from eavesdropping or manipulation by competitors, foreign or domestic, state-supported or freelance. Protection from infection by malware was also a consideration. Any connection to the Internet risks penetration into an industrial network, even those behind corporate firewalls.