How to secure Oil & Gas assets in the age of the IIoT

Jon Lawson

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has transformed the landscape of Asset Integrity Management for the Oil and Gas industry. By empowering owner-operators with the ability to interconnect a vast array of physical assets on one digital platform, IIoT facilitates improved productivity, profitability, inspection scheduling, and corrosion mitigation – all while significantly reducing the likelihood of asset failure. These benefits have been driving the increased adoption of digitalisation in Oil and Gas Asset Integrity Management (AIM). 

The new benefits of digitalisation also come with new challenges. In the case of operational AI, that challenge is the security of inspection data. In order to protect the integrity of asset and inspection data, it is imperative that Oil and Gas operators take into consideration the potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses inherent within their AIM software and processes – and utilise the right tools to ensure that necessary countermeasures and safeguards are in place.

What is the challenge for asset owners?

There are two facets to security in this industry: operational technology (OT), which refers to software (or hardware) that directly monitors and controls physical assets in the enterprise, and informational technology (IT) which deals more with overall information processing. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the OT aspect of Oil and Gas operations. 

In the old technological climate, owner-operators would manually manage operational maintenance and equipment integrity using paper-based processes, Excel spreadsheets or monthly reporting cycles. In today’s era of digitalisation, operators can deploy AIM software platforms that aggregate, centralise, store and analyse all data from disparate sources into one database. They can utilise intelligent data analytics such as Risk Based Inspection (RBI) and Integrity Operating Windows (IOW) to garner actionable intelligence from their data in real time, making it possible to stay on top of asset performance and adopt predictive maintenance before costly loss of containment or unplanned shutdowns occur.

The data from this software is stored digitally either in the cloud or in an on-premise database using the company’s own servers. Thus, the challenge becomes protecting the security and integrity of the data where it’s stored – ensuring no third parties can access or manipulate the information and protecting it from attack.

For Oil and Gas owner-operators, that risk can manifest in a multitude of ways. Incorrect data entry, access to and manipulation of data by an unauthorised user, storage of data on unprotected servers or databases or weak security processes that create vulnerabilities for the data to be altered or exposed to threat. Any of these can compromise the efficacy of the AIM program. The key to achieving the benefits of IIoT - optimised inspection scheduling, prolonged equipment life and fewer shutdowns – relies on the protection and security of the AIM data.

In part two tomorrow we’ll examine the solutions.

The author is Dave Maguire, Senior Advisor – Asset Integrity, Metegrity.


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