Protecting sensitive oil and gas exploration data

Paul Boughton

Tullow Oil is a leading independent oil and gas exploration and production company, with operations in 22 countries around the world.  The company has a strong presence in Africa, where it is opening up new basins and helping to establish new oil producing countries such Ghana and Uganda, and a growing presence in Asia.
One of the most important assets for Tullow Oil is its information, especially geological information and data about new oil finds and areas of potential discovery.  But, invariably the location of existing and new oil reserves is often in some of the most remote and inhospitable regions of the world where there is a high risk of theft or crime.  Tullow Oil staff, who travel extensively to these regions, need to have access to this data wherever they happen to be.
Trudie Seeney, Information Systems Asset Manager says: “We have a very high proportion of staff – around 700 – who regularly travel around the world.  These employees require access to commercially sensitive information, so we need do everything we can to protect it when it is outside the security of our main offices.”
The company has a number of data protection measures in place, including data encryption, but it also wanted to put in place a means of securing and protecting devices especially when they are used abroad. [Page Break]
The solution came via Tullow Oil’s hardware supplier, which is in partnership with Absolute Software. Embedded into the firmware of each of the laptops that Tullow Oil buys is Computrace by Absolute Software, an IT asset management, data protection and theft recovery solution.  Tullow Oil simply needed to download the software to activate Computrace on all of its laptops.
The company managed the activation process by rolling out Computrace to each main office location in stages, communicating and informing staff about Computrace before activating the endpoint security solution on their laptops.  
Tullow Oil is also planning to use the geofencing feature of Computrace.  Around the world, and especially in Asia, the company has commercial partnerships with specific countries which can involve the sharing of sensitive information about oil reserves and exploration. It is important that this kind of information is protected and geofencing will ensure all company laptops stay within pre-defined countries and/or regions. With geofencing enabled, if a laptop moves into a location where it should not be, the Computrace Agent sends an alert to Tullow Oil, providing them with the exact location of the device.  The team can then investigate and, if necessary, perform a data freeze or even a data delete. Seeney says: “One of the reasons why we like Computrace is because it has really useful add-on features like geofencing.”[Page Break]
Since they started using Computrace, Tullow Oil has been able to protect important business data.
“Computrace is now a key part of our data security measures because almost every time we’ve had a laptop stolen or mislaid, it allows us to prevent anyone from accessing the data. For a business like Tullow Oil, this capability is very important,” says Seeney.
In one instance a laptop was stolen from a car in Ghana. Almost immediately after the user reported the stolen laptop to headquarters in London, Seeney and her team were able to use Computrace to delete the data from the laptop. The Computrace Agent on the laptop sent an alert to the Absolute Customer Centre which Seeney and her team can access. Via the Absolute Customer Centre from her office in London, Seeney was able to launch the Computrace data delete capability which instantly wiped the hard disk of the laptop in Ghana as soon as this device connected to the web.
Computrace has also proved to be equally useful in less sinister situations.  In situations when laptops have been mislaid, Computrace has been used to remotely lock the device rather than performing a data delete.  This means that when the laptop has been found again it can be unlocked by an administrator. All the user’s data and settings are preserved and they avoid the trouble and delay required to get the laptop image re-built.
Tullow Oil is now looking at how Computrace can be used to protect other mobile devices, such as like PDAs and mobile phones.
“For Tullow Oil, saving money has not really been the main issue. It is the security of knowing that wherever our laptops might be in the world, we have a solution like Computrace to protect the data on them,” says Seeney.

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