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Saudi Aramco: Foreign hackers tried to cork our gas output

Worm outbreak targeted oil giant's sensitive machinery

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Hackers who used the Shamoon worm to attack oil giant Saudi Aramco were bent on halting its fuel production, according to the company and Saudi government officials.

The attack on Saudi Aramco — which supplies a tenth of the world’s oil — failed to disrupt oil or gas output even though it infected 30,000 computers and crippled the national oil company's electronic networks. In a press conference on Sunday, Saudi officials blamed unnamed foreign groups for orchestrating the digital assault.

Interior ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki said a joint investigation between the government and the oil giant concluded that an "organised group launched the attack from outside the kingdom and from different countries", Saudi news agency Al Arabiya reported.

"It is in the interest of the investigation not to reveal any results," he said, adding that "no Aramco employees or contractors were involved in the hacking."

The New York Times reported that al-Turki said the investigation was ongoing.

Abdullah al-Saadan, Aramco’s vice president for corporate planning, told Al Ekhbariya television: "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."

Hacktivists from a group called Cutting Sword of Justice claimed responsibility for the cyber-attack, which was carried out in August. They claimed the assault allowed them to lift documents from Aramco’s computers, which they threatened to leak. But no information was subsequently published. The group said it had hacked Saudi Aramco in retaliation against the Al Saud regime. The miscreants accused the ruling royal family of interfering in the affairs of neighbouring countries, such as Syria and Bahrain.

Shamoon infected workstations at Saudi Aramco on 15 August, forcing the oil giant to shut down its internal network to contain the spread of the malware while it ran a cleanup operation. Normal access to systems was restored 10 days later.

The malware can wipe files to hobble an infected machine and destroy data. Shamoon was also linked to a virus attack against Qatari gas giant RasGas at the end of August.

Security researchers at Kaspersky Labs have taken apart the malware. Dmitry Tarakanov concluded that controversial features, such as planting the image of a burning US flag on compromised PCs, and programming mistakes suggested the malware is likely the work of amateurs than intelligence agencies. Coding errors in Shamoon prevented it from downloading and running any other malicious code during the outbreaks. ®

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