Use Case for Secure Communications in the Mining Industry

Communicating while out in the field in remote areas is a challenge, and doing so securely can be even more challenging. Something as simple as your location data could be enough to give away months of work on an exploration trip that can ruin a mining company. This information is easily obtained by hackers if you don’t take the proper steps. 

Hackers have been targeting the mining and oil industry for over ten years with no signs of stopping. Oil reserve locations are a big target, but anyone involved in any type of mining or resource extraction is vulnerable. This use case is going to look at the risks, an actual hack against a mining company, and show how SKY ECC would have protected them.

Why mining companies need secure communications

Hackers make their living by stealing data and information that is valuable to someone else. The locations of promising mining, oil, or gas reserves is very valuable information indeed. You have people out in the field, getting dirty in challenging environments, and hackers hired by competitors would rather steal your data from them than go out and do the work themselves. Here are some sobering statistics:

  • 70% of oil and gas companies have been hacked.
  • At least 140 cyber-criminal groups specifically target oil and gas companies.
  • The Night Dragon attacks saw Royal Dutch Shell, Marathon Oil, Baker Hughes, Exxon, and BP have the location of oil fields stolen. The hackers were never caught.
  • Saudi Aramco, who supplies 10% of the world’s oil, was forced to switch to typewriters and fax when every aspect of their computer systems were attacked.

Hackers are going after pricing data, tech knowledge that helps competing companies they work for, and personal data which can be used to extort companies. A 2013 survey found that 44% of mining companies had no cyber security plan. If you’re among them, you’re a target and you will be found by hackers.

The hack against GoldCorp Inc.

One of the most well-known hacks against a mining company happened to GoldCorp Inc., a gold mining company that was in the top 3 in terms of value when the hack occurred in 2016. The data theft saw 14.8GB of data stolen. Here’s what we know: 

  • This was an extortion attempt by a hacker group called FIN10
  • They infiltrated GoldCorp’s network and spent months stealing data
  • GoldCorp Inc. refused to pay the ransom demands
  • Everything from contracts to private budget documents were taken
  • Many private email communications were leaked

The hack was such an eye-opener for the mining industry that six mining companies got together to form the Mining and Metals Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (MMISAC) to work on proper information sharing principles together.

How SKY ECC could have helped

A large amount of data was taken from email. Email is second only to SMS as the least secure way you can send messages and documents.

While email is marginally more secure now than it was a few years ago, it’s still about as secure as mailing a postcard. Mining companies sending critical data via email are sitting ducks for the next hacker that manages to get into their email servers. Here’s how SKY ECC minimizes risks:

  • Sensitive messages could have gone through SKY ECC instead of regular email so that our security features would have protected them against intrusions.
  • GoldCorp’s first attack was email phishing. SKY ECC can’t replace email entirely, but it’s invulnerable to phishing attacks. Messages can’t be spoofed to look like they’re from someone else, and clicking a phishing link in a SKY ECC message would be blocked thanks to our contact list security measures.
  • While hackers made demands, all internal communications could have been on SKY ECC to prevent eavesdropping on how the threat was to be handled. Regular business could continue over SKY ECC without fear of hackers getting more information.
  • Microsegmentation of their conversations would have moved information to a secure channel (SKY ECC) rather than a vulnerable channel (email).

FIN10 stole so much data from GoldCorp because they continually put so much data in their easily-hacked email. SKY ECC offers the opportunity to pull the most sensitive information out of that pile by never putting it there to begin with. Everyone from your exploratory agents to your C-level executives need a secure communications solution like SKY ECC.

The fallout from the attack

While GoldCorp suffered a serious black eye from the breach, as the third-largest gold producer in the world they were able to keep on operating. Smaller companies would have been financially ruined and likely facing a harder time getting contracts.

The best thing to happen from this was the wakeup call leading to the creation of the MMISAC. This call to action for the entire mining industry highlighted the need for better cybersecurity practices, and should push you and your company to take further steps. 

That next step needs to be a secure communications platform like SKY ECC. Start securing communications before your company makes the next hacking headline.