Saudi Aramco hacked; company confirms disruption

Attacks come as security firms warn of Shamoon malware targeted at energy firms

A hacker group calling itself the Arab Youth Group has claimed responsibility for what appears to be a serious hacking attack on Saudi Aramco, one of the world's largest energy companies.

The attack comes at the same time security firms are warning of a destructive new malware threat called Shamoon, which is being directed at companies in the energy sector.

In an alert this week, Symantec described Shamoon as a threat being used in "specific targeted attacks against at least one organization in the energy sector." Symantec has not identified that firm so far.

Aramco itself has acknowledged a network disruption and said it was caused by a virus that infected PCs at the company. So far, though, Aramco has not provided any details about the incident.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the Dhahran-based Saudi Aramco said it suffered a "sudden disruption" on Wednesday that affected part of its electronic network.

"The company has isolated all its electronic systems from outside access as an early precautionary measure," the company said. "The disruption was suspected to be the result of a virus that had infected personal workstations without affecting the primary components of the network."

According to the company, the attack did not affect any core business systems, nor did it hit production operations.

"The company employs a series of precautionary procedures and multiple redundant systems within its advanced and complex system that are used to protect its operational and database systems," Saudi Aramco said, adding that it hopes to restore normal network operations soon.

The company, which is fully owned by the Saudi Arabian government, has not provided any updates since Wednesday so it remains unclear whether the affected networks have been restored. Several attempts to reach the company's main website were unsuccessful Friday afternoon, though it's unclear whether that is connected to the attack earlier this week.

In a statement posted on PasteBin, the hitherto unknown Arab Youth Group suggested the attack against Aramco's "administrable structures and substructures" had been carried out to protest what it claimed was the support shown to Israel and the United States by Saudi leaders.

"These betrayals are done with oil wealth of the Arab nation," the group claimed, warning of more "severe action" against companies such as Aramco.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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