Report by a Spanish firm, Panda Security, has detailed a malicious and largely unknown targeted attack on the oil and gas industry, which it says is coming from the Nigerian scam industry.
The ongoing attack, said to have begun in August 2013, was first discovered by Panda Security in January 2014, and is designed to steal information and credentials for defrauding oil brokers.
In the report entitled: ‘Operation Oil Tanker: The Phantom Menace’, released on Monday, the company said the scheme had victimised a number of oil and gas buyers, getting them to pay for non-existent crude.
It said none of the dozens of the affected companies had been willing to report the invasion and risk global attention for the vulnerability in their IT security networks.
Founded in 1990, Panda Security is regarded as the world’s leading provider of cloud-based security solutions.
It stated in the report, “The Nigerian scam industry is large and varied. Some variants are almost unknown and affect all kinds of sectors, including the oil industry.
“The Nigerian town of Bonny is well-known in oil production circles as the oil produced there, known as Bonny Light crude oil, has a very low sulphur content, which makes it a highly desired grade for its low corrosiveness.
“The fact that this type of oil is in such high demand has given rise to a particular type of scam aimed at oil brokers, individuals who arrange transactions involving crude oil between buyers and sellers.”
According to Panda Security, the fraudsters offer a large amount of high-quality Bonny Light crude oil from Nigeria “at a very competitive price.”
The company noted that every oil and gas transaction is supervised by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), adding that anybody who wanted to trade with oil in the country must be registered with the NNPC.
The report further stated, “In short, the scam works like this: the scammer contacts a broker/middleman and offers a large amount of Bonny Light crude oil, one to two million barrels, at a very competitive price.
“If the potential buyers are interested, they will ask for documentary evidence that the product exists (proof of product). There are different types of documents that can be provided: a quality certificate, a certificate of origin, a cargo manifest, or the letter of authority to sell issued by the NNPC.”
To close the deal, the buyer must pay a significant amount of money – from $50,000 to $100,000 – in advance, according to the report.
“However, once they pay the money, they are met with the nasty surprise that there is no oil,” the report added.
According to the researchers, scammers attempt to use real documents so that if the broker wishes to check their legitimacy, they will see that they are real.
“However, how difficult is it to obtain these documents? It is very complicated. The only way to do it is from companies in the sector. Oil transportation companies, for example,” it stated.
Panda Security said it had identified the attackers but was unable to report the matter to the authorities because none of the companies affected had come forward.
“Panda Security stands ready to identify the individual to authorities, but without any credible reports being volunteered by the alleged victims, the authorities are unable to launch their investigations or make any arrests,” the company said.
It added that it hoped that the report “will shed light on the potential damage of the Phantom Menace and encourage companies to take the necessary steps against the perpetrators.”
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